Friday, November 27, 2009

Dublin Scandal

As an Englishman I write this with trepidation.

When I was first ordained all Irish people in England seemed to practice.
Nowadays, I presume that most aren’t. At one time for the most part the priest was welcomed into Irish homes, nowadays there is a tension.

On several occasions over the last few years before a death or following a funeral of a respected member of the community, a son or daughter has turned up, unknown to anyone else, who had been up for adoption years ago. They had been “forgotten”, their appearance unwelcome by their parent, their presence glossed over by friends and other relatives. There are things which are secret and things which are not spoken about, there is always insistence on a eulogy that reflects what appeared to be rather than what actually was.
It was against these experiences I read the reports of the sexual predation and abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese, the revelations are actually truly shameful. The big scandal was secrecy and cover-up, keeping up appearances, hypocrisy, it was these things that damned the Church and damned the State too in slightly more muted terms. It strikes me that this report and the Ryan report too only scrape the surface, the Irish media knocks the Church off its privileged pedestal, it reacts against Catholic Ireland; government ministers posture, suggesting Ireland has moved on, inferring they are as distant from it as they are from absentee landlords, the famine, the emigrations, the civil war. What will never be addressed is the level of cover-up in other areas of Irish society, nor the levels of sexual abuse or violence against the vulnerable outside of the Church and institutions related to it.
There is something Joycian in all of this. It is convenient in post-Catholic Ireland to use the Church as a scapegoat, loading the sins of the nation onto it and driving it into the wilderness, perhaps that is where it belongs, if it is indeed the unworthy bearer of Christ’s message rather than being a metaphor for Irish society, in which case it merely becomes another form of cover-up .


Crux Fidelis said...

I sincerely hope and pray that the Church in Ireland has got its house in order and I think that Abp Martin will be the man to see to that. However, in Dublin I fear it may be too late. Frequently I find when I'm at Mass there that I'm among the youngest in the congregation - and I won't see 50 again.

Of course, the UK media, who generally ignore goings on in Ireland, are going to town on this story.

On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love

Peter said...

How brave of you to comment Father. I do not comment on the abuse as I have nothing original to say.

I recall that Alistar Cook tackled the same issue in a Letter from America. He said (from memory) that the US bishops lived in palaces surrounded by people giving them defference. I suspect that the same problem applied in Ireland.

It seems to me that in business there is the same risk of overpowerful executives. What does happen in business is that auditors,internal and external, as well as regulators (the FSA, Health & Safety etc) do visit and may serve as a check.
I wonder if an inspectorate could work in the Church. Bishops would not like it much (just as teachers do not like Ofstead inspections) but these may serve to identify failings such as those mentioned in the report:

madame evangelista said...

Father with all due respect, although this particular scandal takes place in Ireland, clerical abuse - and its institutional cover-up - cannot be cast simply as an Irish problem.

gemoftheocean said...

I almost hesistate to say something on this one, but a friend of Irish heritage explained this to me, somewhat.

The incident which trigger the explanation was because I'd told an joke to an elderly Irish priest emigre. (US cit. now, but Irish by birth.) He was born about 1930.

Granted Ireland was a Republic, by then, but only just.

I got my head ripped off for saying the joke about how when the pope was dying he'd summoned Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi to his bedside to hold his hands. When they said "We're honored, by why us?" And the pope said "because I want to go out like Jesus die, between a theif and a killer.

He wasn't offended Nancy being in the joke, but he ripped into me for "laying judgement" on dear-ie-o

Well, I don't know too many practising Catholics who had much good to say of Teddyboy. Who DID in fact commit manslaughter, intentionally too, as he did not report the accident until hours after, after they'd already retrieved her body -- she'd expired not from drowning, but suffocation. Had they gotten to her within a few hours, she might well could have lived.

Despite the fact that I had in fact NOT "passed judgement" [for all I know he was truly sorry at death] - I was excoriated for a few minutes.

My friend explained it thus:

"you have to realize when he'd grown up, you didn't criticize ANY of "your own" who gained some sort of POWER. POWER is everything to a people who were subjugated. Teddy was "somebody." Even if that "somebody" was a dirt bag. "

I'm thinking that because historically for so long the British held all the "power" that there grew up, amongst SOME of the Irish the thought "well, there's nothing in politics for us, at least we can run the church" some of the wrong types went into religious orders, became priests, etc. Not, by any means all of them, or even the majority of them, but enough of them to be in it for the deference and "authority" and "power" it gave them.

If you have too many of these types ensconsed in lynchpin slots, then even if they are not the majority of priests/nuns/religious brothers, then you have the problem of who is going to say

"this is WRONG" when bad things happen.

Even though this priest I crossed swords with probably KNOWS in his heart Ted was a dirtbag, he felt compelled to support him.

It's like a child covering up that his drunken father beats the mother. THings would be a lot better in the long run in the police were called in, in the short run, there might be what's precieved as "loss of face" in the community, but in the long run, letting things like this go rip the foundations of society.

Not unlike the devastating effect on seminaries if those put in charge have a "Gay friendly" or out-and-out gay clique running things.

Because a few were placed "in power" who shouldn't have been the whole church suffers.

Michael Petek said...

Here's am extract from a report on earlier this year:

Father Edward Flanagan, founder of the famous “Boys Town” made famous by the Spencer Tracy movie, was a lone voice in condemning Ireland’s industrial schools back in the 1940s –and he was viciously castigated by church and government for doing so.

Fr. Flanagan decided to return to the land of his birth in 1946 to visit his family, and also to visit the “so-called training schools" run by the Christian Brothers to see if they were "a success or failure.”

The success of the film "Boys Town," meant Fr. Flanagan was treated like a celebrity on his arrival. His visit was noted by the The Irish Independent, which said that Fr. Flanagan had succeeded “against overwhelming odds,” spurred on by the “simple slogan that 'There is no such thing as a bad boy.'”

But Fr. Flanagan was unhappy with what he found in Ireland. He was dismayed at the state of Ireland's reform schools and blasted them as “a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong.” And he said the Christian Brothers, founded by Edmund Rice, had lost its way.

Speaking to a large audience at a public lecture in Cork’s Savoy Cinema he said, "You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it." He called Ireland’s penal institutions "a disgrace to the nation," and later said "I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character."

However, his words fell on stony ground. He wasn't simply ignored. He was taken to pieces by the Irish establishment. The then-Minister for Justice Gerald Boland said in the Dáil that he was “not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.”

When he arrived back in America Fr. Flanagan said: "What you need over there is to have someone shake you loose from your smugness and satisfaction and set an example by punishing those who are guilty of cruelty, ignorance and neglect of their duties in high places . . . I wonder what God's judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children."

Fr Ray Blake said...


I am commenting on the cover-up and the situation of the Church in Ireland.

Michael Petek said...

As I was about to say when I hit the Enter key prematurely:

The civil authorities bear a particularly heavy responsibility for not enforcing the criminal law as they should have.

Anyone who abuses a child as laid out in the Report is not merely sick or humanly weak. Whether in the clerical state or not, these people are criminals.

Volpius Leonius said...

"Father with all due respect, although this particular scandal takes place in Ireland, clerical abuse - and its institutional cover-up - cannot be cast simply as an Irish problem."

Nor can child abuse be cast as a Catholic problem, which is what seems to be happening.

Dorothy B said...

Well said, Father.

Jack said...

Having heard about this and the scandel caused by the Archbishop of Westminster I've had an idea, lets just replace the entire hierachy in Ireland, England and Wales I'm sure that bewtween them his Excellency Bp Rifan and Fr John Berg have a few good men that could be considered for the fullness of the priesthood.

Unknown said...

This problem is not - and never has been - restricted to one group of people, one country or one religious denomination. Nor can it be blamed on celibacy. Statistically, many people convicted of child abuse are married and have children of their own, unbelievable though this may seem to many.

That, of course, does not make what happened in Ireland any less terrible and disgusting.

martin said...

Last night on rte Archbishop Martin made an interest point that in the 30s 40s and 50s child abusers were dealt with but that this changed in the 60s. Unfortunlately he develop this point. Maybe the changing attitudes of the 60s played a role in this problem.

Bryan said...

I have now read about 3/4 of the Dublin Report and note some recurring characteristics of the abusers, quite a few:

1. Were alcoholics
2. Were religious or members of missionary societies and the Orders often did not inform the Dublin Diocese of complaints
3. Had degrees in Canon Law and were on the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and were highly regardly for their intelligence

From my reading of the report the allegations that the Church suborned the Police or Civil Authorities have been exaggerated. it was not happening in the 80's or 90's. I think they wanted to beat up Archbishop Mc'Quaid's reputation and they have succeeded.

In one case a boy in hospital complained that a priest had spent a night in his bed. The Religious Sister in charge of the ward attributed this to the fact the priest had "inadequate accommodation" and did nothing about the complaint.

In another case in a Deaf School for Girls, pupils complained that the priest was kissings them after hearing their confessions. The Sister-Headmistress asked him not to do that and the priest agreed if it was troubling the girls. The Sister explained she had thought this was part of the new way of hearing confessions after VII.

Criminal or criminal stupidity?

Please read the Report if you have time.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Peter said: "What does happen in business is that auditors,internal and external, as well as regulators (the FSA, Health & Safety etc) do visit and may serve as a check."

There already exists such an Auditor in Church called Jesus, who said: "If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his Faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied round his neck and be thrown into the sea."

But perhaps some priests don't believe in Him anymore.

Eva said...

Mary Kenny says
Yet this clerical power in Ireland is often misunderstood by intellectuals, who analyse it as a top-down social structure, as if the clergy kept an iron hold on an unwilling populace. I would suggest that it was what we would call market driven. It came from the peoples’ faith, and the peoples’ desire to exalt their faith.

Especially after the disappearance of British rule, with all the gorgeous panoply that the Crown displayed, the people wanted the priests to be “a native nobility”. Irish politicians in the 1950s tumbled over themselves in their eagerness to kneel before a bishop and refer to an archbishop as “His Grace.
and concludes:
Yet to be fully understood, these scandals must be seen within the context of Irish history. The Catholic church in Ireland wasn’t “them”, it was “us”. It was our fathers and mothers and sisters and cousins and aunts. It was all those families and kin who must have covered up abuse — as families do.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. No need for trepidation!

Norah said...

Yet to be fully understood, these scandals must be seen within the context of Irish history. The Catholic church in Ireland wasn’t “them”, it was “us”. It was our fathers and mothers and sisters and cousins and aunts. It was all those families and kin who must have covered up abuse — as families do.

Eva I think you are correct here and of all the articles I read about the abuse one one commented on the fact that the abusers had families who knew what was happening, that lay people worked in these places and knew the conditions, that the state had the duty of inspection. I am not saying this to excuse the abuse - it was wrong whether there was anyone to say it was wrong or not.

I wonder if the homes that these people came from had something to do with the problem. I wonder if the level of corporal punishment was accepted by the community. Some Irish friends of mine, in the context of discussing the abuse, told me about the truly dreadful punishments which were meted out on the children in their parents' generation. Parents would be in court for beating children as these children were beaten.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Archbishop Martin claims that whilst there were problems before the 1960's, the Church's response was coherent. What he couldn't explain was the collapse in 'pastoral theology' during the last 45years. The reality is that he doesn't want to explain it.

Thus one code of omerta which covered up the scandals has been replaced by a similar conspiracy of silence. This new code of omerta prevents any investigation or criticism of the performance of bishops, priests and laity in recent decades. All we are treated to is endless apologies: "I am really sorry because apart from this business the Church has been enjoying a springtime ...".

epsilon said...

Irish born and bred in the 50s Ireland I or my brothers never experienced any form of the type of abuse being exposed now. But the sarcasm of some nuns left a lot to be desired, and my brothers were witness to lot of verbal and sometimes physical nastiness such as pulling a kid up by his ear etc.

The Irish cannot point a finger at the priests and say it has nothing to do with them as these priests came from their families. We all have a lot of reflecting to do!

georgem said...

The report does, indeed, make shocking reading, not least because the Commission’s approaches to the CDF in 2006 and to the Papal Nuncio in 2007 were ignored. I think it is also telling that the canon law which covered such abuse was not clarified as part of V2 and seems largely to have fallen into desuetude until updated in 1983.
Two versions of procedural laws (issued in 1922 and 1962) covering child sexual abuse were in Latin and were sent to the bishops for their eyes only and in some cases were never read.
“In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities . . . . but little observed in Dublin.”
Without minimising the utter vileness visited upon these poor children, the extent of child sexual abuse was little known about generally until the late 1970s/early 1980s. And only comparatively recently do we know the extent of recidivism among child abusers. Charitably, one might assume the hierarchy had believed that confession, penitence and sacramental grace would reform the perpetrators .
Nevertheless, it was naïve, bordering on the criminal, to shuffle the offenders from parish to parish, placing them right into the path of temptation.
“The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences.”
But “In some cases, known abusers were sent to other dioceses with untrue or misleading information about them. “
What is so unedifying is the amount of wriggling out of responsibility. Louder than the sound of recrimination is the universal cry “It wasn’t my fault” (that nothing was done) and the legal attempt by the Archdiocese to block scrutiny by the Commission of a raft of documents. It makes subsequent apologies sound very hollow.

Peter said...

May I answer Victor S E Moubarak.
Thank you: yes I agree that Jesus will deal with abusers. Let us see if we can do a bit better first.
My point is that lay and clergy who object to wrongdoing can only complain using the official channels which are controlled by the bishops or religious superiors. If there were inspectors from outside, not subject to the authority of the bishop, there would be another means of raising concerns. Also good policies and practice could be identified and lessons spread more rapidly.
May I take the financial analogy further? Anti money laundering policies and procedures are newish to business but have developed over the past ten years or so and are now routine. Regulators check that institutions comply with rules and a failure to comply may be a criminal offence.
Each diocese by now probably has child protection or safeguarding policies. Are they any good? Are they tested? Do those who apply them really understand what they are doing or do they treat it as a box-ticking exercise?
Similarly financial management is important but may not be at the forefront of the mind of the clergy. Standards of liturgy and catechesis may also be poor. But all now depends on the priorities of the bishop surrounded by people keen to keep his favour and so unwilling to bear bad news.
Now imagine a meeting between a bishop with inspectors who report directly to the Vatican. A highly critical report could lead to the removal of the bishop. He will take note of recommendations. He will not wish to have to explain a failure to act.
I understand the female religious orders in the USA are now subject to an inspection and are not all best pleased. But this is the Church trying to put its houses in order. I suspect that we need more of this.

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