Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Vatican didn't know either? Pull the other one, there's church bells on it

It would be wrong to say that nothing has changed, but right to say not much. T

he Vatican will, even now, be pondering the latest dispatches from the battlefront in Ireland and pursing its lips with satisfaction that it hasn't taken more of a hit.

Hard pounding, Your Holiness, but we're coming through relatively unscathed.

The confidence of the Church that it won't suffer grievously from the suffering it has inflicted on children is most clearly expressed in the continuance of the cover-up. More brazen than ever, the conspirators are now hiding in clear sight.

There's scarcely a bishop in the 32 counties who hasn't issued a statement explaining how dismayed/distressed/shocked/bewildered he's been to discover the extent of the depravity perpetrated by fellow clerics. Some have widened their eyes in displays of wonderment: "I cannot begin to understand the mentality."

Do they take the people for fools? I suppose it's what they do.

Complaints of sexual abuse of children by clergy in Ireland have been in the public arena for at least 25 years. For the most part, not much heed was taken of complaints or complainants.

The response of state authorities, south and north, ranged from the inadequate to the inert. But, you could bet the Third Sunday Silver Collection that the Catholic Church itself has been paying attention throughout, tracking every complaint, monitoring reaction.

Now they tell us that they didn't have an inkling of the extent of the criminality until the day before yesterday. Pull the other one, your lordships, it's got church-bells on.

At the beginning of 1996, there were investigations of complaints of sexual abuse under way - however inadequate these were to turn out to be - in the dioceses of Achonry, Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Armagh, Cashel and Emly, Clonfert, Cloyne, Cork and Ross, Derry, Down and Connor, Dromore, Dublin, Elphin, Ferns, Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenor, Kerry, Kildare and Leighlin, Killaloe, Kilmore, Limerick, Raphoe and Waterford and Lismore.

We are being asked to believe that at that time, and since, the bishops never discreetly inquired of one another during prayer breaks at their conclaves at Maynooth or All Hallows or whenever, 'How's that business with Fr So-and-so going?' or, 'Anymore word about that wee girl from such-and-such?' or, 'Is the mother in that other case still onside?'.

Never uttered a dicky-bird. Yeah, right.

The Church's enmeshment with the state helps explain the bishops' confidence that they can blather on regardless. On Tuesday, the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, claimed in the Dail that the Vatican had "acted in good faith" in refusing to cooperate with Judge Murphy.

No, it had not. It may have acted in accordance with diplomatic nicety, but the record shows that good faith and the Vatican are mutually exclusive when it comes to the abuse of children by priests. Cowen's abject performance spoke volumes about the deference of the southern state towards the Church in spite of all.

A state which had genuine concern for its children would have responded to last week's crime scene by taking decisive action to remove the Catholic bishops as patrons of primary schools. Three thousand of 3,200 primaries in the Republic have bishops as patrons. Can any less appropriate category of men be imagined to have such power over the moral formation of children? But not a single TD has urged any such thing.

Control of education is at the heart of the matter. A ferocious determination to secure the right to train the consciousness of the next generation dictated the Catholic hierarchy's attitude to the emerging Irish state in the early years of the last century: give us the children and we'll give you our backing against the British and help shore up your state.

The state was born in the embrace of the Church and has never fully recovered from its origins. Judging from its politicians at least. The Catholic Church is an all-Ireland body. It will require all-Ireland radical action to extirpate the evil it contains from within Irish society. The controversy still raging as I write, may soon recede. That's what Church rulers hope and believe will happen.

But it shouldn't be allowed to happen. The victims, as we keep hearing, must come first.

Consider this: a priest is transferred from the south to a parish in the north. The night before he arrives, the priests in the parochial house are visited by an emissary from the bishop, who tells them to "keep an eye" on their new colleague and specifically to ensure that he is not left alone with children. Over the next few months, he rapes two little girls. The family of one of his victims informs the bishop what's happened. He does nothing.

The family then writes to the cardinal, describing their daughter's experience in heart-rending terms and the effect, both on her, and her family. The cardinal acknowledges the letter, assuring the family that he will pray for them.

The rapist is moved out of the parish to a monastery in the south. When he is traced there and exposed, the bishop lies in public that the Church had earlier informed the civil authorities of the allegations. The priest is eventually jailed.

The bishop concerned has been among those seen in the past week explaining that the situation in his diocese regarding the handling of allegations of child sex abuse has always been tickety-boo.

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