Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Irish church abuse - A new priest's view

Colin Crossey
Father Colin Crossey said he was horrified at the abuse scandal

As the Catholic Church in Ireland is engulfed in controversy, its clergy and congregations face their greatest modern crisis. Father Colin Crossey is a recently-ordained priest who believes that it can reclaim what it has lost. He spoke to BBC News Online.

"It was coming home to the place that you left and finding it for the first time."

Father Colin Crossey had spent four years of the early 1990s training to be a priest when doubts about his vocation intervened.

It was more than a decade before he returned to the seminary and completed what he had begun.

Now, he quotes TS Eliot to sum up how he felt when he did return.

The problem for him as a priest, and the Catholic Church in general, can be summed up with a contortion of that quotation.

Many Catholics thought they were at home in their church. Now they are looking around and finding it is not the home they thought it was.

Crisis

When Father Crossey began his training 20 years ago, the church in Ireland was about to enter its first period of crisis.

The Bishop of Galway, Eamonn Casey and a charismatic, media-friendly Dublin priest called Father Michael Cleary, were both about to be exposed for breaking their vow of celibacy and fathering children.

He said that while he was aware of these scandals, they were not the reason he began to have doubts.

"I remember those years were very good years for me. I did not leave because of anything that I thought was happening in and around the church.

"I remember though, that we were challenged even then, particularly around the issue of celibacy, to look authentically at our lives and we were encouraged to be mature about it."

With the church encouraging him to be certain he wanted to be ordained, Father Colin took a break and won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study psychotherapy in the United States.

Fully trained in that field, he returned to Northern Ireland where he began working in Enniskillen.

Specialising in counselling for the victims of domestic violence, he worked with people who had suffered sexual abuse.

'Healing'

That work seared upon him an understanding of the impact of sexual abuse. But it also left him with a belief that hope was not beyond his or his clients grasp.

"I think that psychotherapy is about believing that if a person can have the right conditions, if they have the right love and support in life, healing is possible.

"I journeyed with people for up to three years and watched them blossom and be unburdened of what had been done to them through no fault of their own.

They have left chaos and turmoil in their path, particularly in their role as priests. They have robbed people of the very sanctuary within themselves where healing could happen. That is possibly the greatest of betrayals
Fr Colin Crossey on abusive priests

"I have no doubt there was a spiritual component in that work. I really could feel the healing hand of God."

While Father Crossey worked with victims of sexual abuse in the home, there were many others in the same field who were working with people abused by Catholic religious orders.

In this decade and the last, a succession of priests have been exposed as paedophiles and rapists.

What began as a crack in the cornerstone became a risk to the stability of the whole edifice.

'Evil'

And as he returned to an institution that had been severely damaged, Father Crossey found it difficult to contain his anger at those who were responsible.

"I can hardly find words to say what I think about them. I am distressed, I am horrified. I feel they are the polar opposite of what the calling to priesthood is. They have betrayed the trust put into them. Their act was evil.

"They have left chaos and turmoil in their path, particularly in their role as priests. They have robbed people of the very sanctuary within themselves where healing could happen. That is possibly the greatest of betrayals."

Despite the damage that has been done, Catholics who turn on their televisions on Christmas Day will be presented with another, more positive vision of their church.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Angelus from his appartment overlooking Saint-Peter"s Square at the Vatican on December 13,
Pope Benedict XVI has said the Irish abuse was distressing

When Pope Benedict gives his Urbi et Orbi speech, St Peter's Square will be filled with young people who will wave the flags of countries of every inhabited continent.

It is the kind of scene which could give succour to Catholics wanting to believe that the church they love can recover its loss.

"I don't even need to go to Rome. I see first hand the love and support of people for the church. When I am out ministering to the sick or those who are lonely, the love and outpouring of support that has come from people towards me as a priest has been enormous, even in the wake of these allegations."

Father Crossey speaks slowly and deliberately but more from inner resolution and confidence than a desire to watch his words.

He, for one, is sure that the damage to the foundations can be repaired and the house again become a strong and familiar place to live.



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