Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

This evil has its roots in iron rule of John Charles McQuaid

Priest got schoolgirl pregnant' and ‘Priest-lover now a grandfather' were only two of the headlines in the tabloids greeting those picking up their newspapers on Sunday morning.

The broadsheets, while more considered, in essence covered the same territory.

Meanwhile, on air and on screen, the braver prelates defended the Pope with the injured air of soccer captains protesting that their games were only reported when they lost.

The Church is sore, be in no doubt; and the brouhaha is wounding.

One reason is the Church's obsession with sex and the grievous nature of the sins committed; the other is the pain of an institution too long used to controlling the tone of the printed word and the cinema film.

Long ago, when Hollywood wanted a priest for Going My Way, they hired Bing Crosby, engaging and benign; or, a little later, the dynamic, controlling persona of Ward Bond for The Quiet Man — in which the visiting Protestant bishop, you may recall, appears briefly as an easily-duped twit.

Between then and now, there has been television.

South of the border, RTE led the way, breaching barriers hitherto regarded as impregnable: how impregnable, most of today's consumers of the media can only imagine.

When the new state television service was being mooted in 1958, Pius XII had secret contacts with de Valera on a Vatican project to mount an international service in Dublin which would broadcast Roman Catholic and anti-Communist propaganda to Europe.

But the television commission had its eye on the BBC as a model.

When, after 1961, RTE proceeded to set its own norms, the older media could but follow.

As a journalist, my only puzzlement is why the inevitable explosion did not come much sooner.

In the Sixties, the decade of international protest, events conspired relentlessly to turn up the gas.

There had long been allegations of ‘child slavery' in Church-run institutions in the Republic, in which the young inmates made money for their masters, but had little food or clothing or recreation and doubtful education.

In one case, a child, Gerard Fogarty, was flogged with a cat-o'-nine-tails at the Christian Brothers' industrial school in Glin, Co Limerick. As often, it was an emigrant who, in outrage, broke silence: Monsignor Edward Flanagan, the Galway man who founded the famous Boys' Town for poor youths in Nebraska.

He dared to compare the fate of the children to those who had suffered in Nazi concentration camps.

But he was roundly abused from both government and opposition sides in the Dail — and in a leader in the Irish Press.

The critical factor was the dominant position — in both ecclesiastical and secular affairs — of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid (left).

McQuaid set the climate of acceptable public opinion in a manner which is quite incomprehensible today.

He disapproved of Father Flanagan, although the Archbishop presided over a babies-for-export scheme to send illegitimate babies to the US in the 1950s to prevent their being adopted by Irish Protestants.

McQuaid, his intelligence fed by a network of informants, had a finger in every pie: demolishing the Mercier Society of lay Catholics (because they tried to initiate dialogue with Protestants and Jews); vetoing women's athletics; preventing Sean O'Faolain becoming director of the new Arts Council; stopping the American star Jayne Mansfield's visit to Tralee; banning Tampax, an O'Casey play and Donleavy's The Ginger Man. Finally there was the Pill.

Inexorably, as these pinpricks turned up the gas, the lid of the kettle — so long suppressed — had to blow.

The Pope's pastoral letter now appeals, hopefully, for a new vision, inspiring the people to treasure the faith.

Recriminations, I fear, will come first.

The Church's sexual sickness ranges far beyond Ireland.

Its extremity means that mere exhortation will avail little.

But young priests living in the presbytery beside their churches, with wife and family, would be a beginning.

So would the opening of positions of influence to able women in Church affairs.

Along that way lies the |stony road back. All else points downhill.

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