It is time the Pope came clean about the Magdalene Laundries
When I was a young Catholic child in the 1970s, I was brought up to reject the British Royal family and everything it stood for: the class system, primogeniture, social elitism, the pomp and ceremony, the ritual, and the obscene wealth and privilege.
Well, guess what? I saw it all a few days ago when the Irish bishops were lining up in grand robes to kiss the hand of Pope Benedict. Yes, the Vatican surely leaves the House of Windsor in the halfpenny place when it comes to elitism, pomp and ceremony. I could have wept with frustration - except I never expected a full and frank apology from Pope Benedict. I wasn't expecting an admission of guilt either, because such a statement might open the floodgates of litigation. And I'm sure the Vatican doesn't want to lose any more money to the abuse survivors than it already has.
I'm sure the Vatican is hoping the unmarked graves of the Magdalene slaves will soon be covered over once more. I'm sure the Vatican is hoping the innocent young children they turned into bitter alcoholics and suicidal depressives will just hurry up and die and not collect any compensation.
No doubt when the leaders of the Catholic Church pray these days, they pray for the tidal wave of abuse scandals to dry up and be forgotten. After all, the orphanages, industrial schools and laundries have all closed down now. So they cannot send along the 'cruelty man' to scoop poor children off the streets like the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They cannot force cheeky boys to dig potatoes in the rain and they cannot force pretty girls to hand wash bloody sheets from the hospitals any more. And it's a criminal offence these days to beat a dyslexic girl with a leather belt or to punch a stubborn boy until he is unconscious. So, as I said, the potential for fresh scandal is greatly diminished.
The nationalists of my youth used to say 'God Bless Ireland' and, 'God Save Ireland' - they were referring to 700 years of British colonialism, the Famine, Mass Rocks, discrimination against Catholics in jobs and housing and the blood-and-thunder marching bands of the Orange Order.
What a great pity they didn't think to question the tyranny of the Catholic Church while they were about it. The church that forbade birth control, yet despised big families of starving, barefoot children. The church that encouraged education yet hated free-thinkers. The church that revered Mary the Mother of God, yet treated all mortal women as sinners and whores. The church that raved about poverty and humility, yet lined the walls of the Vatican with priceless works of art.
The church that took the pocket money off children during Lent, yet covered up the brutal rape and buggery of little boys and girls for more than 50 years.
And I wondered, looking at those grovelling bishops kissing Pope Benedict's hand, do they really understand, even now, why there is a crisis in the church? Have they any idea of how the survivors of abuse must feel?
Have they no empathy whatsoever for the unnamed Magdalene slaves who died of exhaustion or malnutrition or a broken heart and were quietly buried behind those high stone walls? I'm beginning to think only snobs, sociopaths and narcissists are drawn to religious life in the first place, for I have yet to see a flicker of shame, regret or sadness from any bishops. If Jesus were here today he would rage against the Vatican for what it has done to the people of Ireland.
He would roar and weep and pull down the wall of silence that has been built around the crimes of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Jesus would smash the headstones condemning the Magdalenes as 'penitents' even in death. He would throw open the doors of the Vatican and tell survivors of abuse to carry away any art and gold they can lay their hands on. He would demolish the grand cathedrals and say Masses in the open air. He would beg forgiveness on bended knees from the men, women, children and ghosts of Ireland. But I can't see Pope Benedict doing any of that. Can you?