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What’s past is present… part 3… Who is to blame? Everyone apparently. May 23, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Religion, Social Policy.
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One has to admire the amount of hand waving that is taking place over the clerical abuse scandal. For a prime example what of Breda O’Brien’s piece in today’s Irish Times which argues that:

The religious orders were aided and abetted by a society in thrall to a punitive theology…

And goes:

It really is the most damning indictment of Irish society that these places existed, and continued to exist for so long. The religious orders have to accept that they presided over places where brutality was accepted as a necessary means of maintaining control, and where sexual abuse was hushed up with no thought of the consequences for children. They have to deal with the shame of falling so far short of the ideals not only of Christ but in many cases, of enlightened founder figures.

Oh yes. The religious orders have to accept some blame. But… for there’s a but…

….let us not slide conveniently from idealising and idolising people in religious life, to demonising them. Who were these nuns, Brothers and priests? They were our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, who were shaped by the same repressive society and punitive theology as everyone else, and who were aided and abetted by politicians, An Garda Síochána, the judiciary, the Department of Education, by organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (then NSPCC), and the silent shrugs of many in Irish society. Nor did journalists distinguish themselves, with honourable exceptions such as Michael Viney and Joseph O’Malley. Prominent journalists have admitted self-censorship from fear of being sued and put out of business.

Self serving nonsense. I’m far from one who would criticise religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, for the sake of it in some sort of knee-jerk fashion, and its clear that there were many clergy who were not involved in these horrors. But this is a ludicrous argument. Does O’Brien have any sense of the history of this society that she can so glibly say…

…[they] were shaped by the same repressive society and punitive theology as everyone else, and who were aided and abetted by politicians, An Garda Síochána, the judiciary, the Department of Education, by organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (then NSPCC), and the silent shrugs of many in Irish society.

But they were the punitive theology. They were its arms and its hands. They took to themselves a status that exalted them, that in effect moulded the society to their will and their aims.

They shut away the most vulnerable in institutions that operated behind a veil of clerical secrecy, whose organisation and approach was beyond question or investigation so that a process of near-mechanised cruelty was imposed. That was the point. They could do what they liked without fear of retribution. And that, of course, wasn’t enough.

They broke Noel Browne in the late 1940s when he sought to introduce a very mild social reforming programme in maternal and child healthcare. They oversaw boycotts, the imposition of a public social morality that was made a mockery of by the actions in the institutions they ran. They saw that this society had a code of cultural (and political in terms of dismissing truly radical voices and marginalising them) censorship that lasted until very recently indeed. They didn’t quite run the show, but they directed it with the willing complicity of the polity.

And even today, as noted in the Ryan Report significant sections of the Church refuse to acknowledge their responsibility in full, not least amongst them the Christian Brothers.

But Breda wants to spread the blame. No prizes for guessing why.

Comments»

1. John - May 23, 2009

Whatever about everything else in your piece, I had thought the Hierachy brought down the Mother and Child Scheme line of thinking was debunked by this stage. Noel Browne was defeated because of the particularly determined opposition of the IMA to the absence of a means test and Browne’s political failures within his own party and within government.

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2. WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2009

Kevin Rafter quotes in his history of Clann na Poblachta [the closest text I have to hand that covers the topic] the following missive that was communicated privately to de Valera from the hierarchy…

“For the state, under the Act to empower the public authority to provide for the health of all children, and to treat their ailments, and to educate women in regard to health, and to provide them with gynaecological services, was directly and entirely contrary to Catholic social teaching, the rights of the family, the rights of the Church in education, and the rights of the medical profression, and of voluntary institutions…. [pp138]”

There’s no doubt that the IMA was pivotal to this. But nor is there any doubt that the Catholic hierarchy had a co-responsibility. Browne is an odd character and not necessarily the person I’d have had push this forward, but… in this he was pushing against immovable objects.

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3. Jim Monaghan - May 23, 2009

My partner wrote a thesis which dealt with amongst other things the peculiar practice of “Symphiosiotomy” which was pushed as an alternative to Caesarians. They thought that Cs would lead to a demand for Birth Control. Amongs those responsible were the leading lights of the Coombe and Holles St.
Find it in UCD under
Jacqueline Morrissey
PhD UCD.

Regards
Jim Monaghan

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4. smiffy - May 23, 2009

O’Brien’s piece was so predictable it was actually funny. As soon as the report was released, it was obvious that she was going to dust off her trusty, single transferable clerical abuse column for another run out: a bit of handwringing at the start (“Oh, the poor victims – boo hoo”) followed by a curt acknowledgement of the facts with the whole thing concluded by a rather sickening “Who can throw the first stone” sanctimoniousness.

It’s clear that the release of the report represents for the crazier end of the commentariat less a reason to reflect on the recent past of the State (although why the shock at the findings is so strong is a mystery to me: surely at this stage all that’s new in the report is the fact that it scotches the myth that abuse was rare and regrettable, which is something only the likes of Breda O’Brien believed in the first place) an opportunity to trot out their standard lines. O’Brien gets the use it to garner sympathy for the religious, Waters uses it to attack social workers. No doubt Harris will blame it all on the PC Brigade/Provo Sympathisers/RTE/all of the above tomorrow.

What’s particularly telling about O’Brien’s piece, as an arch-defender of the institutional RCC, is that nowhere does she make any reference to the wider context of abuse within, and indeed facilitated by, the Church. Perhaps there is an argument that culpability for institutional abuse is far more widespread than previously thought (although there’s certainly no overall societal blame; I suspect that those who are now pushing that argument are hoping that if everyone is to blame for what happened, then nobody can specifically be held responsible).

However, the same certainly cannot be said about the role of the Church in dealing with clerical abuse at parish level. There you don’t have state agencies acting as accessories after (and before) the fact, you don’t have the same kind of widespread knowledge, or at least suspicion, among the public who choose to turn a blind eye. What you do have, though, is an organisation which facilitated the abuse of children by transferring the abusers to different parishes when their crimes were reported, precisely the same organisation that facilitated the abuse in the institutions they were managing.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that the current report on institutions will be the Liveline/IT letters page talking point for a couple of weeks, but will die off when something else comes along, which is exactly what happens whenever a report of this nature comes out and which is why the connection between the role of the Church in institutional abuse and its role in abuse at parish-level isn’t being discussed. It’s not surprising that the likes of O’Brien, who can’t be accused of having forgotten about the wider context, doesn’t want to raise it. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to describe the Catholic Church over the past 60 years of operating like a paedophile ring. The fact that she doesn’t, however, should be the benchmark against which her crocodile tears for the victims of abuse should be judged.

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5. EWI - May 23, 2009

WbS – I’m just waiting for the evolution of that line into an attack on public schooling – in favour of Home Schooling (as in the US), perhaps? It may be particularly appealing to O’Brien types now that the RCC has insufficient numbers to run education as a Catholic concern nowaday, and no-one wants to expose young minds to anything other than the prejudices of their parents, after all…

I heard the good Chairman on RTÉ at lunchtime, being interviewed as part of a panel of North West EU election candidates (and I laughed when the text from “James from Longford” was read out, savaging the Chairman’s enemies). According to Mr. Ganley, it appears that the greatest victim of clerical child abuse was, wait for it…

…the Roman Catholic Church itself, which is “under attack” in general in Irish society, but has now suffered this “greatest attack of all” “from within”. Yes, don’t we all feel the RCC’s pain.

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6. WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2009

This is it. I can’t help that the RCC must be grievously affected by this now. It’s too widespread. I agree entirely the parish issue looms large. Bottom line is that the RCC in this state operated as a facilitator for child abuse throughout the 20th century.

Interesting EWI how the Chairman would massage the issue the way he did.

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7. WorldbyStorm - May 23, 2009

Jim, that sounds interesting if very depressing, is it available online?

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8. Wednesday - May 23, 2009

No doubt Harris will blame it all on the PC Brigade/Provo Sympathisers/RTE/all of the above tomorrow.

He already has. This is what he had to say on the matter in the Seanad on Thursday:

“Under British rule, these abuses were not practised in Roman Catholic institutions and Protestants did not practise them. The responsibility belongs to the Republic as a whole…

“There was a cover-up of the brutality of the War of Independence and the Civil War. We covered up pogroms against Protestants. We are very good at covering up things which touch on the national question. I have no doubt that every brother and priest involved was a devout nationalist. Indeed, that was part and parcel of the thing. The relationship with the Republic, its professional classes and the republican ethic concerns me. Ministers for Education, politicians, barristers, lawyers, doctors and the entire Irish professional middle class, who all professed republicanism and all wanted a united Ireland, turned a blind eye. It is ironic that if we had never left the British Empire and if the Treaty had never been signed, whatever else we might have suffered, these innocent victims would never have suffered. Our promise to cherish the children of the nation equally turned out to be an empty one.

“I say these things as a warning. There is a deep brutality in Irish nationalism. It came up most recently in the Provos punishment beatings of children in Belfast ghettos. The problem is not simply in the Roman Catholic Church. It is in the republican ethic itself.”

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9. Wednesday - May 23, 2009

My partner wrote a thesis which dealt with amongst other things the peculiar practice of “Symphiosiotomy” which was pushed as an alternative to Caesarians.

I’m interested in seeing this too. I don’t think “pushed” is really the right word, that suggests women were merely encouraged to have the procedure carried out when in fact it was frequently done to them without their knowledge or consent.

Also, for “peculiar” substitute “barbaric”. Their pelvic bones were broken FFS.

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10. WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2009

So, as smiffy says, everyone of the is jumping on their particular hobby horse and running with it. HArris’s intervention is particularly self-serving not least because he knows, or should, that Irish Republicanism was albeit patchily and inconsistently one of the few areas in the society to stand apart from the Church. But that would be problematic for his thesis. And as for his paean to the “Empire”, well, it had and still does its own wrongs. He has absolutely no idea whether in a Home Rule Ireland these things wouldn’t have occurred and its interesting to note that David Norris demurred the same day noting that within a schooling culture initiated by the British there was a widespread sadism.

Still, I don’t know why Harris doesn’t just go the whole hog and come out and say we’re intrinsically incapable of running our own affairs.

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11. WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2009

Entirely barbaric Wednesday. Vile.

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12. Wednesday - May 24, 2009

… and Joan Burton has just been on Newstalk praising Harris’s analysis.

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13. WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2009

Dismal…

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14. EWI - May 24, 2009

Still, I don’t know why Harris doesn’t just go the whole hog and come out and say we’re intrinsically incapable of running our own affairs.

He has – he’s been an advisor to several Unionists (north and south!) and is never very far from the activities of the so-called “Reform Movement” (i.e. that miniscule Southern Unionist political party which came into existence more than a decade ago).

… and Joan Burton has just been on Newstalk praising Harris’s analysis.

LINO? (Labour In Name Only?)

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15. CMK - May 24, 2009

@ smiffy, I agree with what you say above. One thing that strikes me about this whole issue and the distinct, but I think related, issue of the economic collapse is the flexibility of the words ‘us’ and ‘we’.

When everything is ticking over nicely (the industrial schools are packed full of profitable children for exploiting; house prices are tearing ahead etc,) the various whistleblowers, critics, and alternative voices are either laughed at, shouted down, ridiculed (i.e creeping jesus, suicide quips from Bertie), marginalised, or have their lives actively destroyed. At that point there is no ‘we’ or ‘us’ there is the ‘the natural orders of things’ and those who dissent from it have exempted themselves from polite society. But when everything collapses and/or is revealed to be deeply and darkly dysfunctional then ‘we’ all, apparently, have a case to answer as ‘we’ were all complicit.

I presume she includes the victims of the abuse in her definition of ‘us’ and ‘we’. Presumably she’s going to push them to see how they were complicit in their own abuse, taking the logic of her position to its conclusions.

In reality, there is a very small sliver of Irish society implicated in this scandal. Those families with a doctor, Jesuit, barrister and rancher among their ranks, would be a good place to start. As would the political parties (one in particular I can think of) whose beating heart is precisely these groups.

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16. The Catholic Church in Ireland: A Vast Criminal Conspiracy « El Nuevo Pantano - May 24, 2009

[…] can find the best commentary on the new revelations here, here, here and here. There are even some interesting […]

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17. Vinnie takes the See of Westminster « Splintered Sunrise - May 25, 2009

[…] have a thing or two to teach the Irish Church. On the Irish scandal, WorldbyStorm has been covering this exhaustively; also note that the Archbishop didn’t say what the media accused him of saying […]

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