Dark moments and shots at redemption

Challenging’ was the description that most came to mind as I watched Beyond Redemption? A Would You Believe? Special, last Thursday night on RTÉ 1.

After years of concentration on the victims of sexual abuse this programme focused on the perpetrators and what could be done to support them in such a way that they would be less likely to re-offend and thus ensure less victims in the future. Some readers may, understandably, bristle at the word ‘support’.  

Presenter Mick Peelo summed up the thrust of the show – the safest way may be to give the abusers a ‘shot at redemption’, but without letting them off the hook. Indeed any supportive actions would be during, but mainly after, a prison sentence had been completed. 

Almost immediately sexual abuse was linked to the Catholic Church, but straight after that a contributor pointed out that it was a societal problem and “absolutely not a Church problem”. Peelo suggested that “the focus on clerical sexual abuse may  have been misleading because most priests are not sex abusers and the majority of sex offenders are not priests”. 

Some abusers were interviewed, but the use of actors’ voices and reconstructions made it harder to engage. 

That they had to do it this way emphasised the isolation of offenders who have served their sentences. All accepted the serious wrongness of their actions, spoke of the guilt they always carried and were trying to improve as people. 


Peelo suggested that treating these people as pariahs might not be the best way to stop re-offending, and in fact might make it more likely to happen. We saw lots of lurid headlines about beasts and monsters – this ‘irresponsible media reporting’, it was suggested, could ruin the stabilisation of risk. 

Various initiatives that discreetly tried to re-integrate offenders were outlined, though Peelo was conscious that “this humane approach” might not be popular. 

He went to Canada to see a parish based programme in the Mennonite community where released offenders had “circles of support and accountability”, and they seem to have great success in preventing further offences, despite the initial ’firestorm of hostility’.  

Volunteers were motivated by faith and the desire to prevent further victims. One volunteer referenced Jesus’ attitude to the lepers. 

A victim of child abuse was interviewed early on, and later was magnanimous – first, he said, protect the children, and then, if the offenders were genuinely sorry, accepted responsibility and wanted to change, yes, give them help. 

All in all this was an important, thought provoking and powerful programme.

The issue of child victims was also the focus of last Sunday’s Songs of Praise on BBC 1. This edition recalled the Aberfan mining disaster in Wales 50 years ago when a landslide crashed into a primary school killing 116 children. 

The tragedy for that community was incomprehensible. Watching the archive footage was most disturbing – rows and rows of small coffins. Methodist Minister Rev. Irving Pemberthy was there on the day, being with his “bewildered” community in their “darkest hour”. He now spoke publicly about it for the first time in 50 years.  Back then, he said, there was no time for words they just “cried and cried” and he still cries about it. 


Though at the time this was “a community in shock” there was still an “enduring faith in God”, when all they could do was pray and cry. I thought it was a pity they didn’t devote the whole show to this sad anniversary, but they did finish with the Aberfan Hymn – it began appropriately – “God who knows our darkest moments/Meets us in our brokenness”. 

Speaking of songs I enjoyed the eclectic collection of contemporary God-related songs on last Friday’s Spirit Level on RTÉ Radio 1. This series, presented by John McKenna, was originally broadcast in 2002 so the focus was on late 20th Century material. Some seemed dated, like the Byrds repetitious Jesus Is Just Alright, and George Harrison’s Hindu related My Sweet Lord. 

As McKenna suggested, Johnny Cash gave new life to U2’s One and most appealing to me was the Roches’ Each of Us Has a Name, a gentle song based on a Hebrew prayer. Chuck Brodsky’s Our Gods was a hard-hitting broadside against the way we often manipulate God and religion – “we serve our gods in such humourless ways…how often do we say I love you?” Challenging!


Pick of the week

EWTN Saturday, October 29, 5pm

Fr Timothy Gallagher explores how to know when our heart is guiding us in the direction of God’s will.

EWTN Saturday, October 29, 9pm

While discerning his own conversion, Donald Johnson travelled around the country and met all kinds of people who overcame obstacles and opposition to fully embrace their Catholic faith: these are their stories.

The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne
RTÉ 1 Sunday, October 30, 10.35pm

A unique insight into the life of Andre Rieu.