IN his Northern peace process memoir 'Making Peace', Senator George Mitchell mused that he hoped he could go with his son into the Stormont Assembly 10 years after the Good Friday Agreement and be bored by the proceedings – a sign of normalcy in democratic politics.
Reading the six reviews of Catholic dioceses by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCI) – its third tranche – that same sense of 'normalcy' is evident as the clean bills of health, notwithstanding historic problems, are handed out.
Only Clogher diocese came in for some criticism of its management of allegations and this was prior to the current bishop's appointment in 2010. Under Bishop Duffy, now retired, the diocese "consistently missed" opportunities for "preventative interventions".
Maeve Lewis of One in Four called the reviews "reassuring" and called on the Children's Minister to accelerate the Children First legislation.
Behind the success of the clean-up in the church is an army of volunteers, according to NBSCCI CEO Ian Elliott, who have been giving their time to support the safeguarding of children in the church, with "heroic" efforts.
Reading the review of the Ferns Diocese, just over 10 years from the crisis it faced in 2002 after a documentary on abuser Fr Sean Fortune, the George Mitchell measure of 'normalcy' is evident. The diocese is 'boringly' compliant and this compliancy seems to be becoming a more pedestrian part of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Just as the causes of the Northern Ireland conflict are complex, so too are the issues around child abuse in society complex.
Why do so many people in our society abuse? To see it as a problem particular to the Catholic Church is to bury one's head in the sand. The name Jimmy Savile screams out that it is not just a clerical problem but something deeply corrupt in many societies.
Although the Catholic Church was dragged kicking and screaming by media and public pressure to clean up its mess, we now have a template for other institutions that work with children.
It is also a template for society at large where children die in care or don't get anything close to the care they need, and that's happening today, now – not 10 years or more ago. Maeve Lewis is right to keep the spotlight on the Government – some of whose ministers were happy to criticise the church and then stay silent when it was revealed that the State was utterly failing many children on a daily basis.
For the church, there are two major considerations as it looks to a better future and one is for the global church. Pope Francis needs to ensure that every diocese in the world is doing what dioceses like Ferns are doing.
He has highlighted the poor in his early days as Pontiff, and none are poorer than innocent children dependent fully on adults who are in positions of trust. Could the diocese of Ferns be called upon by the Pope to export its experience and best practice to every diocese around the world?
The Pope, too, could take a long, hard look at clericalism, the kind that is still evident in the Vatican and Rome which has a natural distrust of laypeople. It is the 'army of volunteers' who are showing the institutional church that it couldn't do it on its own in the past and it certainly can't now.
Just as in the Northern Conflict, victims of abuse in the church are still hurting and many are still angry and these reviews will be cold comfort for the years of being called liars or feeling isolated because they weren't believed. That healing process and compensation process must continue.
In a similar vein, we should also note the vast majority of priests who are good and decent human beings doing a tough job. And we also shouldn't forget the many priests against whom there have been false allegations – they, too, are victims.
So much human misery could have been avoided because the church had the means in its 1911 Code of Canon Law to deal with abusers swiftly and give justice to their victims.
Why church leaders – bishops – failed to implement their own church law, and the law of conscience is a damning indictment of a systemic problem that has not been properly addressed. Pope Francis needs to put this at the top of his reform agenda.
Garry O'Sullivan is managing director of 'The Irish Catholic'
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