“The information was there” – Abp. Martin on Irish abuse report
Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has shown a refreshing frankness in talking about the widespread abuse of children in Catholic-run schools and orphanages documented in the Ryan report last week. In an op-ed page piece for the Irish Times today, he described himself as shocked but not totally surprised and recalled hearing about the abuse from victims up to 40 years ago. He refers to reporting by “a few courageous and isolated journalists like Michael Viney,” whose series on abuse appeared in the Irish Times in 1966.
(Photo: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin/Dublin Archdiocese)
“The stories they told then were not radically different from what the Ryan report presents, albeit in a systemic and objective way which reveals the horror in its integrity,” he wrote. “Anyone who had contact with ex-residents of Irish industrial schools at that time knew that what those schools were offering was, to put it mildly, poor-quality childcare by the standards of the time. The information was there.”
The official Church reaction in Ireland has been shame and apologies all around, starting with Cardinal Sean Brady. It included apologies from the Christian Brothers, a teaching order with a reputation for stern discipline and abuse charges that won a lawsuit to bar the report from naming abusers. These were certainly appropriate. What was missing, though, was the admission that the problem was well known, even if all the details were not. There was even a film made about one of these schools, The Magdelene Sisters, that won the Golden Lion at the 2002 Biennale Venice Film Festival.
Irish novelist John Banville tackled this in an op-ed piece for the New York Times on Friday:
Everyone knew. When the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse issued its report this week, after nine years of investigation, the Irish collectively threw up their hands in horror, asking that question we have heard so often, from so many parts of the world, throughout the past century: How could it happen?
Surely the systematic cruelty visited upon hundreds of thousands of children incarcerated in state institutions in this country from 1914 to 2000, the period covered by the inquiry, but particularly from 1930 until 1990, would have been prevented if enough right-thinking people had been aware of what was going on? Well, no. Because everyone knew…
Ireland from 1930 to the late 1990s was a closed state, ruled — the word is not too strong — by an all-powerful Catholic Church with the connivance of politicians and, indeed, the populace as a whole, with some honorable exceptions. The doctrine of original sin was ingrained in us from our earliest years, and we borrowed from Protestantism the concepts of the elect and the unelect. If children were sent to orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories, it must be because they were destined for it, and must belong there. What happened to them within those unscalable walls was no concern of ours.
We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today.
Irish Jesuit blogger Fergus O’Donoghue disputes Banville’s description of Ireland as a “closed state … ruled… by an all-powerful Catholic Church.” That was not factually the case, of course, but the Catholic Church certainly did enjoy great influence for much of that period. And many lay people accepted the Church’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to issues like this.
As O’Donoghue explained in another post:
Part of the background is the middle class mentality which infused Irish society and the Irish Church: the children in institutions had to be taught to know their place.
Why did so many Catholic institutions fail so appallingly? A hundred reasons can be suggested, but three come to mind: undue respect for authority (which was self-justifying and rarely self-critical); religious authoritarianism (government of communities by self-perpetuating cliques, who rarely saw the need for fresh thinking); and a rancid clericalism (product of a religious culture that increasingly turned in on itself).
Religious life in Ireland has wonderful aspects, but this one is shameful.
(Photo: 1937 Irish stamp showing Saint Patrick/Wikimedia Commons)
Martin’s frank approach seems to be the background to the unusual exchange between himself and the new London Archbishop Vincent Nichols, whose comments about the “courage” of Irish religious orders to confront their past he dismissed as “not … helpful.” Instead of praising them for confronting abuse he says was already known, Martin wants them to do more for their victims. And that means money.
This is not going to go away anytime soon. The Irish cabinet is due to discuss the Ryan report this week, and the Dail (parliament) will debate it in early June. Another damning report, this time just on abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, is due out this summer.