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Southern Religion

The Catholic Church robbed Irish adults of the ability to tell right from wrong

For The Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole writes about the massive, decades long cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by Irish Catholic priests:

But in the case of the institutional Catholic Church we have an organisation with an unusually powerful mechanism of self-protection: the capacity to convince the society it is abusing to take part in the cover-up. The damage the church has done to Irish society lies in the ways it has involved that society in the maintenance of an abusive instrument of control and power.

It is easy to miss a central aspect of this whole scandal. The report is concerned with the actions of the church authorities and describes in damning detail their sense of being above the law of the land. (Cardinal Desmond Connell, for example, told the commission that “the greatest crisis in my position as Archbishop” was not, as might be imagined, his discovery of appalling criminality among his clergy, or even his own disingenuous public claims that “I have compensated nobody”, but the decision to allow gardaí access to diocesan files.) But it is striking that parents, teachers and wider communities seldom went to the police either.

This was not a matter of ignorance. It is clear that some of the paedophiles were not secretive and cunning, but reckless and flagrant. In the early 1970s, for example, Fr James McNamee, who had built a swimming pool in his house into which only young boys were allowed, was so notorious among the children in his Crumlin parish that “whenever the older boys in the area saw Fr McNamee, they either ran away or started throwing things and shouting insults at Fr McNamee. Apparently he was known as ‘Father smack my gee’.” If children were shouting abuse at a priest in 1970s Ireland, adults undoubtedly noticed. They must have known why.

. . .

Yet in most cases, parents who knew their children had been abused went to the bishop, not to the Garda. There may have been a mistrust of the Garda (sometimes well founded), or a fear of exposure in the courts. But, in Archbishop Ryan’s internal notes on the Father X case there is a more extraordinary explanation: “The parents involved have, for the most part, reacted with what can only be described as incredible charity. In several cases, they were quite apologetic about having to discuss the matter and were as much concerned for the priest’s welfare as for their child and other children.”

This was the church’s great achievement in Ireland. It had so successfully disabled a society’s capacity to think for itself about right and wrong that it was the parents of an abused child, not the bishop who enabled that abuse, who were “quite apologetic”.

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November 28, 2009 - Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Religion | , , , ,

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