Priest who endured priestly abuse in church vows to keep fighting

Bishop Michael Coggan says he hopes to reveal some secrets to Pope Francis about abuse in Ireland

A survivor of clerical abuse in Ireland has vowed not to be discouraged by the shock treatment he was delivered during his second visit to the Vatican last week.

Michael Coggan’s difficult trip to the Catholic church’s seat of power in Rome was delayed by a mere five minutes as organisers delayed, postponed and postponed his meeting with the pontiff.

The former Belfast bishop, who has also spent time in prison for committing sexual offences against two children and now campaigns against clerical child abuse, says he will return to Rome, only this time with a more positive outlook on his future.

“I came away with a huge amount of faith in the Catholic church because I saw how much love they showed me,” Coggan said. “I told them what I wanted to say – that I can’t just be silenced because of the criticisms that have been made against the church.

“There were three names given to me in advance of the meeting: the Archbishop of Dublin, the former Vatican secretary of state and the Pope, but it didn’t go ahead. It was a really difficult experience, but it was not the end of the world.

“At first it didn’t make sense to me,” he said. “It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, but then it made sense – I’m still alive.

“We were meeting the Pope, the highest Catholic figure in the world. He was sitting right behind me. I told him a simple thing, that when I was in confinement in prison in Co Down and heard prisoners’ cries, I would kneel and pray for them. I would kneel and pray for them, so that was a big thing to tell him.

“I would like him to tell the world: ‘I will pray for you because you have not been given the opportunity to pray for yourself.’”

Coggan said he would not let personal experiences of abuse push him away from the Catholic church.

“The Catholic church needs an inclusive, listening church, not a holier-than-thou church,” he said. “I will never be another abuser again. But, if someone else sees abuse, a forgotten child of this world and feels left out, I want them to know they are not alone.”

Coggan said he would be attending a conference in Dublin in a few weeks where he hoped to make an announcement about more partnerships with organisations including Unicef.

“Unicef can help with some of the restructuring we are trying to do in the church and the overall church in Ireland is leading the way here,” he said.

After recovering from his shock treatment in the Vatican, he said he had left with a new perspective on the events of his previous trip.

“I’ve made many friends in Rome,” he said. “They’ve got me off the hook and made me a better person because they pulled me away from the judgemental.

“At the end of the day, I got what I wanted. I’ve stayed true to who I am. It was an indication of how much support the Catholic church has and I’m grateful.”

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