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Parishioners and priests alike have responded angrily to attempts by the Bishop of Derry to surreptitiously impose a levy aimed at covering the costs of clerical sex abuse cases. Plus: The different face Sinn Fein presents in the US and the hypocrisy of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O-Connor.
Eamonn McCann, 30 Mar 2005
It is widely assumed that Derry’s Catholic bishop, Seamus Hegarty, has been somewhat humiliated and certainly reduced in stature by the recent controversy over his handling of a clerical sex abuse case and his surreptitious imposition of a £200,000 a year levy on the laity to pay the costs arising from Irish clerical sex abuse cases generally. But I’m not sure this is the way Dr. Hegarty sees it.
The bishop was forced to withdraw the levy following a we-won’t-pay revolt by parishioners and then an unprecedented gathering of priests of the diocese, which decided to make the bishop aware that they shared their parishioners’ views.
Plans to impose the levy or something equivalent in every diocese in Ireland are now in disarray.
This has been a significant development, but concentration on it may have obscured the matter which triggered discussion of the issue in the first place. This was the fact that the diocese had maintained in parish ministry a priest who had paid a large sum of money to a man who claimed that the priest had sexually abused him during counselling for problems rooted in the youth’s previous, childhood experience of sexual abuse.
This disturbing and bizarre situation had arisen from the bishop having sanctioned the priest’s appointment as a counsellor with a diocesan organisation dealing with the effects on individuals of abuse, including sexual abuse. This bishop had been aware of the priest’s history at the time of the appointment.
At no point were the civil authorities informed that a complaint had been made.
On the BBC NI Spotlight programme which broke the story, Hegarty displayed a startling insouciance on the question of whether the victim of the abuse could accurately be described as “a victim.” (“Well, I certainly do not attribute any guilt to him,” he conceded.)
As to the priest’s appointment as a sex abuse counsellor, Hegarty declared that, “It was not for me to adjudicate” whether the posting had been “appropriate.” It had not been for him to “second guess” an unidentified group of “experts”, who had apparently recommended the priest as suited for the position.
This it nonsense. It is one of the clearest prescriptions of Catholic canon law that a bishop is supreme in his diocese. It was precisely Dr. Hegarty’s responsibility, and nobody else’s, to decide what position the priest, any priest, should fill in the diocese. He might consult any “group of experts” he chose (although in this case Dr. Hegarty confessed that he had no idea who these experts had been). But it was entirely his responsibility to decide what weight, if any, on the basis of his own judgment and knowledge, to give to the “experts’” recommendation.
Seamus Hegarty appointed a man he knew to have been the subject of a plausible complaint of sexual abuse to a position in which he might have been expected to receive the full trust of vulnerable victims of previous abuse. When this was revealed, he sought to wash his hands of responsibility in a way which misrepresented the laws of the Church.
Does Dr. Hegarty feel humiliated, reduced? Maybe. What I think he certainly feels is relieved that he got away with the most of it.
“Jesus, that’s the end of it,“ sighed my Shinner friend as the lunchtime news told that James Walsh from upstate New York had become the latest congressman to tell the IRA to disband.
The reason Walsh’s defection hit hard was that the man from Syracuse has arguably been Sinn Fein’s most doughty defender on Capitol Hill over the past decade. Ted Kennedy briefly backed off at the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in 1996. The ardour of even Peter King of New York City has once or twice cooled. But Walsh never wavered.
Walsh is also one of Congress’s most forthright advocates of US aggression abroad. Not for him the namby-pamby approach of, say, George W. Bush, who strives to justify the Iraq operation on the ground that it toppled a dictator and brought democracy to the region. OK, bad argument. But at least it’s an argument. Walsh sees no need for such nicety.
Some months back, the congressman assured station WRVO that not only had the invasion of Iraq been a splendid inspiration for all lovers of freedom, but: “In time it will be seen as a model.”
More, then… Syria, Cuba, Iran. South Armagh, maybe. His stern disapproval of the McCartney killing and changed stance on the IRA meant that this was the first St. Patrick’s Day in a decade that Walsh wasn’t flanked by a Sinn Fein leader as he strode through the shamrock-strewn streets of Syracuse.
I have remarked in this space one or twice on the contradiction between the broadly left-wing face Sinn Fein presents at home and the right-wing attitudes conveyed, implicitly at least, by its comportment and associations in the US. Taxed with this, Sinn Feiners have tended to argue, that, for the moment, being realistic, it’s necessary to play ball with the big bourgeoisie so as to ensure maximum pressure on the Brits to concede reasonable Nationalist demands.
On the other hand, it occurred to me, Walsh has been a regular visitor to Ireland and, I imagine, scans Irish media outlets from time to time. He must know that many of the things the Shinners march for at home are out of step with the views they put on parade when shoulder-to shoulder with himself in Syracuse. Never mind how the Republicans explain their alliance with Walsh to the home base: how do they explain the home base to Walsh?
I took the opportunity of a pre-Paddy’s Day interview with a New York station to put the point to an Irish-American broadcaster who has covered the Syracuse beat. Well, he related, they tend to explain that, for the moment, unfortunately, it’s necessary to keep the head-banger lefties on-side so as not to divide the alliance pressing the Brits to concede reasonable Nationalist demands.
And that, folks, is how Gerry Adams, and the rest of the Sinn Feiners stumbled into the Paddy’s Day shit-storm which engulfed it in the US.
I see, too, that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor of Westminster has stirred up a medium-sized storm with his letter to British party leaders insisting that abortion must be a major issue in the imminent general election.
“Bloody hyprocite,” one of my atheist sidekicks sourly observed, referring to the last major controversy Murphy-O’Connor had been embroiled in. This was occasioned, readers will not need reminding, by the Cardinal, when the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, responding to the sins of Fr. Michael Hill – sexual abuser of at least nine children, including a boy with severe learning difficulties – decided to rotate him around parishes to give everybody a chance, eventually making him chaplin of Gatwick Airport, so often teeming with bored children.
“Where’s the consistency in that?” Collete, for it was she, wanted to know. “Not what you would call traditional fucking Christian values, is it?“ Thus proving, again, that she never listens to a word I say.
I had to explain that, according to the saintly Doctors of the Church, it’s only after children are born that it’s permissible to treat them like they had no human rights.