Saturday, November 28, 2009

New light on dark history reveals church's false gods

Medb Ruane: New light on dark history reveals church's false gods

Friday November 27 2009

DES Connell taught me. Ivan Payne once sat across a table and stared with those flat, dead eyes. This is what being a Dubliner means. You get to know some of the people and places Judge Yvonne Murphy mentions in her weighty report on child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Reading this story of your city is like being forced to sift garbage by hand in a dank lane with a bad smell. You want air. The place names may be where you played, worked, fell in love, or wheeled a buggy with your baby chuckling inside. Meanwhile, Catholic children were crushed because Catholic archbishops offered them as sacrifices to the false god called protecting the Dublin Archdiocese's reputation.

Judge Murphy's is a city without birdsong, joy or laughter. It's a dark alternative lying under Dublin's 1000th celebrations, its pride as European Cultural Capital and then as a sleek metropolis with a contemporary pace.

This tale of two cities was built on dust until Archbishop Desmond Connell eventually realised (after some seven years) that he could no longer conceal his priests' crimes against children, although he resisted releasing files until he had to. His predecessor Dermot Ryan inherited the secret files about child abuse, but chose not to report to gardai.

Ryan's predecessor Archbishop McNamara kept the same files closed, all maintaining Archbishop McQuaid's policy of moving abusive priests from parish to parish so their crimes wouldn't catch up with them. Nuns in our school celebrated his appointment because he was a Sister's big brother. The eight of us in the plain chant group had to sing to the Lord on McNamara's elevation. We should've croaked.

The gift of the present is to shine some truth into grim chambers where the masquerade of holiness became a balaclava hiding child abuse. But the victims began to speak years ago. Many families and their children tried to talk to parish priests, Catholic school managers and gardai.

Civil and legal authorities were often dismissive, Murphy reports -- as if the State accepted tacitly that the Church was a (higher) law unto itself and making trouble would be the worse for them. Anyway, the complaints were about children who had and have no legal weight at all.

This unspoken collusion is partly about the unhealthy blend of Church and State, which persists, though worse in earlier decades.

As Professor Tom Inglis wrote, the Church insisted on its moral monopoly. No contraception! No living in sin! Even (in Connell's reign) no more secular music or dancing at weddings and other communal events.

Canon law can't justify the cover-ups these grand archbishops perpetrated but no civil authority should sleep easy at night knowing they took the bully's way out by seeing the abused as troublemakers and the perpetrators as maligned. Their careers might have been at stake, of course. The Dublin Catholic archbishops controlled board and senior appointments in hospitals, universities and some NGOs. Outright.

Their backroom influence was often exercised. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern prevented his then-partner Celia Larkin from receiving Desmond Connell at Dublin Castle when it was 'let known' that Connell was not pleased. That was showing who was boss. It was also another case of cap-doffing to unelected 'eminences' whose support could prove politically useful to Fianna Fail.

Murphy can't fully resolve the question about why some abusive priests were sent for treatment and then allowed back into ministry. Some commentators give the archdiocese the benefit of the doubt and suggest that specialist psychiatrists and experts on paedophilia disagreed about whether or not you could 'cure' a paedophile.

A cautious response would indicate not taking any risks where children were concerned, which isn't what happened. The men were put out of the public eye but sometimes into hospitals, where children were and are even more vulnerable because they are so ill and so out of the way.

A wider analysis, outside our scope now, would realise that one of the world's biggest archives of deviant sexual fantasies and acts is held by the Vatican, under lock and key.

The curators know how beyond imagining human behaviour can extend.

It is stretching credibility to suggest that senior Catholic leaders hadn't heard of the recidivist character of predatory sexual behaviour against children, even if they were not experts in the field. They chose to believe, perhaps, what they wished to believe. What suited them.

Dublin 2010 may be better for these findings, however limited, however few alleged perpetrators were prosecuted successfully. The archdiocese must owe the abused money as well as apologies.

Perhaps her Excellency the Lord Mayor will host a welcome for Dublin's children who never got or had to wait too long for justice.

Let's finally reclaim the streets.

mruane@independent.ie

- Medb Ruane

Irish Independent

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