Church’s evil history should not be forgotten

October 5, 2007
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When powerful institutions wish to oppress and control people hostile to them, they first take away their churches.

It happened with King Henry VIII of England with the suppression of the monasteries in the 16th century when he wished to destroy the Catholic faith.

The Soviet Union’s suppression of the Orthodox Church in Russia was based on the Marxist belief that religion was “the opium of the people.”

In Tibet in the 1950s through the 1970s, Chinese occupiers destroyed 3,000 Buddhist temples in a bid to crush Tibetan culture and annex that country.

The people of St. Andrew’s Parish in Jamaica Plain are not stupid. They know that economics alone are not what decided the fate of their local parish church. Its closure is an attempt by the Archdiocese of Boston to wipe out recent history, to make an uncomfortable past disappear from memory. Give it a generation, they believe, and it will be as if child abuse on a massive scale never happened there.

Stalin’s henchmen did this in Soviet Russia when they airbrushed people from photographs to make their enemies disappear. Something very similar is happening with the closure of St. Andrew’s.

What happened there in the 1970s and ’80s, while John Geoghan was in charge, was a dark period in history. The cancer of Geoghan’s evil deeds ate into the hearts of those he molested, destroyed many of their families and the trust of millions of Catholics across the world. These events are well-known here in Britain and Ireland. Still the church authorities do not fully recognize this. They think they can make the problem go away.

The price has been a terrible one for the Catholic Church as a whole. As news of what happened at St. Andrew’s became public, it awakened a sleeping monster—the memories of thousands of other children across America who had also been abused by priests. Their pain and suffering was too great to endure, and they spoke out. They were helped by courageous lawyers like Mitchell Garabedian who devoted a huge part of his professional life to seeking justice for these people. He had no guarantee of success.

People should remember the heartfelt pleas of Marge Gallant, whose nephews were subject to an unforgivable ordeal at Geoghan’s hands. Remember the letters she wrote to the church authorities, pleading for help? Throughout the United States, thousands of others abused by priests spoke out. These were brave people because their campaign for justice was blocked in every way by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The financial price has been enormous, but the cost to the church’s reputation has been greater still. Earning back the trust of the faithful will take several generations.

Leaders can make a start by memorializing St. Andrew’s. It would send a signal that would say, “We hear you.” It should be a monument to the victims of priest abuse, a reminder of what happened. “The struggle of man against power,” wrote Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Michael N. Bilton
Hampshire, England