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The bishop's new clothes
Sex, purity and cover-up in Donegal; and how Michael Moore got it right and wrong.
Eamonn McCann, 06 Aug 2004
The road to hell lies through Utopia, says Philip Boyce. The Bishop of Raphoe was warning Catholics to steer clear of Donegal’s first sex shop.
“Sex shop” may be putting it strong. The shop-front of Derry’s Utopia branch falls short of orgiastic excess: interesting knickers, calico corsets and what I believe might be cross-ribbed vibrators. I’ve seen more alluring merchandise in Boots. But maybe that’s just me.
Boyce was “shocked” to hear of Utopia’s Letterkenny arrival. “It was against the Church’s teaching to have anything to do with a place like this,” he told the Derry Journal (July 18th). “No-one who lives and cares for the Christian faith of the Gospel could approve of or frequent a shop like this.”
Boyce suggested local people should instead “ask the Virgin Mary for the gift of purity and love.”
The question arising is: how come, if purity and love are to be had for the asking from the BVM, a number of priests of his diocese didn’t avail of the offer?
Take Father Eugene Greene, sentenced to 12 years in 2000 for sexual assaulting 26 children in Donegal parishes between 1965 and 1982. Two years ago, a BBC NI Spotlight programme claimed that Boyce had known of the allegations in 1995, but had allowed Greene to remain in the ministry until 1998 – when gardai informed him an investigation was under way. Spotlight reported that on at least five occasions, dating back to 1971, senior priests had been told of the allegations. But the diocese insisted that it had been entirely unaware of the complaints until alerted to the garda inquiry.
Boyce told Spotlight that shortly after becoming bishop in October 1995, “I became aware of an unease among people concerning Father Greene and children in the parish where he lived in retirement. I met with the parish priest and a schoolteacher, but they were unable to identify any specific complaint. I was unable to get any confirmation of what substance lay behind these rumours.”
What he didn’t do, which he was legally required to do, was inform the gardai – or anyone else outside the Church. Instead, Boyce carried out his own “investigation”, decided there was no “confirmation”, and sang dumb until police interest three years later forced him to break cover.
Boyce spoke of his “pain and deep regret” but insisted that, “I see no pastoral purpose in reopening wounds in the hearts and memories of those who have suffered .”
One man with a wounded heart was Paul Breslin, then 38, from Gortahork, whose story had been crucial to the Spotlight exposé. He had repeatedly been sexually assaulted by Greene between the ages of 10 and 12. In an interview with Raidio na Gaeltachta following the programme, he said that no one in authority in the church had contacted him, even after broadcast of his story. A number of priests had written supportively. But from Boyce, silence. Breslin said he didn’t believe there were no files on Greene in diocesean archives. Greene, he pointed out, had been shifted from parish to parish as complaints were made.
This suggested he was being tracked and the complaints monitored, not so as to protect the children of the diocese but to hide Greene from justice and protect the Church.
Breslin said he found it “unbelievable” that at the time of the Spotlight broadcast Boyce was confirming, after the launch of a new garda investigation, that four other Raphoe priests were under investigation, and that three of these were still serving.
I’d have thought that when it comes to credentials for instructing the people of Donegal on how to find purity and love, Bishop Boyce, like the Emperor, has no clothes. Now there’s an alluring image, not.
My sensitive antennae have detected a whiff of discontent at the suggestion here last issue that, “the Left has long been mortified by (Michael) Moore.”
“Speak for yourself,” I have been advised. Which I will – although it’s my impression there’s many on the Left who privately agree with my view but who decline publicly to voice it for fear of giving comfort to pro-war liars and clowns. But why should we allow decrepits like Hitchens or Steyn to set limits to the sweep of our opinion?
Moore’s attitude to Bush in Farenheit 9/11 is brilliant and he presents his polemic with oomph and aplomb. But his analysis is personalised and trite and, crucially, he has no exit strategy. Apart from devoutly wishing the removal of George Bush from office, he has no outcome to advocate. He offers no lucid account of why the US invaded, and so has no route-map towards withdrawal.
Insofar as Moore identifies a casus belli, it has to do with the venality and corruption of the Bush clan and its business associates. But this begs the question: if Bush family values generated the invasion, how come US Middle Eastern policy in the years between the Bush presidencies differed scarcely at all from the policy now in place? The bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq represented an intensification of this policy, sure. But not a sharp break.
Farenheit 9/11 makes much of the hugger-mugger relationship between the Bush clan and the House of Saud. But every US presidency for more than half a century has held hard to the deal struck by Roosevelt whereby the US props up the dictatorship in return for effective control of the flow and price of Saudi oil.
The Bush family has been on the take from the Saudis, a connection facilitated by the long-standing US-Saudi relationship. But to suggest that this is the key to the relationship is light-minded and unhelpful to explaining the interplay of interests involved.
Nowhere in the movie does Moore mention Clinton’s December 1998 bomb assault on Iraq. Maybe that would have contaminated his attack on the unique evils of Bush, implicitly atypical of the US elite generally.
Worse, Moore’s basic charge against Bush is that he has distorted the true values of the US military. Young Americans who join up, he says towards the end of the film, “offer to give up their lives so we can be free.” The argument is that the invasion of Iraq was an unforgiveable betrayal of a military tradition of defending freedom. This is, to say the least, a dubious proposition and provides no basis for a coherent critique of US power in the world.
We are told that US audiences have emerged from movie-houses shaken and angry, which is a good mood for the moment we are in. But what political action are they prompted towards? Apart from voting Democrat? Moore’s website offers links to groups working to turn voters out for Kerry/Edwards, but includes no link to any anti-war campaigning organisation. Moore’s effect is to discourage questioning which goes beyond the responsibility of the Bush gang for the Iraq disaster to the wider responsibility of the US ruling class.
It’s good we have a hit movie that takes an anti-war line. Farenheit 9/11 is brash and funny, wickedly edited and very easy to sit through. But it’s narrowly focused, shallow in its analysis and, like Moore himself, ideologically of the centre, not of the Left. Which was my point. b