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Church of the poisoned mind
Why the recent summit in Rome on clerical child sex abuse was a total failure, and a lovely letter from a fan
Eamonn McCann, 29 May 2002
Even now, they don’t get it, and it’s reasonable to conclude they are never going to get it. Last month’s “summit” meeting in Rome on clerical child sex abuse was a total failure – from the point of view of the victims, at any rate. The pope and his closest aides and 12 United States cardinals and their advisers, after months of careful preparation and amid worldwide pubicity, gathered first in open session and then in solemn conclave to discuss what to do about the deluge of scandal which has engulfed the US Church. The meeting was intended and presented as putting an end to all previous prevarication. This, at last, was the decisive, authoritative intervention of the Church’s world leadership.
After three days of discussion and, we are told, prayer, the prelates demonstrated that they had acquired not the slightest understanding of the issue at hand or of what was required of them personally. In light of this, it is surely time for general acknowledgement of the futility and silliness of continuing to urge that the Catholic Church do this or that to repair the damage its representtives have visited on uncounted children in myriad places down the years. The Church is not the arena in which this vast criminality happened, but is itself the criminal, and has shown itself irreformable.
The final Rome communique spoke of the “evil” of child sex abuse and of an “absolute necessity” to extirpate it utterly. The cardinals then went on to demonstrate that they either didn’t understand the import of their own words or, alternatively and more plausibly, that they understood very well but were continuing the standard practice of hierarchies across the globe of evasion, dissemblance and lies.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles emerged to tell journalists that his diocese had already introduced the toughest guidelines in the US for handling child abuse allegations. He was being shifty. It was quickly pointed out by victims’ groups in LA that the guidelines had been imposed on an unwilling diocese as part of a $5.2 million settlement of the case brought by abuse victim Ryan Dimaria.
Cardinal William Weigand of Sacramento cited a hot-line for victims which he had introduced as evidence of his diocese’s firm purpose of amendment. This was hypocrisy of a high order. It emerged that the hot-line was staffed by a member of the diocese’s legal team: victims who ’phoned in were, unknown to themselves, speaking with a woman whose job it was to defend the Church from their allegations.
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston rejected suggestions that he should resign, even after court documents obtained by the Boston Globe revealed him blaming the parents of a six-year-old for the abuse the child been subjected to by Fr. Paul Shanley. On his return to Boston, Law ordered his priests not to enter into dialogue with lay members of parish councils who wanted discussion of the Rome “summit”. Such a course would be “potentially divisive”, he warned.
Over and over again in interviews, cardinals brought up the supposedly troublesome scenario of a once-off abuser being exposed after 20 or 30 years of subsequent blameless service. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC put it directly when he asked what he should do about a man who’d abused a minor decades ago “and since then has never had any trouble, and the people know and say, ‘He’s a good man, we don’t have to get rid of him, we’ll monitor him, we’ll take care of him”. Do I say, ‘You’re out’?”
Thus, the Rome gathering, projected as the Church at the highest level at last formally facing up to the issue of child sex abuse, has in fact demonstrated that the Church at the highest level has no intention whatever of facing up to the issue, and may be constitutionally quite incapable of so doing.
I managed to get myself into bother with the crazies again by marking the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the North by recalling the travails suffered by my pal Stanley Orr as a result of his association with royalty.
The visit was also marked by her majesty’s forces ripping through the homes of nationalists in east Belfast to remind them of who’s in charge, even in these ever-changing times. It’s small wonder in the circumstances there was nationalist rage at the sort of TV news report which told that “the people of west Tyrone” were rejoicing that Elizabeth had come among them. West Tyrone being represented in the UK parliament by Pat Doherty, it’s a fair bet a sizable proportion of its people were in a rather different frame of mind. But even in the era of precisely-calibrated parity of esteem, media reverence for royalty overwhelms all other considerations.
Allowed my own minor incursion into public discussion of the visit, I’d mused on radio about Elizabeth’s 1953 post-coronation peregrination around the realm, in the course of which she spent almost three hours in Derry. The highpoint of her Derry interlude had her making the mayor, Sam Orr, a knight. This was the full-colour production, set in the middle of a red-carpeted Guildhall Square, Sam down on one knee on a purple cushion and her with the sword tapping him lightly on one shoulder and then the other, and bidding him in that tremulous, twee voice to, Arise, Sir Samuel!
Sam, as head Unionist honcho on Londonderry Corporation at the time, was, necessarily, a man of many murky manoeuvres. In deference to his elevation, he was known in the Bogside ever afterwards as “the knight of the long connives.”
The dapper Stanley, Sir Samuel’s nephew, a great man for Derry City matches and an all-round fun person, was a staunch unionist until the end of his entertaining days but always allowed that life for members of the nobility like himself wasn’t a bed of roses, no matter what anybody thought. And true enough, I recalled meeting Stanley in the Gweedore Bar on Waterloo Street one day, and him cursing the fact that he couldn’t finish the Daily Mirror crossword. Eventually, as the resident Gweedore smart-ass of that period, I agreed to check the clues Stanley had already filled in, and immediately spotted his fundamental error. This had arisen from a faulty identification of royal titles. The key to the literal gridlock was the clue: “An aristocratic glance” – four letters. Stanley, where he ought to have put “peer”, had instead written, “duke”. I told him at the time, that’s what you get for mixing yourself up with the nobility.
That was the yarn. Hardly the most vicious piece of anti-monarchical rhetoric you’ve heard this year, is it? Or even in the last couple of minutes, perhaps. But with royal madness let loose in the land, it was enough to prompt screeching denunication from the ’phone-in crazies – whose point was perhaps most neatly encapsulated in a letter (in copper-plate hand-writing) which arrived next day: “You are the embodiment of all that is evil and vile in this world. Only a brain filled with bile could invent an insult to the Queen by insulting the Protestant people. You are only a third-rate journalist with a pea-brain who thinks he is superior to other people. If I had my way you would be dragged through the streets and your head ripped off because a brain as evil and twisted as yours has no right to be connected to a human body. May you fucking rot in hell.”
Norn Iron. What a grand wee country.