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Dublin: 14°C Sunday 14 August 2022

Column: ‘We are standing with people who have been let down by the Church’

A group of Irish priests is doing penance in solidarity with victims of child abuse. Fr Shane Crombie explains their hopes.

Fr Shane Crombie

The parish priests of Tullamore, Co Offaly are tonight beginning a 24-hour fast and penance to acknowledge the pain caused by clerical child abuse.

Fr Shane Crombie explains why it is important that priests stand in solidarity with their parishioners.

ON SUNDAY IN the church here in Tullamore, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the opening of our church. For the last year or so we’ve been planning what kind of celebration we were going to have. And in the context of the Cloyne report and the child abuse scandals, the priests of the parish felt that we had to make some kind of recognition of that.

In Tullamore, there has been no history of child sexual abuse by priests, or none that has come to light. But we realise that the ordinary, regular people who come to Mass every Sunday – who are trying their best to be part of the Church – are finding it difficult. It’s difficult for people to comprehend how such things could have gone wrong, and how they can continue living with their faith in that context.

So we decided: before we celebrate the jubilee, we’re going to have a day of penance. The priests are going to lead a fast, and there will be prayer every hour, on the hour between eight o’clock on Thursday night and eight o’clock on Friday night. There will be a priest there all night if people want to come and talk, if they want to share their experiences – whatever they want to do.

We’re not doing this under the illusion that our action is going to fix the lives of people who have been sexually abused. It’s not a magic solution. It is just an act of solidarity. We’re standing with our own people, standing with people who have been deeply, deeply let down by the Church, and by what has happened. And we are going to make sure of two things.

Firstly, that it will never happen again. Secondly, to ask God and the people’s forgiveness. Because the Church is made up of thousands and thousands of regular people. The best part of two million people go to Mass in this country; and we just want to acknowledge their presence, their suffering and their disappointment.

We’re not trying to make a statement. We’re not trying to start any crusade. We’re not trying to put it up to anybody. We’re doing this solely in the context of the people that we work with every day. And they have been very supportive. The night that we decided that we had to do something – something concrete – we put it up on the parish Facebook page. And from that, it went viral. We’ve got messages from the States, from Australia, from England, from all over.

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From the very beginning, we made it very clear that we were inviting people to join with us. But if the church is full, or if the church is empty, it doesn’t matter. This is not for any kind of numbers, or for any kind of show. I have no idea how many people are going to be there. All I can say is that people are taking it very seriously.

Fr Shane Crombie is a parish priest in Tullamore, Co Offaly. As told to Michael Freeman.

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Fr Shane Crombie

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