I think I have just discovered an alternative theory of relativity! Unlike its famous predecessor, which has baffled those of us for whom Physics is a foreign country to which we will never travel, this theory is so simple to be self evident. It runs like this. All questions relating to morality are both relative and contextual. All are conditioned by time and social context and subject to church law and personal conscience. There are, therefore, no absolutes.
I am, of course, talking about the recent “scandal” surrounding child sex abuse. What has amazed me, is the fact that the debate has been determined by the two benchmarks of what church law did or didn’t require of its clergy at the time and how society at that time dealt with this highly charged issue.
There is little debate that a conspiracy of silence existed in the 1950’s and 60’s in relation to this matter, a conspiracy which included, it must be said, some Christian agencies and so the Catholic church should not be alone in having to deal with the subsequent fallout. At present, however, others have a breathing space in which to reflect on their corporate and personal actions and inactions.
My son wears a bracelet which has 4 well known letters WWJD. Although perhaps perceived as trite in some quarters, the maxim remains central to all Christian activity. Would Jesus do things differently if he lived today? I am sure the answer would be yes, in terms of his methods and his approaches. If however, the question was would Jesus’ moral compass be different? or would he care less for the marginalised, the outcasts and those without voice, including vulnerable children? then I am afraid the answer would be no.
To allow children to be mistreated by responsible adults is never acceptable and to be complicit in any subsequent inaction which allows that abuse to continue, can never be justified, temporally, legally or morally. The Church as structure, is a product of the incarnation and as a temporal institution it is as flawed as the humanity it embraces. Jesus reminded us that the gift of faith carries with it the obligation of faith and that those of us entrusted with stewardship of God’s people, particularly the vulnerable, will be judged with severity in the event that we fail or neglect that duty of trust. We need to challenge this new theory of relativity – absolutely. It is our Christian duty.
Mike Wardlow was the Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education from 1995 to 2009. He is now working as a freelance consultant, specialising in assisting organisations or groups which are working in the broad area of citizenship education, cohesion, integration, peace building and reconciliation.
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