not a member? click here to sign up
Abuse-Will The Truth Out?
Despite protestations, the Church s response to child abuse is still characterised by deviousness and concealment, writes EAMONN McCANN.
Eamonn McCann, 15 Sep 1999
An increasing number of Irish people take the same view of God as they do of the Loch Ness Monster. If it exists, that s OK. And if it doesn t exist, that s OK, too.
People of this sensible strain of thought won t worry over-much about religion. What we should worry about is whether crooked talk by Churches becomes generally accepted. Because when it s generally accepted it affects us all.
Magazines banned by a Censorship Board which some of us had half-forgotten was still in existence. Attempts to use the Blasphemy Act of 1868 against articles which dissed superstition. The three stooges aka the independent TDs unfeasibly mounted on the same high horse demanding another referendum on abortion.
Something is happening and we know what it is, don t we, Archbishop Connell?
The question becomes clearer when we ask if the Catholic Church is now talking straight about child abuse.
Over the past ten years, usually in this space, I ve suggested that the bishops expressions of concern for the children have been motivated mainly by self-interest. They d say what was required to placate an angry public. But when and if anger subsided, they d switch tactics and try to recover lost ground.
Regular references to the pain and distress of cardinals and bishops at the terrible revelations tumbling out cast the Church as the victim, not the villain, of the piece.
Over time, some unexpected people, even a few with a Loch Ness perspective on life, took up and amplified the Church s defence case. Maybe the bishops behaved badly. Shifty at the outset, on the defensive thereafter, they made a hames of the messy affair. But they weren t cynically amoral or deliberately dishonest.
The volume of expression of this sort of sentiment will have weighed in the balance as the Church considered the timing of the launch of its backlash which a chill blast of putrid air now confirms is well under way.
Last month came news of legal action against journalist Bruce Arnold over references to a number of bishops in an article in the Irish Independent. If the case comes to court, it will play to full houses. A first in Church-media relations, it s already being talked of in colourful terms the bishops in bolshie mood and finally coming out to fight.
We ve had a sudden stream of letters-to-the-editor from Fr. John Dardis, director of communications for the Dublin archdiocese, taking RTE to task for its restrained series, States of Fear.
It also emerged last month that secret (as always) meetings of the bishops had decided to take a generally more aggressive role in countering what one report described as ongoing innuendo in relation to clerical sex abuse. The boss of the Christian Brothers has likewise let it be known that they re not going to take it any more.
A significant boost to the bishops self-confidence came with the collapse of the case against former nun Nora Wall, wrongly convicted of rape. This affair was trumpeted as evidence of persecution of the Church. Things had gone too far, one injustice replaced by another. The usual suspect commentators took up the cry.
The effrontery has been bare-faced and breath-taking. The initial notion that the bishops had been ignorant of the abuse of children until the revelations of recent years is the opposite of the truth. No group of people in the land knew more. And no group did less with the knowledge which they had.
And, far from the Church having been given a rough time in the press, it s been treated with soft soap and kid gloves.
To cite the prosecution of Nora Wall as evidence of the Church wronged is like arguing from the Birmingham Six case that the IRA never planted a bomb in England with this significant difference: that not a scintilla of evidence has been produced to suggest that anti-Catholic sentiment played any part whatsoever in the decision to prosecute Nora Wall or in the court s arrival at a guilty verdict. The significance of the case lay in what it told us which wasn t anything new about the farcical ineptitude of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It s not the Church which is being treated unfairly, but the victims of the Church, huge numbers of whom are traumatised still, offered neither compensation nor counselling, nor even, in many cases, acknowledgment that they ve gone through savagery which continues to darken their lives.
If the bishops were genuine in the remorse which they advertise, even now they d take the obvious course open to them, frequently mentioned here but rarely elsewhere. They d open the archives which their Church meticulously keeps so we could measure the extent of what happened, pin-point what Church leaders knew and when they knew it. In other words, they d tell the truth.
This isn t a complicated matter. Scores of the children treated abominably in homes in Derry in the 40s and 50s were eventually shipped off to Australia where their suffering continued and, if anything, increased. How many children, exactly? Who were they? Where are they now? How were they selected? Were they, in the main, children who wouldn t be missed ? Who devised this policy and why, and who supervised its implementation?
Some of the answers to these questions are assuredly to be found in records held by the Derry diocese. Why, if the Catholic Church wants to make a clean breast and a break with its past, does it adamantly refuse to let light fall on these facts? Why doesn t it tell the truth?
The Bishop of Derry through the relevant period was Neil Farren. A biography with the imprimatur of the Church was published in 1993. I ve just read it. It describes Farren s admiration for the regime at one of the homes where the children were held in the diocese. It makes clear that he ruled his domain with a rod of iron. He would have personally attended to the export of the children. But there isn t a mention of the episode in the book.
1993 isn t the dim and distant past. Already, the scandal of children in Church-run homes was in the public arena. But the abused children of Derry were still being written out of Church history, as if they d never existed.
That tells us more about the real thinking of the Church than the bawling of the bishops about being given a bad press. They don t tell the truth because their priority is not to right wrongs but to cover up crimes.
The Church should consider itself thrice-blessed in its coverage. Given the reversal of roles which the spin-doctors of divinity are currently attempting to contrive, it s worth pondering again what reaction might have been were it not the Catholic Church but some other institution which had been involved in this litany of suffering.
If we d discovered dozens of cases involving hundreds of victims of officials of a sports association, or a political party, or members of a trade union group, and we knew that relevant records had been retained, and if the organisation, far from following a policy of openness, were to sit tight and sing dumb and change the locks on the filing cupboards, wouldn t we stir up a political storm?
But far from the Catholic Church being put under this sort of pressure, its leaders seem confident they have brazened it out, that their crooked talk has become generally accepted.
The fact that, as they see it, they ve gotten away with the child abuse scandal has emboldened them across a wide range of issues. Herein lies the connection with the new push by the pro-lifers , the thought-police operation against In Dublin, the resurrection of the Blasphemy Act.
It s as important as ever it was to bring the bishops to book. n