- 09 Aug 21
New revelations have recently emerged about the extent of crimes committed by the paedophile priest, Fr. Joseph Marmion, in Belvedere College, Dublin – and the way in which they were covered up by the school and the Jesuit order. The worst of it is that the Jesuits are still in the business of self-justification.
The Church cannot be trusted. I made that depressingly stark observation recently, writing about the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, and about the leaders of religious orders here. And I have to admit that I felt a twinge when I read it back. Was I being unfair? Not, I felt, on the facts. But there was a lingering niggle: I didn’t want to be too cynical or unkind.
I was reflecting, at the time, on the contentious issue of the ownership of the land on which the proposed new National Maternity Hospital will stand, if it is co-located with St. Vincent’s Hospital on the Merrion Road, on the south side of Dublin; and in particular on the representation on the board of the NMH, that the proxies of the Sisters of Charity, in the form of the St. Vincent's Medical Group, are insisting on, before any deal to build the hospital is finalised.
My view, for what it’s worth, is that for the Government to agree to this would be profoundly wrong. In a modern democracy, no religious group, of any kind, should be given any form of preferential position in relation to the operation of the National Maternity Hospital. It should be run as a secular institution, open to every citizen – no matter what their beliefs or lack thereof – on exactly equal terms.
We know that all over the world right now, even as these words are being hammered out on a laptop here in Dublin, the Roman Catholic Church is, as a matter of dogma, actively engaged in an ongoing and often febrile campaign against the availability of abortion in any and every hospital, in all jurisdictions, right across the world. We also know that, in 2018, the Irish people voted by a significant majority that abortion should be available to women in Ireland; and that laws have since been introduced to put that decision into effect.
With that as background, before proceeding with the plan to co-locate the National Maternity Hospital with St. Vincent’s Hospital, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, and the Government, must decide: is it possible to reconcile those two almost diametrically opposed positions?
You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to see that the answer is ‘no’.
I think we need to understand one thing very clearly. If they succeed in gaining representation on the board of the National Maternity Hospital, any representatives of the Sisters of Charity – or of their proxies in the St. Vincent’s Medical Group – will see it as an essential part of their mission, to put into permanent, ongoing effect, the Roman Catholic Church’s religious opposition to abortion.
And yet, in every statement they have made on the issue, the St. Vincent’s Medical Group have implied, and continue to imply, otherwise. They state that they want to own the land, and to have representation on the board, purely for clinical, governance and operational reasons. And they have said that every procedure, to do with gynaecology, that is legal in Ireland will be available on the campus. So what is there to worry about?
This line has been repeated over and over again by apologists for the St. Vincent’s Hospital Group: haven’t they given all the necessary assurances?
The truth is that these reassurances don’t amount to a hill of beans. They are like miraculous medals: completely worthless.
All of the services possible under the law may indeed be ‘available’. But the ethos of the hospital can still be to mount a rearguard action designed to prevent abortion, except in the most extreme circumstances where a woman is about to die on the spot, if the pregnancy is allowed to continue.
Would that be in the spirit of the decision to remove the 8th Amendment? Not for a minute. But I can guarantee that the proxies for the Sisters of Charity have this kind of ‘ethos’ in mind.
The architects of the ‘reassurance’ can claim they are doing nothing more or less than telling the truth: abortion will be ‘available’. They can try to present themselves as honest brokers. But they have a religious agenda. And they are, I believe, trying to get a deal over the line which will enable them to enforce the ‘ethos’ which the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity. Sr. Patricia Lenihan has committed them to.
Which is why I said that the nuns can’t be trusted.
Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church have no apology to make for this. In their one-eyed view of the world, they are charged with a higher purpose than the State. Truth matters far less than power. And that is what they desperately want. They want leverage. And they will use whatever leverage is granted to them to pursue the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church. That is their reason for existing.
DUPLICITY AND EVASION
Whatever happened, you might well ask now, to that twinge?
Along the road, I had heard of the Jesuit priest, Fr. Joseph Marmion, who taught in Belvedere College in Dublin between 1969 and 1978. Before that he had been at Crescent College in Limerick and in Clongowes Wood College in Kidare.
We don’t know all of the sick details yet, but in all three schools, Fr. Marmion was guilty of gross sexual abuse of children.
In itself, that is hardly a surprise: we know that there were countless dozens of paedophile priests and brothers – Christian Brothers, De La Salle Brothers, Presentation Brothers, the lot – who brutalised and defiled children on an ongoing basis in schools, orphanages, industrial schools, and in churches and parish houses after mass.
But there is something new here: the awful details of the response of the Jesuits, every step of the way, to the fact that this abuse was taking place behind closed doors in their small world. What they did as individuals and as an Order, when the reality was brought to their attention – not once but on numerous occasions – was cruelly self-serving and wrong. Criminally so.
Over the years, the Order has made various attempts to slide away from acknowledging the truth. They tried to discreetly bury the story. It didn’t work. In his memoir Muck and Merlot, the journalist and wine-writer, Tom Doorley, described in detail Marmion’s predilections, without naming him. At the time, a press release was prepared by the Jesuits as an exercise in damage limitation – but when the moment passed without too much damning publicity, they decided not to issue it.
Boys – now men – kept coming forward. Some were more persistent than others. Eventually, the Order knew that they could no longer successfully keep their collective fingers in the dyke.
Recently, the Jesuits again prepared, and on this occasion circulated, a document entitled “Joseph Marmion. The Jesuit Response”. It was sent to men who had attended Belvedere College, and been abused by Fr. Marmion. That document was passed on to Patsy McGarry, who wrote a brilliant piece about its contents in the Irish Times.
The document could be described as a mea culpa on the part of the Order, and of those individuals who were in positions of power and responsibility in the Order, in Ireland, over a period of forty years and more. The document sets out what it describes as a record “of shameful and criminal behaviour on Joseph Marmion’s part, and negligent responses on ours.”
Sadly, however, to describe it as a mea culpa is being generous. The truth is that the responses of the relevant individual priests, and of the Jesuit order generally, involved much more than mere neglect. It involved a treacherous and self-serving disregard for the rights, the dignity, the health and the well-being of the children who were in their care as pupils of Belvedere College, and especially for those who were being abused.
The relevant priests made a series of decisions that were carefully considered and designed to protect the Order, its reputation and its assets. These decisions, and the actions that followed from them, were not just morally repugnant – they were, in some cases at least, probably criminal in themselves.
It is important to understand that, while the document issued by the Jesuits acknowledges individual and institutional failures: (a) it would never have been written or distributed except that the noose was tightening, and exposure had become increasingly inevitable (in that sense, it can be characterised as a pre-emptive strike); and (b) in any event, it is couched in language that itself stinks of the handiwork of lawyers, determined to ensure that there is still no proper accountability.
The litany of failures on the part of the Jesuits is all too depressingly familiar. How did they react when they were alerted to criminal behaviour, perpetrated by one of their own?
– they failed utterly in their duty of care to the children
– they failed to inform the parents of the children who had been molested
– they failed to go to the Gardai with the evidence
– they failed to investigate the full extent of the crimes committed by Fr. Joseph Marmion
– they made no effort to establish properly the number of boys on whom he had inflicted his grisly attentions
– they did nothing to heal the psychological and emotional damage done to the victims
– they moved Fr. Joseph Marmion from one place where he could abuse children to another, and then to another
I will not attempt here to recount the full extent of the duplicity and the evasion. The facts are very well set out by Patsy McGarry in his Irish Times article. At this stage, 42 complaints have been made against Fr. Marmion. The nature of these complaints varies. And more will certainly follow.
SEAL OF CONFESSION
What has to be said, however, is that the priests who were made aware of the abuse – the headmaster of Belvedere College, Fr. Noel Barber, the Rector of the college Paul Andrews and the head of the Jesuits in Ireland, Fr. Paddy Doyle, among others – were anything but innocents.
Their entire schtick, as an Order, has been based on the calibre of the education they are capable of giving to their pupils. The Jesuits pride themselves on being the Church’s leading intellectuals. All three men supped at the top tables of Irish society and influence. Part of their mission was to shape the men who would go to the top in public administration and ensure continuity of Church influence at the highest level.
These men knew what was at stake from the time the first complaints about this rotten priest rolled in. And yet they decided that they would put the interests of the Order ahead of those of the young pupils – the children – who had been preyed on, and damaged psychologically and emotionally, in such an appalling way. They decided that they would do, more or less, nothing.
This much is admitted in the paper they have just issued. Up to a point, the Order sounds contrite on their behalf. But you can smell from the language in the paper that they are still at it: that they are still trying to evade responsibility.
There is one aspect of what they say that makes the blood run cold.
One of the boys who had been abused kept on their case. They eventually engaged with him in 2021. He says that the authorities in Belvedere College were told of the abuse as early as 1973: that is all of five years before anyone bothered to think of ending Marmion’s reign of terror.
The information about what was happening was apparently passed on by the boy, at the time, during ‘confession’. There was no acknowledgement whatsoever of what he told the priest in private that day – and for five more filthy years, Marmion abused pupils.
The paper, written under the direction of the current head of the Jesuits in Ireland, Fr. Leonard Moloney, presents the fact that the information was conveyed to them in confession as having created a dilemma for the priest, and for the Order. They were faced with a choice, the paper admits: “To honour the confessional seal or to act to protect children.”
It is impossible to fathom how any sane adult could hear what the boy said, and fail to take the action necessary to protect children from further abuse, but this is what happened. The ridiculous minutiae of theological self-importance took precedence. Or more to the point, this was the excuse used to camouflage an act of deliberate concealment of evidence in what was – or should have been – a criminal case.
That was bad then. But what is worse is that this madness is still presented in the Jesuits’ new paper as if it carries weight in 2021. The paper also tells that in 2020, a different former head of the Order in Ireland, Fr. Murphy, reported that he had been contacted by another one-time pupil, identified as Rian (not his real name). The former pupil told Fr. Murphy that he personally had informed him about the abuse in 1974 or 1975.
“Rian was not sure,” the document says, “if he had made this disclosure under the seal of confession.”
Conveniently or otherwise, Fr. Murphy cannot remember this conversation, one way or another. But it is what the document says next that is truly astounding.
“If the conversation took place under the Seal of confession,” it states, “Fr. Murphy would not be entitled to acknowledge that it had taken place, even if it remained in his memory.”
Stop and read that again. And think about it.
In the year 2021, the Jesuits are still telling us this: if a 13 year-old boy steps into a confessional and tries to address the fact that he and others are being abused by a member of the clergy who is known to the priest hearing the confession, there is absolutely nothing which that priest can do, to stop that abuse because he is bound by “the Seal of confession”.
There are so many levels on which this is wrong that it really does beggar belief. It is as if the Jesuits are trying to suggest that the boy is confessing to a sin – as if he is responsible for what the abusive priest is imposing on him. On the one hand, this is victim-blaming; on the other, it is as if the profound moral responsibility of knowing that a child is being abused still carries no weight.
THE LINK TO ST. VINCENT’S
Which brings us back to the heart of the matter – to what I said previously in The Message. It brings us back to the twinge, and why I no longer feel it.
The fundamental fact is that, at every level, the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church believe that they are above the laws of the State. They answer to a higher authority. That is, first, to the Vatican; and secondly, to God himself, whose representatives on earth they believe themselves to be.
No wonder they look down on politicians.
That is why they treat the laws of the State with contempt. That is why they decide always to protect the institution first. That is why the Jesuits allowed Fr. Joseph Marmion to continue abusing children, when they could have stopped him. And that is why, even now, the Jesuit superiors are determined to present the Church’s own laws as exonerating the priests from any responsibility for their failure to act, when it is as plain as day that they were then, and still are, guilty of aiding and abetting a fellow priest in the commission of a series of criminal acts, carried out over decades. This is not about one crime: it is about hundreds, if not thousands.
The reality is that the utter contempt for the State, and for its laws, which the clergy continually show, is hardwired into the way the religious authorities of the Catholic Church think and act.
We are seeing it again at the moment with a number of Bishops – including the newly appointed Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Dermot Farrell – encouraging priests and schools to press ahead with communions and confirmations despite the fact that this will be in breach of the Government’s Covid restrictions. They know better.
These men really do believe that the State is an irritant, stepping on their toes, and getting in their way, as they pursue the far more important mission of imposing – or trying to impose – Roman Catholic ideology on everyone in Ireland irrespective of their religious beliefs.
This is what they did when they supported the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983. And this is what they want to do now, when they insist on having a say in the running of the new National Maternity Hospital. Well, it is time to face them down. To let them know that their arrogance and dishonesty will no longer be tolerated. And to get the message through to the Vatican: you will not have representation of any kind on the board of the National Maternity Hospital. And if that is a problem, then we will move it to Tallaght.
There is one final twist to all of this Where, do you think, did Fr. Joseph Marmion end up, after the Jesuit leaders had finally been forced to get him off stage and out of Belvedere College?
He worked with the Jesuit Community at St. Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin. But that is not all. He was also given a job as part-time chaplain in – of all places – St. Vincent’s Hospital.
That’s right. With the Sisters of Charity. In the hospital group that now wants to have a say in the running of the National Maternity Hospital. Think about it: they gave a job to a paedophile priest – a job which afforded him access to children who were patients of the hospital. Were they told by the Jesuits? Who the hell knows? And would you believe them if they told you 'no'?
All of this seems incredible. But it is true. And it says it all. Religious interests of any kind should not be allowed next or near the running of the National Maternity Hospital.
And so I go back to the twinge. The institutional Church can’t be trusted. It is as simple as that. Not now. Not ever. Amen.