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The past and the present… November 26, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Social History, Social Policy, Society.

We live in a state where significant elements of its apparatus, including most crucially those elements charged with security and oversight of such matters colluded (with some honorable exceptions) with Church authorities in covering up a range of acts which are difficult to credit both in their scale and severity. The Church itself up to its highest authorities are shown to have known about this abuse across decades and been unwilling to deal with it on any serious level until societal mores changed sufficiently and its power was diminished sufficiently for temporal authorities to take charge.

There’s a telling paragraph in the opening pages of the Report:

The volume of revelations of child sexual abuse by clergy over the past 35 years or so has been described by a Church source as a “tsunami” of sexual abuse.2 He went on to describe the “tsunami” as “an earthquake deep beneath the surface hidden from view”. The clear implication of that statement is that the Church, in common with the general public, was somehow taken by surprise by the volume of the revelations. Officials of the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities have repeatedly claimed to have been, prior to the late 1990s, on „a learning curve‟ in relation to the matter. Having completed its investigation, the Commission does not accept the truth of such claims and assertions.

And it continues:

The Dublin Archdiocese‟s pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.

It also notes that, under the section Knowledge of clerical child sexual abuse:

The authorities in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the religious orders who were dealing with complaints of child sexual abuse were all very well educated people. Many had qualifications in canon law and quite a few also had qualifications in civil law. This makes their claims of ignorance very difficult to accept. Child sexual abuse did not start in the 20th century. Since time immemorial it has been a “delict” under canon law, a sin in ordinary religious terms and a crime in the law of the State. Ignorance of the law is not a defence under the law of the State. It is difficult for the Commission to accept that ignorance of either the canon law or the civil law can be a defence for officials of the Church.


Another consequence of the obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal was the failure of successive Archbishops and bishops to report complaints to the Gardaí prior to 1996. The Archbishops, bishops and other officials cannot claim that they did not know that child sexual abuse was a crime. As citizens of the State, they have the same obligations as all other citizens to uphold the law and report serious crimes to the authorities.

There’s this:

State authorities The Gardaí

1.92 There were a number of inappropriate contacts between the Gardaí and the Archdiocese. Clearly the handing over of the Fr Edmondus* case to Archbishop McQuaid by Commissioner Costigan was totally inappropriate. The relationship between some senior Gardaí and some priests and bishops was also inappropriate – in particular, in the Fr Carney and Fr cases.

1.93 A number of very senior members of the Gardaí, including the Commissioner in 1960, clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit. There are some examples of Gardaí actually reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them. It is fortunate that some junior members of the force did not take the same view.

And this:

The health authorities

1.97 As is described in Chapter 6, the health authorities have a very minor role in dealing with child sexual abuse by non family members. The Commission is concerned that the legislation governing the role of the HSE is inadequate even for that limited role. There is a need to clarify exactly what the role of the HSE is in relation to non family abusers and to set out clearly the powers it has to implement that role. The HSE and the health boards have given the impression to Church authorities and the Gardaí that they can do more in the area than they actually have the power to do.

And in terms of recognising that child protection was an issue note that as far back as 1970:

State responsibility for child protection

1.99 The Commission notes that there was an extraordinary delay in introducing child protection legislation. The need for new legislation was clearly recognised in the early 1970s but it was not actually passed until 1991 and not fully implemented until 1996. That new legislation, the Child Care Act 1991, does not sufficiently clarify the powers and duties of the health authorities.

The primary responsibility for child protection must rest with the State. In enforcing child protection rules and practices, organisations such as the Church cannot be equal partners with the state institutions such as the Gardaí and health authorities. The Church can certainly work in co-operation with the State authorities in promoting child welfare and protection as, for example, the sports bodies do, but it must be remembered that it is not an agency with equal standing.

Then there is the issue of communication between Church and State:

1.101 Such communications as took place between the Archdiocese and the Gardaí prior to 1995 were largely inappropriate. Since the implementation of the Framework Document, the Archdiocese and other Church authorities report complaints of clerical child sexual abuse to the Gardaí – this is appropriate communication.

There are some dispiriting points as regards how victims of abuse were perceived, not by those immediately around them but by the authorities:

1.103 The vast majority of those who were abused as children complained when they were adults. In almost all cases they said that they did not complain as children because they did not think they would be believed or because the abuser had told them not to tell anyone. It is striking that, of the relatively small number who complained at the time, the majority were in fact believed. They were believed by their parents and they were believed by the authorities to whom the abuse was reported. This makes the failure by the authorities all the more egregious.

And a set of statistics that makes one wonder at how matters might have transpired had the issue not surfaced when it did, since it appears that the act of rendering it public assisted in bringing evidence of abuse forward:

The controversy and drama surrounding the Fr Brendan Smyth case in 1994 (see Chapter 7) brought clerical child sexual abuse to public attention. It is probable that this was the first time that many members of the public became aware of the possibility of clerical child sexual abuse. The claim that bishops and senior church officials were on „a learning curve‟ about child sexual abuse rings hollow when it is clear that cases were dealt with by Archbishop McQuaid in the 1950s and 1960s and that, although the majority of complaints emerged from 1995 onwards, many of the complaints described
in this report first came to the attention of the Archdiocese in the 1970s and 1980s. The Commission examined complaints in respect of approximately 320 complainants against the 46 priests in the representative sample. Of the complaints examined by the Commission,

three were made in the 1960s;

11 were made in the 1970s and there were two suspicions/concerns;

64 were made in the 1980s and there were 24 suspicions/concerns;

135 were made in the 1990s and there were 23 suspicions/concerns;

112 were made in the 2000s (mainly between January 2000 and 1 May 2004) and there were 10 suspicions/concerns.

I genuinely believe every citizen of this state, and those on this island, should be reading this which is available here. As yet a further catalogue of the failures of the state and more widely the society it is essential if we are not to repeat them and as a means of validating those who at the very point where they needed the trust and security of the state were let down by it.


1. CL - November 26, 2009

The Catholic church in Ireland is an on-going criminal enterprise. The perpetrators of these crimes should be doing serious jail time: instead they were, and are, being protected by the state. Ireland has a long ways to go before it emerges from this medieval morass.


2. shane - November 26, 2009

The report is indeed quite shocking and sickening.

CL, the Catholic Church in Ireland as an institution will be utterly unrecognizable in 15 years time. To quote the Archbishop of Dublin’s recent comments: “We have 46 priests over 80 and only two less than 35 years of age. In a very short time we will just have the bare number of priests required to have one active priest for each of our 199 parishes.” The diocese of Tuam’s roll of active priests will also decline by a third in the next four years. More extremely, the diocese of Ossory hasn’t had a priest ordained in 16 years.

I was recently told by a priest that in the not too distant future that wedding ceremonies will have to include more than one couple so short of priests the Church will be. Likely funerals will be hard to get. This will also have a huge impact on rural life as the Church is often, along with the pub and GAA club, a traditional focal point for small rural communities (which is one of the main reasons why Irish mass attendance is so high).

This impact of all this will be massive and historic. I don’t know what effect though it will have on society.


3. WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2009

I agree shane, the more I read the more the impulse is to put ones head in one hands. And it’s the generalised nature of it that makes the specific worse for those who had this inflicted upon them… There’s also the clear disparity in approaches between say different Gardai, some acting entirely honorably, others disgracefully. I notice that in more contemporary times the picture changed there for the better. The recourse to legalism particularly in the 90s is simply appalling. Far too few of the hierarchy seem to have understood or even understand just what was the problem with their actions.

I also agree that we’re looking at a very different sort of church in the future. I’d like to think that it might be one rooted in justice but for that to happen I think that CL is correct and I hope that those guilty of such crimes are prosecuted.


4. EWI - November 26, 2009

I’d like to think that it might be one rooted in justice but for that to happen I think that CL is correct and I hope that those guilty of such crimes are prosecuted.

I entirely agree – get convictions. Otherwise we’ll have R– W—like fuckers in ten or twenty years claiming that it either didn’t happen or was a witch-hunt or other similar crap.


WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2009

The proof will be in the actions from here on out. I find it hard to believe the Gardai wouldn’t be keen to progress this given the dismal light some of them have had cast on them over the past twelve hours.

What’s quite disturbing is the implicit idea that the legal and other structures were shaped in such a way as to even more recently provide a degree of cover on these matters to those who could take advantage of them. The role of the HSE is of particular interest in that respect.


Dr. X - November 29, 2009

>>>I entirely agree – get convictions.

You must know that not’s going to happen.

“Some years ago, after the disappearance of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwirner in Mississippi, some friends of mine were dragging the river for their bodies. This one wasn’t Schwimer. This one wasn’t Goodman. This one wasn’t Chaney. Then, as Dave Dennis tells it, `It suddenly struck us – what difference did it make that it wasn’t them. What are these bodies doing in the river?’


5. Tomboktu - November 27, 2009

Two broad themes occur to me in response to the publication of the report.

The first is a set of issues around the Roman Catholic church. At a legalistic level, there are, in summary, two deep issues:
– the scale of the abuse and
– the systematic failure of different authorities to respond adequately. And given the response of some in the past when other cases of sexual abuse became public, there is a chance that some — though not Diarmuid Martin — will try to deflect the spotlight on the second of these points.

There is also a risk that holding religious belief, particularly being Roman Catholic — and, especially, being devoutly so — will come to be denigrated. I hope that the op-eds and commenting that we will see in the papers tomorrow and over the weekend do not blur the boundaries between the abuse of power by senior figures in the Roman Catholic church and the beliefs about what is sacred that the members of that church hold important.

I also wonder how vigorously those who covered up — who obstructed justice — will be prosecuted by the criminal authorities. I do not want the “proof” that all has changed to be limited only to pointing to the prosecution of the ‘immediate’ criminals. They were powerful in their parishes and chaplaincies, but for the most part they were not powerful or senior in the overall hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church. But as the montage of photographs of four former Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin being used by the BBC shows, those who held power failed, and the remit of the criminal law should not stop only with dealing with the actual abusers.

The second theme has been raised by Shane in comment 2 above: the impact on the social fabric. I think there is a need for that to be given broader thought. The clerics in the Roman Catholic church are not the only leaders in our society whose status has been undermined over the last decade. The behaviour of Gardaí in Donegal exposed by the Morris Tribunal has damaged the standing of that pillar of society. (And posts by Maman Poulet from the Donegal Democrat suggest the problem of Garda behaviour there has not been resolved.) Politicians are not respected after the tribunals that exposed their behaviour.

The damage to the respect for those institutions leaves us in an uncertain place. Over the last ten or fifteen years, we have been losing the social stability that used to be reflected in the metaphor “pillar of society” that was perceived to be present in priests, gardaí, and politicians. One response might be to look to another group to replace those.

Garret FitzGerald has suggested that teachers should fill that role. (He made that suggestion in a key-note speech to a conference organised by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, but it does not appear to be available online.)

I would like to see us take a different route and use the shocks to our social fabric to construct a more truly democratic society, more equal society. However, I don’t think that even the latest damage to the social hierarchy will be enough to bring that about. A characteristic weaknesses of the abuses of power in the Roman Catholic church, by Gardaí, and among politicians is that they were all criminal (although as noted in the CLR before, no politician has been charged for the criminal elements of that scandal — although one has been jailed for the side-issue of not paying tax). The key abuses of hierarchy now present are not breaches of any law, but are protected by it — and, in fact, often mandated and constructed by it:
– the unfettered accumulation of wealth by a small number of people,
– the refusal by many companies to allow their employees to collective representation,
– making it a condition of the State finance which is supplied to organisations representing and working with the disadvantaged, the poor, and the excluded that those organisations do not criticise government policy …

I hope somebody from the progressive side who has access to the little and precious mainstream media space looks at that wider picture, and places the abuses and the damage it has done to us in that context. And I hope they can do what I have not been able to in this comment: suggest a route towards that reshaping and construction of something new out of the ruins that the Dublin Archdiocese Report represents.


6. eamonnmcdonagh - November 27, 2009

“There is also a risk that holding religious belief, particularly being Roman Catholic — and, especially, being devoutly so — will come to be denigrated. I hope that the op-eds and commenting that we will see in the papers tomorrow and over the weekend do not blur the boundaries between the abuse of power by senior figures in the Roman Catholic church and the beliefs about what is sacred that the members of that church hold important.”

Why shouldn’t Roman Catholic beliefs be denigrated? Why shouldn’t Roman Catholics be mocked for believing what they do? And ditto for other religions.


Tomboktu - November 27, 2009

Why shouldn’t Roman Catholic beliefs be denigrated? Why shouldn’t Roman Catholics be mocked for believing what they do? And ditto for other religions.

Because it is disrespectful, belittling.

If the content of the religious beliefs, or a lack of religious belief, do no harm, then people should be left in peace to observe them.

If the beliefs do do harm, then they should be opposed. Depending on the nature of the harm and the context, that could justifiably range from arguing against the belief to over-ruling its application (for example, removing a child from parents who try to implement the belief that prayer is all that is necessary to treat a dangerously ill child).


7. eamonnmcdonagh - November 27, 2009

any other category of belief that should be accorded this special protection? If Catholics, why not Spurs fans? If Jews, why not members of Fine Gael? If Muslims, why not the IFA and Farmers Journal readers?

The prevalence of the absurd and undemocratic notion that religion and the religious should be protected from the rigours of debate and scrutiny – these include the risk of being insulted and denigrated – is one of the reasons why the criminal RC church got away with murder for so long.


WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2009

I think that Tombuktu is more nearly correct, treat people respectfully and in part that is treating their beliefs with a degree of respect. You’re right eamonn in the sense that these are belief systems but religion is, for better or worse, rooted in psychological (and perhaps evolutionary) processes which make simply insulting or deriding those beliefs something that strikes at the very heart of someone’s identity. Fire ahead on the insults but it will be entirely counter productive, particularly given that for many however correctly or deluded this is their hedge against mortality. In hospitals there are precious few who ask for the editor of the Farmers Journal or Spurs to drop by. There are reasons for that which may be good or may be bad but they’re rooted in very specific dynamics. There are better ways to skin a cat… so to speak than derision.


8. EamonnCork - November 27, 2009

Seeing the way the report was covered on foreign television made me think about how complacent we can be about this country (though most people on the CLR would be exempt from this.) We’ve become so used to this type of scandal that it’s easy to overlook just how dysfunctional a state it portrays. In black and white it’s set down that four archbishops of the biggest diocese of the biggest church in the country covered up child abuse for decades, and that the guards were scared to challenge their power to do so. That’s just extraordinary. And yet there is a tendency to write about this country as if we have some kind of Scandanavian social democratic history.
I saw Roddy Doyle quoted in a recent interview as saying that Ireland, “is one of the most liberal countries in the world.” Many of us would like to think this is so yet the fact remains that there are no abortion rights, largely because campaigners despaired of ever getting a hearing for their case, that the state was able to do the compensation deal with the religious congregations in plain sight with the minimum of fuss, that hell will freeze over before we have gay marriage and that this state of affairs derives from the stranglehold which the likes of Messrs Ryan, McQuaid, McNamara and Connell had over debate on these issues for many years.
I don’t think religion is a bad thing and I see no great point in mocking Catholicism per se. The problem is that the Irish version of it allowed the Church to gain unparallelled power The Italians were able to introduce divorce and abortion in the seventies whereas there was still an almighty battle needed here in 1985 to get through some form of family planning bill, FF voted en masse against it and McNamara, taking time off from protecting clerical paedophiles, fulminated wildly against it and spoke reams of nonsense about his care for the moral state of Irish society. The problem is that if bishops, priests etc were turning a blind eye to child abuse and actually covering it up then it’s very doubtful if they believed what they were talking about on the altar. And, for someone who hasn’t wholly shaken off the Catholic faith, that is mind boggling in its cynicism.
It was interesting to see that Dermot Ahern, a man not averse to playing the right wing moral card, was actually quite mealy mouthed about the report. The crucial bit came when he said, I paraphrase from memory, “The cruel irony is that in their eagerness to avoid giving scandal, the church created a much bigger scandal.” You see what he’s doing there? The excuse given by church apologists will be that some fear of ‘giving scandal’ was what prevented the bishops turning the priests in to the guards. This is nonsense of course (the old excuse used to be that canon law forbade such a step) yet there’s the Minister for Justice giving it credence straight away. There’s nothing ironic at all about what the bishops did, it was perfectly understandable if their primary aim was to protect the power and perceived moral authority of the church. Yet there’s an old fear of the collar among our politicians which will see many of them seeking to make excuses for the church.
Finally, I hope that something concrete comes from this report. The Ryan commission left us with a couple of weeks of RTE presenters and journalists tell us they felt like crying and a lot of emoting on the airwaves before the congregations got away without paying another penny. The phrase, “this shouldn’t be used as a political football,” prevented any in depth examination of what kind of a state it was that could permit such outrages. If the same thing happens this time, then the report was a waste. Diarmuid Martin’s Lady Di impersonation yesterday evening showed that the church are once more going to play this emotive apologies number. Yet, given that he’s still alive and has been accused of covering up serious crime, why shouldn’t Desmond Connell go on trial? We would find out a great deal about how the cover up worked if we did that.
Sadly he won’t go on trial and within a few weeks the likes of Sean Brady will be back moralising about society and suggesting we were all happier back in the fifties. And we’ll hear the old whinges about why priests are singled out as paedophiles when they’re not the only paedophiles. The difference, of course, is that if a bus driver or a carpenter’s work colleagues found out they were abusing children, the trade union wouldn’t have a cover up policy in place.
Really all we need to know about the church in this country is contained in the fact that the church took out insurance against child abuse claims while still covering them up. That’s where their priorities lay. The church in this country had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power. And if you want to know how that infantilised the people of the country, get a hold of Nell McCafferty’s great book on the Kerry Babies tribunal, A Woman To Blame, and marvel at the casual cruelty and puritanical stupidity on show there.
It’s sometimes suggested on this site that the battles for divorce rights, family planning and gay rights in the eighties were some kind of trendy liberal distraction from the real left wing issues. But surely this report shows that the kind of power wielded by the likes of Ryan, Connell, McNamara and McQuaid needed to be challenged. Politicians wouldn’t do it, guards wouldn’t do it, but a handful of brave campaigners created a climate in which a report like this could be commissioned.
There is something so fundamentally rotten at the root of this state that I wonder if it really deserves anyone’s allegiance. Any of us could have been sexually abused and none of us, if it had happened in the seventies or eighties, would have got any justice. Nuff said.


John O'Farrell - November 27, 2009

Read this: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1127/1224259548651.html

Then this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_McNamara_(archbishop)

I was one of those wife-swapping sodomites arguing for a civilised society and fighting agiant the wilfully ignorant and blindly superstitious – the people who, when pushed into a corner, would think like this: http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/alice-glenn-report-1987-ge/

For decades, the Catholic Church was the de facto oligarchy of the free state. The existence of these princes of the church made a mockery of the idea that we were living in a Republic. When my neighbours in Belfast ask me in such times as these, what was it like growing up in a parish which, as it happens, three of the ten child rapists stalked their tender prey, I have to inform them that the comparators are with contemprary Iran or the Stalinist regimes. Not that there was a Gulag or an Ervin prison – rather thare was a body of leaders who were deemed to hold an unquestionable moral authority.
In Iran, all candidates in elections must pubicly defer to the wisdom of the mullahs. In the ‘People’s Democracies’, the wisdom of the party was unchallengable, to the point where it was ingrained into each and every pointless gesture (cf: Havel’s Power of the Powerless, with its famous example of the greengrocer who unthinkingly puts up a banner each May proclaiming “workers of the world unite!”)
It is worth remembering just how completely hegemonic the church were. They totally controlled the education system (the next pillar which must be dismantled), they controlled and rationed health (ditto) and they tied themselves into the centre of the Great National Story to the degree where criticism of any aspect of the clerical nomenklatura was seen by many as unpatriotic. Even pro-Brit, god forbid.
Make them pay. They got the State to cover their asses and we now know beyond reasonable doubt that they lied and obfiscated whilst getting the taxpayer’s guarantee. We have a problem with national finiances. Make them sell their land and their property and make a contribution to the citizens they infantalised at best and at worst, enslaved, impoverished and raped.
The only pity is that when the power vacuum opened after the moral authoritarians crumbled, thay were replaced by the greedy shower of cute hoors with names like Seanie and fingers and Denis.


sonofstan - November 27, 2009

I saw Roddy Doyle quoted in a recent interview as saying that Ireland, “is one of the most liberal countries in the world.” Many of us would like to think this is so yet the fact remains that there are no abortion rights, largely because campaigners despaired of ever getting a hearing for their case,

Exactly. We need a campaign for free legal abortion now.

It’s sometimes suggested on this site that the battles for divorce rights, family planning and gay rights in the eighties were some kind of trendy liberal distraction from the real left wing issues.

That was probably me, and i think you’re still misrepresenting what i said a little. All of these are issues that most people on the left would have a similar view on, but they are not exclusively leftist issues, in the sense that to hold liberal views
on these matters would be necessary and sufficient conditions to define you as left-wing: libertarians with right-wing economic views can, and do, hold similar views, whilst devout Christians,(and Muslims) who might have serious private reservations about such matters, can be, and are, socialists.

As such, this kind of social liberalism is not the exclusive property of the left: whereas a belief in such things as the desirability of a one-tier public free health system, a ban on private education, state monopolies in areas such as transport and banking and so on are: a quondam PD might agree with me on gay rights and abortion, but never on the second list.

The campaigns on ‘moral’ issues in this country were not run exclusively from the left, but the left – or more particularly Labour (and I guess the WP) – did become particularly identified with such issues, such that there were many, who would instinctively be to the left on economic issues, were alienated. I don’t know if this could have been avoided: I was simply pointing it out as a factor.

But surely this report shows that the kind of power wielded by the likes of Ryan, Connell, McNamara and McQuaid needed to be challenged

Clearly, but that doesn’t obviously follow from your previous point. Yes, we should have campaigned on liberal issues, but the revelation that the Catholic archbishops wielded such influence over the police and covered up abuse, doesn’t retrospectively reinforce the case for such things: they were the right things to do anyway.

Welcome back, BTW, and commiserations on last Sunday.


EWI - November 27, 2009

It’s sometimes suggested on this site that the battles for divorce rights, family planning and gay rights in the eighties were some kind of trendy liberal distraction from the real left wing issues. But surely this report shows that the kind of power wielded by the likes of Ryan, Connell, McNamara and McQuaid needed to be challenged. Politicians wouldn’t do it, guards wouldn’t do it, but a handful of brave campaigners created a climate in which a report like this could be commissioned.

+1. Well said.


9. eamonnmcdonagh - November 27, 2009

I’m not suggesting that anyone go up to a Catholic and shout “Fuck you!! just for the hell of it. The normal process of debate and scrutiny, however, includes the risk that some of those participating in it are going to hear things about themselves and their views that make them feel bad.

It amazes me that leftists think that certain kinds of beliefs should be accorded special protection in the public square because if they aren’t then the people who hold them might get very upset.


WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2009

I’m not sure I disagree with you in so far as the ‘special protection’, it’s more about the way we skin that cat. Do we do it gently and persuasively or do we do it full on?

The other problem is that for organisations that have been round a while they’ve heard every criticism and have arguments to counter them. And that’s where there’s the danger we lose because we don’t seem to appreciate that lock that religious thought has on people in a very specific way. I mean I’m religious in way and am entirely open to the concept of a deity, but I’m not as convinced about a deity that intrudes into this universe (and on an emotional level I understand the reasons why people choose to believe). But that’s a whole different discussion.


10. crocodile - November 27, 2009

I’m disgusted, having read the report – and if I’d ever been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, or ever attended a school run by it, I’d be even more disgusted.
But some of the consequences of the report, or the consequences that people would like to see, do not necessarily follow. The power wielded by the Roman Catholic priesthood was used corruptly – it does not follow that the faith of individual Roman Catholics is worthless. The Roman Catholic Church ran institutions in which children were abused – it does not follow that no church should be allowed to run an institution ( to suggest so is a great insult to other religions).
I agree with Eamon that there should be criminal proceedings, because the crimes committed must be called what they are. Individuals must be identified and punished. If necessary, the Roman Catholic Church must be unished, as an entity.But to apply a blanket condemnation to all religious belief because of those crimes is unjustified, and no more logical than condemning swimming because paedophiles infiltrated Irish swimming and others connived at a cover-up.
I can think of many reasons to reject religious faith, as opposed to the institutions of religion, but the rottenness of Irish Roman Catholic Church administration is not one of them.


11. EamonnCork - November 27, 2009

I’d agree with Crocodile. Religion per se is not the problem here, the abuse of power is the problem. And I think there is a connection between this and the political and financial corruption which followed it, namely a belief that when you’re in the top jobs in this country you can do what you want.
Whatever about the faith of individual catholics being worthless, I do find it hard to believe that a man whose first reaction to news of clerical paedophilia, like McNamara, was to take out an insurance policy covering the church against damages had very much genuine belief in Christianity. Or any belief in it being anything other than a handy system of social control which enabled him to wield unaccountable power. I can’t escape the picture of many bishops and priests looking down at the sincere faithful, most of my relations among them, and thinking what a bunch of fools they were to be swallowing this nonsense.
The fact of the systematic cover-up of child abuse may not mean that no church should be allowed to run an institution but it definitely suggests that the church which perpetrated such a cover-up should not be running most of our schools. Browne was very good with Martin last night. The Archbishop appears to think that his sorrow is the story and that we should all bemoan his sad fate. It’a an extraordinary display of inappropriate narcissism.


12. irishelectionliterature - November 27, 2009

For all Archbishop Martins efforts on the issue, We still cannot be sure that the ‘culture’ within the church has changed.
He can tell us, that this is a watershed, as other Bishops and Archbishops have done in the past, yet the very nature of the church structure and its previous form make it hard to believe. The Nuncios actions in failing to reply to letters from the commission illustrates this.
Dont forget too that this was only a representative sample, so the full horrors have not been covered.
To coach under 10 hurlers, I had to get Garda clearance and clearance from Croke Park (as every underage GAA coach does), yet does a clergyman need any clearance before taking communion preparations or the like?
To do voluntary work with the disabled I had to get Garda clearance, does a clergyman need any clearance before visiting a hospital?
At the very least, the same standards that apply to non clerics should be applied to clerics.
Similarly I feel that if legally possible, those who protected clerical paedophiles be brought to trial as it was their actions that led to continued abuse.
I also think that these prosecutions and confiscation of assets are possibly the only real way the ‘culture’ of the church in Ireland can be reformed.

For myself the Ryan report was shocking and like many I felt ‘but for the grace of God there go I’. This report for me is much more frightening, there are names that I sat with, ate with, laughed with, names that I had to be on my best behaviour for ….

On a very small scale this little tale illustrates the times…
…a certain priest called to our home.
‘A cup of tea Father?’
‘I’ll have a sandwich’

needless to say, someone ran to the shop to get ham…..


EamonnCork - November 27, 2009

That attitude has not completely vanished. I know a farmer who has been living with his girlfriend for years. Not too long ago the PP called round to suggest it was time they got married because they were giving bad example to the neighbours. I suppose what has changed is that the couple involved didn’t get married and thought the priest had a cheek to poke his nose in this way.


13. shane - November 27, 2009

In the last decade, media reports on the Catholic Church have centered on child abuse. In the next decade, the 2010s,, much of the media focus will be on church closuers, chiefly because of a massive clergy shortfall. The peak class for ordination in Maynooth was 1964, and as that generation is now retiring and/or dying out, it is not being replaced. That reaction of people, especially in small communities, to having their local church closed (given that they often include graveyards etc and as such family history) will be more than interesting.

I am 19, so I never experienced the era when the Catholic Church had huge influence. When I went to secondary school, the priests had almost all left, and the 2 that were there did not teach anything but a watered down religion, often substituted for talking about wholly unrelated social topics (incidentaly they were the kindest teachers I ever had). From speaking with the older generation I get a sense of perspective on the ancien regime, by which I mean before the mid-60s.

A lot of recent media commentary has focused on the ‘oppressive’ nature of Irish Catholicism, my impression, it may be wrong, is that lay people were often not ‘oppressed’ by their priests, in some sort of involuntary and burdonsome tyranny, but actually were quite enthuasiastic about following their directives, and very often, independently and individually, solicited advice from clergy on matters even when they were of a purely temporal nature (eg contracts and wills). The parish priest was a sort of minor king, who also fufilled secular roles, for example he was often ex officio the patron of the local school, the patron of the local GAA club, he had to attend the sick, and often took charge of charitable associations, such as the St Vincent de Paul, for the relief of the distressed.

Parish halls were often the nodal point for the community, and organized local community events, such as raffles, music lessons, or Irish dancing. As such the Church was the focus of the community. A lot of commentary has focused on the sex stringent demands of Catholicism, but as far as I can assess, most priests were quite circumspect with regard to preaching about anything to do with sex from the pupit. This frequently happened at ‘missions’ – which took place at least biannually – often they were lead by the ‘fire and brimestone’ Redemptorists. But people I talk to emphacize that these missions were enjoyed as a social occassion and were often accompanied by stalls, and such faciliated a kind of communal interaction.

It’s not too hard to see how all this faciliated a kind of ‘Father knows best’ and a belief that priests were, or should be seen as, impeccable, which is a huge factor in so many cover-ups IMO.

It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about the ‘liberal’ Protestant churches nowadays, but I see very little liberal about the Protestant churches in Ireland as they existed in the old days. Indeed many Protestants could be quite scandalized at what they saw as the laxity of Catholics, especially which their more puritanical approach to Sunday Rest (Protestants here would not even milk cows on Sunday or let children ride on Swings), the casual use of religious language in daily speech or lottery/gambling/raffling, for which a lot of Catholics priests were fined in the North.

The social glue which held Ireland together since the establishment of Maynooth or perhaps of Council of Thurles began to fissle in the mid-60s, and progressively declined since then to the early 1990s, when abuse revelations destroyed the reputation of the Church as an institution and led to a huge fall off in Mass attendance.

We are living in very historic times and it will be fascinating to see how Ireland develops in the next decades.


EamonnCork - November 27, 2009

Interesting E Mail from Shane. However the fact that you’re 19 means that you don’t remember priests preaching from the pulpits in favour of the pro life referendum in 1983, against the family planning bill in 1985 and against the divorce referendum in 1986, not to mention the many pastoral letters written against any piece of liberal social legislation. Far from parish priests being circumspect about preaching against sex, my memory is that they often seemed to preach about little else. Our own PP could hardly get through a Sunday without intoning the phrase, “the importance of abortion.” The old redemptorist missions were long gone at that stage but the bullying still went on.
I can recall a priest washing up in our village after, we were told, a sojourn in Africa. Years later a guy I used to play football with received what was, at the time, a record pay out for being abused by the same man. The priest insinuated his way into the guy’s house when the lad was 13 or 14 and his father was dying of cancer and abused him horribly. He knew he could do this with impunity just as Sean Fortune knew he could get away with his misdeeds. There was nothing benign about the relationship between priest and people in most parishes, my grandparents and many of my relations were scared stiff of priests and would no more have dreamed of contradicting them than a Soviet citizen would have thought of making a joke about Stalin at the NKVD dinner dance.
The priest held all these local roles, chairman of local committees etc., because he insisted on holding them. In many rural communities no-one would think of setting up any organisation without getting the priest involved. We reaped the whirlwind. That Protestant churches were just as bad is little consolation to me, I didn’t have to put up with them.


14. Fergus D - November 27, 2009

Should archbishops and former archbishops be brought to trial for cover-ups of child abuse? Certainly. But why stop there? Who else knew? Perhaps information was passed to the Vatican, who made sure peadophile priests escaped justice by posting them to far way places – the Phillipines springs to mind. There was that monk who came out and admitted being a Vatican fixer to deal with these problems. I think this inquiry has just scratched the surface of the problem, both in numbers of victimes and the extent of the cover-up.


Another thought. Maybe the RC Church needs to look at its bizarre, indeed unnatural, sexual pratice of celibacy. Maybe the weird life its clergy must lead has something to do with the apparently high rate of peadohilia amongst them. Alternatively, if they must be celibate cut their balls off, after all they won’t need them – problem solved at a stroke!

As for religion being harmless – I dissagree, cluttering your mind up with superstitious gibberish (abuse!!) can’t be good for you. I don’t go up to random religious persons and abuse them, but I have every right to dispute their beliefs, and there should be more debate of beliefs, religious and political in the public sphere.


15. Ratata - November 27, 2009

Maybe the Roman Catholic church needs to be forcibly disbanded, I’m very serious about this – I can not think of any group beyond paramilitaries who have inflicted so much on the people of this country. I rarely darken the door of a catholic church but have decided to certainly never enter an Irish one again, even for funerals. Never have I been so proud that I was brought up a non-practising Prod John Knox was far from right on everything but he copped the bishops and there underlings game over 400 years ago – surely it’s time to accept his lead on this. your being fed quite a lot of balooney by someone.


16. Ratata - November 27, 2009

Last line addressed to young Shane


17. Jim Monaghan - November 27, 2009

All relgions are obscurantist. Some make some compromises with reality eg the Anglicans in England but in the end of the day they represent a refusal to face reality.
In Ireland the RC has been the main enenmy ( down here) in an ideological sense but the others are just as bad in their way.
While not the last nail, this represents just another step in the process of their removal from power.
There are demands to be made
Secular control of schools and hospitals for a start.


18. Fergus D - November 27, 2009

Dead right!!!


19. remaunsell - November 27, 2009

Why has the phrase ‘knights of columbanus’ come up so infrequently in this debate, especially the bit about senior gardai not doing their duty?


20. Ramzi Nohra - November 27, 2009

Agree with a lot of stuff here. Especially that the special position of the church compromised the Republic. There should have been no room for unelected elites, especially of such a pernicious nature.
Also kind of makes me depressed that the immediate post-colonial period resulted in the transfer of power to these shower (as well as collaborating gombeen politicians and corrupt gards).

Hopefully this will be another nail in the coffin of this organisation which has been a millstone around Ireland’s neck for centuries.

However, one should bear in mind that not all individual priests are to blame. I’m instinctively anti-catholic church, believing it to be one of the most evil organisations in history. However, I keep meeting individual priests who have indeed committed many acts of kindness and would find the sort of depravities detailed here as unconsionable.


21. Logan - November 27, 2009

Two points:
Firstly,I come from a mixed Protestant and Catholic background, and was quite amazed to hear you say that some Protestant farmers were so Sabbatarian that they wouldn’t milk their cows on Sunday. My Protestant farmer relatives were quite strict about the “no unnecessary work on Sunday” rule, but obviously they regarded milking the cows a “necessary work” as it has to be done every day. If anybody had suggested that they shouldn’t milk their cows on a Sunday they would have regarded them as crackpots. I wonder what part of Ireland you are from Shane? Were these farmers CofI or Presbyterian or were they something strict like Plymouth Brethren?
And did they pay some Catholic neighbours to milk the cows on Sundays or let them go unmilked?
Methinks you have been taken in by an old wives tale somebody’s Catholic granny told them!
Second point.
I do not think that Churches becoming abandoned will be a problem for the Catholic church because they run out of priests. When push comes to shove, we will find the diaconate taking over a lot of the duties. In the rural Midlands area where I was brought up, about twenty years ago one vicar had to cover about five CofI churches. It was simply enough done – there was a roster where the vicar said service at two churches each Sunday and there was a rota where he said it the first and third Sunday of every month in one village, the second and fourth at another, etc. Several of those churches have since closed – but it was not because of a lack of ministers – having several churches in a rural area was just too expensive to maintain, due to the small congregation, so the CofI closed a few to save maintenance money. In Catholic parishes, as long as people keep attending to them for social reasons (quite likely in rural ares) they will have a large enough congregation to provide the money keep up the buildings. Maybe they might only have a “real priest” once or twice a month but the congregations will get used to that soon enough if they have a deacon. And they are already used to doing a lot of the work of running Cemetery Committees and Hall Committees themselves.
I think they will adjust quite well, Shane.


22. WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2009

I too come from what is quaintly called a mixed background and although I am well acquainted with low church practices, something oddly I found myself quite taken with, I can’t say I experienced any serious sabbatarianism. But since my main religion was RC it’s hard to say that my experience is typical.

These days I’m none too fond of the organisations but I’m not antagonistic to religion as such.

Ramzi, that would be very much my approach on all this.


23. splinteredsunrise - November 27, 2009

You do still get a lot of strict sabbatarians up here. Not so much in Belfast, but in north Antrim or east Derry for sure. It’s not so long ago that DUP councils were closing their facilities on Sundays. No, the Prods have never been that liberal in practice whatever the theory – I always liked Myles’ quip that the Prods were narrow-minded about being broad-minded, and smug about how their churches allowed them to do things like divorce which they wouldn’t do in any case because they didn’t believe in it.

On the broader issue, there were obviously enormous failures of church and state. (And demands are now being taken up for a similar inquiry in the north.) There should be prosecutions, but it took how long? nine years? to do Frank Dunlop after he’d admitted to being corrupt, and is there any evidence of proceedings against those who Frank acted as middleman for?

Broader questions come in about the failure of the Irish state to provide decent services on its own initiative – you can understand the state leaning on pre-existing church structures, but as we know that didn’t make for a very good combination. Also questions to be asked about past attitudes to sexuality, and how that contributed to the situation.


24. Crocodile - November 27, 2009

It’s noticeable that most of us feel obliged to declare our religious backgrounds before commenting and I can understand why. There is a universal revulsion at the report’s contents – with a strong admixture of betrayal in the cases of those who were raised Roman Catholics.
There has been present in the media over the last couple of days, as well, a kind of syllogism that goes something like this:
the Church of Rome was over-powerful and abused that power, therefore all organised religion is bad.
Well, maybe it is – but that’s an argument for another day.What the report at hand shows is that a particular denomination held so much power in modern Ireland that it had effective impunity from the laws of the state.I don’t see that it shows anything at all in regard to any other religious denomination in Ireland.
So it’s a big jump to say that ‘the church’ should be excluded from areas such as health and education, because ‘the church’ does not automatically mean ‘The Roman Catholic Church’.
None of which is to say that separation of church and state is not a noble ideal – just that the Murphy report adds nothing much to the argument, either way.


splinteredsunrise - November 27, 2009

And it would be interesting to see, even now, if you could get a majority for abolishing faith schools.


WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

You’re absolutely right. You couldn’t get such a majority. And that’s because of perceptions of utilitarian aspects of the education will trump and I’d doubt one parent in twenty will think twice about it as they bring their offspring through the doors of such schools on Monday morning. The separation between school and ‘faith’ is both greater and lesser than that between church and state.


25. Ratata - November 28, 2009

If we are reasonable here the RC is part of our feudal present – most of Ireland has not even reached the reformation. I don’t think we should backward on understanding Protestantism is on the road to modernity.liberarion theology is also on the road the peado-catholism this country suffered we need not appolgise for totally discarding


WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

I’ve always been partial to liberation theology, more so than any other oppositional current inside RC. In part because it seems to me it went with rather than against the grain of the overall religion and yet also had the potential to open up a progressive space over time. But it’s clear our indigenous version of RC has been in large measure catastrophic.


EWI - November 28, 2009

The mention of liberation theology prompts me to add that notwithstanding the contempt that I find it impossible not to feel for the Hierarchy, there is the occasional priest such as one I knew who had been imprisoned and badly tortured by Pinochet’s goons in Chile for his work (and, fuck you, Waghorne).

Exceptions rather than the rule, though.


WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

It’s interesting how the ones who got away from the stultifying culture tended to improve radically, in every sense of the word.


26. irishelectionliterature - November 28, 2009

Something not fully touched upon here in relation to this was the concept of ‘The Greater Good’.
Certainly in the 80s during both the abortion and divorce campaigns there was this concept that Ireland not having these was for ‘The Greater Good’.
Yes people are suffering in unhappy marriages, but were we to have divorce the floodgates would open and society would break down… or as it was put to me ‘we’d be like England’.
The same arguement held with Abortion, yes there are thousands of Irish girls going off to England, but if we introduced it here we’d have abortions galore. That was before even getting to the pro life part
of the arguement.
Its easy to see how that mentality was part of the Church, the ruling classes (the Gardai) and other sectors of society. Or even that it permeated from the church.
It was for ‘The Greater Good’ of society that the Church had no scandal.
It was for this ‘Greater Good’ that a blind eye was turned, that complaints weren’t dealt with or just fobbed off.
The abusing Priest was moved parish to quash scandal in the parish for this ‘Greater Good’.
It was for ‘The Greater Good’ that children ended up in care and subjected to the horrors of the Ryan report.
It was a morally idyllic functional society that was being portrayed at all levels and we know now at all costs too.

The ‘we’d be like England’ is definitley another factor in how as a people few questioned the repressive nature of society. Socially Britain was portrayed an immorral hellhole full of single mothers, divorces, abortions and dare I say it ‘blacks’ (which was nothing to do with morality and all to do with racism). They could win their world cups, have their Queen and fading empire, but by God were our morals way better than theirs.


WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

That’s a great point about ‘the greater good’.


27. Crocodile - November 28, 2009

Benjamin Black (John Banville)’s crime novel ‘Christine Falls’ gives a great sense of the oppressiveness of postwar Ireland and the nexus of priests/guards/politicians/ judiciary as it ruins the life of the girl in the title.


28. Dr. X - November 28, 2009

Anyone want to make a bet that no one will be charged, tried or jailed for their crimes in this case? And that we will shortly be advised to put ourselves in ‘forward-looking’ mode?

What are all these bodies doing in the river?


sonofstan - November 28, 2009

‘Closure’ and ‘moving on’ will be invoked.

I heard an economist recently on the radio talk in these terms about the banking crisis – about the understandable anger of customers in terms of a grieving process, but how we needed ‘closure’ now, and how it was time ‘to pick up the pieces and move on’ – it’s amazing how this kind of bullshit talk has managed to replace the notion of legal process and good old fashioned punishment ………


EamonnCork - November 28, 2009

Is there any modern notion more pernicious than that of ‘closure.’ It’s the idea that you can actually have end titles and theme music in life like you have at the finish of a soap opera episode when it’s time to move on to a new storyline.
It’s pretty clear that Murray, Bishop of Limerick, should go as he was complicit in the Dublin cover-up. If Martin was really sorry, he would press for this to happen. But I think he feels he’s done his bit by looking sad at the press conference. There should, of course, be one of these inquiries done in every diocese.


Dr. X - November 28, 2009

‘Closure is bullshit’ – James Ellroy.


EamonnCork - November 28, 2009

James might be an appropriate choice to write a history of the Irish Catholic church over the last 50 years. Vatican Tabloid, anyone?


Tomboktu - November 28, 2009

Well, if are to be forward looking, we might start with the current State failure of those in institutional care.

Specifically, we know that the standards of care for unaccompanied minors in the asylum system are failing. Although that issue has been covered in the media, I haven’t seen the front page of any national newsaper given over to that; nor have I seen two ministers use the optics of a White House press conference on the Rose Lawn to convey how serious it is by standing behind a podium outside the front doors of the Department of the Taoiseach to condemn those responsible for the failure.



WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

That struck me too Tomboktu, I thought the presentation struck a wrong note, that’s probably just me though.


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