Abuse victim ‘hurt’ by confession stance

Published Wednesday, 31 August 2011
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A woman abused by a Catholic priest while attending confession as a child says she is "hurt" by the church's response to plans by the Irish Government to force priests to report child abusers who admit their crimes in the confession box.

Derry woman Kate Walmsley, 55, hit out after her parish priest, Father Paddy O'Kane, said he would rather go to jail than be break canon law and reveal the secrets of the confessional box.

Father O'Kane, who is parish priest at Holy Family parish in Derry's Ballymagroarty estate, was speaking after the Irish Government's Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, said he intends to introduce legislation to force priests to break the confessional seal in the interests of child protection.

On Tuesday night an emotional Mrs Walmsley, who says she was abused by a priest in the confessional box while being cared for at Nazareth House in Derry as an eight-year-old, believes the catholic church has failed victims.

"He is putting the interests of the perpetrator first," she said. "Most people believe he should tip off social workers or the police. I feel God didn't make that rule, the church made it but it's now 2011 and times have changed."

Mrs Walmsley gave a harrowing account of her abuse while being cared for by the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry's Bishop Street.

"Every Saturday a nun used to hand me over to a priest," she said. "Even if I was in the middle of a group of children I used to be taken out of the queue and kept to last. The first time this happened, when I was eight, he was putting his hands down my top and down my pants.

"He then started bringing me to a room behind the altar and he would abuse me there."

I just want priests and bishops to accept the facts, they should admit these things happened, come clean and examine their own conscience.

Kate Walmsley

Mr Walmsley says she was initially angry at Fr O'Kane's remarks.

"I was angry and I didn't know what to do," she said.

"My head was running. The people who go to confessions to confess these things will go back out into the community and think that all is forgiven and do it again.

"I think it's the priests themselves that need to confess openly what they did to us when we were young.

"I suffered a lot of abuse, not just sexually, but emotionally. Then I was in a child's mind and the abuse became a part of my life. It was going to happen every Saturday and I got used to that. But I'm an adult now and I'm reliving it and it's more hurtful now. It's ten times the hurt and I feel like running away somewhere.

"I don't think Fr O'Kane knows what he is talking about because he has never felt hurt the way I hurt."

The Catholic Church has voiced its total opposition to the Irish Government's confession plan.

At the weekend Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady said any intrusion on the sacrament was "a challenge to the very basis of a free society".

Fr O'Kane defended his remarks on Tuesday night.

"Would she expect me to renounce my priesthood?" he said.

"I could not continue to be a priest and I would be excommunicated. Is she calling for priests to abandon their vocation?

"This is not my law, this is the essence of being a priest.

"Do you agree with the right of a solicitor keeping the conversations confidential? It's the same context.

"We are talking here about the rehabilitation of the offender, getting them to change their ways, offering them mercy and offering the person an opportunity to turn over new leaf.

"Quite often abusers have been abused themselves."

© UTV News
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31 Comments
Realist in England wrote (1,178 days ago):
Lorna - priests may not be being demonised, but you are expecting them to break a religious law that is something that, in a way, defines them. If you remove the Catholic religious laws, you also remove the priests' raison d'etre. They would assume they'd go to hell if they did that. This is just a little thought experiment - you seem to come across as a unionist-minded person. Assume you were, for some reason, expected to write off to the Home Secretary to renounce British citizenship, get a tricolour tattooed across your forehead and have Amhrán na bhFiann as your alarm call every morning. Would you do it? I'd guess not - but that is just your identity. To the priests this is much deeper than identity. It's a religious thing too. Whatever else, you would have no religious grounds to assume you would burn in hell for doing those things. The priest, however, would believe that he would be turning his back on his identity AND condeming himself to hell. Try to see things from their standpoint and not your own "if I were in their shoes" standpoint.
lorna in limavady wrote (1,178 days ago):
D A Crawford Noone here is demonizing the Priests. But you cannot turn a blind eye to what happened to the men who admitted abusing children. sending them off to make more victims. If the faith of the people rest only with a church that has been guilty of oppressing the innocent then it can't be the Church of Jesus. The church rather than any other demonizes itself
Frosty in Here wrote (1,179 days ago):
I can't imagine some of the horror stories that priests must listen to in confession, then be expected to keep it to themselves, or can they discuss it with other priests that are sworn to secrecy? What effects does carrying another's guilt and shame on their conscience have upon their minds? Or the demands for celibacy? How much of that imposed frustration and denial of emotion leads some of them to abuse children? Jesus came to save us, not to label us. We live in a sick world, made all the worse by people believing they are God's image.
Demo in Derry wrote (1,179 days ago):
Honestly, if a child abuser thinks he will get in trouble with the police is he going to attend confession if the priest is going to turn him in? If he's truly penitent I'm sure he can go to a priest that doesn't know him in a closed confession, how is a priest expected to report a person he doesn't know or can't see? So this dumb illogical law is just another form of attack on the church only and does nothing to prevent child abuse! If any other religion were bullied into changing their deeply held traditions, values and beliefs faithful members would be protesting on the streets I would think and rightfully so. (And NO I am not a priest, I am a member of the catholic church that stands by the creed I recite and believe in).
D. Y. Crawford in U.S.A. wrote (1,179 days ago):
The Irish Government appears to want to succeed in doing what the British failed to do over centuries--destroy the Catholic Church and the faith of the Irish people. While heavy-handed clericalism certainly contributed to the sinful mishandling of certain claims of clergy abuse, the response by the government and media has been grossly disproportionate, such as the confessional compromise proposal. Furthermore, critics both within and without have no desire to bring about legitimate reform; they want to demonize, while ignoring the immeasurable good work of the Church and of the majority of her faithful priests and religious. Catholicism is woven into the very fabric of the Irish. To vanquish the Faith is to bring ruin on the Irish soul.
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