John Dempster empathises with the religious inner struggles of Black Isle author Brian Devlin
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I HAVE been reading Cardinal Sin by Black Isle-based author Brian Devlin.
Brian was formerly a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He describes with courage and honesty the grooming and sexual advances he suffered as a seminarian at the hands of Keith O’Brien, a priest who would later become Cardinal. Brian describes alarming misuses of power within the Catholic Church, and his campaign along with others to bring these abuses into the open.
His is a salutary story. We must recognise that sexual abuse and the misuse of power have taken place in many sections of the Christian Church behind a façade of holiness.
I was moved to find in Brian someone whose life resonates so much with my own as a non-Catholic.
Like Brian, “I am a doubter and questioner by nature”. Like him as a boy, I have often felt as if I am “outside looking in”.
Brian writes about his calling to the priesthood – the defining step which would give him an identity and bring his parents joy. Did this truly come from God, he wonders, or simply from his own deep self? And I too sought some decisive step to affirm my faith as a young man.
I empathise with Brian’s struggles with belief. Prayer was hard. At times, it seemed faith had abandoned him.
Yet there was that precious moment of unforgettable inner peace: “God loves you.”
I love Brian’s courage in testing times. Courage in acknowledging that he could not serve under O’Brien when the latter was appointed an Archbishop, in resigning from the priesthood, in holding the Church to account.
There have been times when churches have sorely wounded me – by less than helpful presentations of the gospel, by leaders’ rigid insistence that they were keepers of doctrinal perfection. I have resolutely sung for the God of unconditional love with all the courage I can muster.
I salute Brian’s continuing affection for the Church as a “non-practising” Catholic.
He sees its potential to be “a place of love, forgiveness, transparency and sacrifice” and makes constructive suggestions for deep-seated reform.
I have found blessing, love and laughter in churches, but the wounds have not yet fully healed. Like Brian though, I love the vision of the Church as it should be, and cautiously make my home in a parish church where I am accepted as I am.
Brian Devlin is not sure whether he still believes (“My one certainty… is that I am uncertain”) but it is obvious to his readers that he is a believer.
This is never clearer than in the encouragement he feels when, God having been virtually absent from many conversations with church dignitaries, one says: “ Brian, there is a God.”