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Same as it ever was
While history repeats itself in Afghanistan, at home, the Catholic Church continues to obstruct investigations into alleged child abuse
Eamonn McCann, 25 Oct 2001
Anybody remember the Battle of Lepanto? Apart from myself, Mary Kenny, a billion Muslims and, maybe, George W. Bush?
When I were a lad we didn’t need reminding of Lepanto. It was drummed into us, de-dum, de-dum, as we rote-learned G. K. Chesterton’s relentlessly rhythmic celebration of the obscure Austrian adventurer who, amid indolence and Protestant heresy all around, answered a Pope’s call to arms against Islam.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
The Battle of Lepanto was fought on October 7th 1571. Four hundred and thirty years later to the day, the US and Britain began their bombardment of Afghanistan. Coincidence? Probably.
Then again, all manner of commentators, some of them hitherto regarded as sane, are apparently convinced that the suicide bombers responsible for the atrocities in the US last month chose September 11th for the dastardly deed because it was the anniversary of the day in 1683 when the armies of the Ottoman Empire were forced to retreat from the gates of Vienna. Christopher Hitchins believes that.
And Mary Kenny believes that the launch of the revenge assault on Afghanistan was timed as a retaliatory reminder to the Muslim world of another key date in securing the hegemony of Christianity in Europe.
The Gulf of Lepanto is the long inlet of the Ionian Sea separating the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland and containing the recently fabled island of Cephalonia. It was here that the Ottoman fleet under admiral Ali Pasha faced off against Christian coalition forces drawn mainly from Austria, Spain and Italy in a set-piece confrontation to determine whether western Christians or dusky Muslims were to rule the world around them.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross…
The ideologies in contention were religious. But the Western side at least was in doubt about what was really involved.
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
The Greek writer Georgios Rigas has imagined the scene: “The cross and the crescent fluttered aloft, symbolizing the two religions and the two hostile civilizations of Christendom and Islam, whose forces were about to meet in the decisive battle of their long and bitter holy war... The Christians were more than a match for them. In fact, they fought with such incredible ferocity that the battle soon became a slaughter. Not one galley escaped. Those that were not sunk, burned or grounded ashore were captured by their Christian opponents…”
Pius V had called on the faithful to say the rosary to aid Don John’s forces. Wonder of wonders, a fierce wind swirled and huge waves scattered the Turkish vessels and left them at the mercy of Don John’s forces. To this day and for this reason, October 7th is designated the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Rigas continues: “The waters of the gulf for miles around were stained red from the great amount of blood shed that day and the sea was strewn with the bodies of both victors and vanquished... The losses suffered by the Holy League fleet were between 7,000 and 8,000 killed and about twice that number wounded... These losses were comparatively light... A large majority of the 75,000 men who had entered the battle on the Muslim side were killed. Only a few were able to escape either by ship or by swimming ashore”.
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds…
“Word of the victory quickly spread across Europe. The Republic of Venice was the first allied state to receive the news. The Doge quickly ordered a week of public celebrations and October 7th was declared a perpetual holiday. Hundreds of poems, songs and paintings were produced all over Christendom in commemoration of the victory. All of Christendom took heart.”
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
October 7th, Feast of the Rosary, is still a public holiday in Venice. In one perspective, the battle lines are still the same, as is the image projected of the Muslim enemy.
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Sultan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
The news of a bishop being convicted for covering up child abuse by priests should send a shudder of apprehension through the Irish hierarchy, but it won’t. The case happened in France. In Ireland, the cover-up continues and there isn’t the hint of a suggestion that any Church official will be charged.
The disgraced French bishop is Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, who has been given three months suspended for failing to report three instances of sexual assaults on children by Fr. Rene Bissey. In October last year, Bissey was sentenced to 18 years in gaol.
Pican had faced three years. In deciding on a shorter, suspended sentence, the court took into account his acknowledgment of having “underestimated the seriousness” of the priest’s crimes.
The bishop admitted through his lawyers that, upon learning of the sex attacks on children, “he believed it was more important to help the priest first, rather than denounce him to the police. So he removed the priest from his parish and sent him to a clinic”.
This will ring more than church bells all over Ireland.
Little had been heard for some time about investigations here into child abuse in Church-controlled institutions until, a few weeks back, Magill magazine nudged the story back up the agenda with a suggestion that the alleged victims might have been lured by lawyers and the promise of compensation into making the whole yarn up. This is standard-issue stuff. Generally speaking, the only options open to anyone accused of child abuse is to plead guilty, or claim the accuser is a liar. Evidence which could be debated for its corroborative value is rarely available.
Except, perhaps, when the alleged abuse has happened in a setting where records of day-to-day life, disciplinary proceedings and the process of “moral formation” tend to be meticulously maintained.
Eugene Murphy, a solicitor representing former residents of a number of “industrial schools”, has written that: “All solicitors and clients... are greatly hampered insofar as certain religious Orders are flatly refusing to furnish us with our clients’ records until such times as a High Court writ is issued. These Orders have, through their lawyers, also indicated that, should a writ issue and be served, they will immediately apply to have these proceedings struck out for reasons of, inter alia, delay”.
Murphy goes on: “I am perfectly satisfied, from speaking to (former residents of the institutions) that the abuses complained of were endemic in this country during the period mentioned, and I am perfectly satisfied that the State and the Church knew then and now what was happening and both acted in a manner which only perpetuated the torture endured by the children concerned”.
And the torture continues. Not only do the Catholic Church authorities refuse to hand over the records of children who claim to have been abused, they threaten a campaign of obstruction if the children’s representatives look for court action to secure the material which might prove their complaints.
And then somebody extraneous pipes up from the sidelines to suggest that because they can’t prove their case they are likely liars on the make.