In abuse by Irish priests, a little “mental reservation”
This was the 1970s when I was fresh out of an American college, bumming around Europe on almost no money. But it was the Ireland of my ancestors and they had no money either, so we were all in this together.
(Photo: Irish countryside, 26 Sept 2009/Cathal McNaughton)
A little too much so, I discovered shortly after getting into the front passenger seat when the priest — and he was wearing his clerical collar, so there could be no doubt — put his hand on my knee.
Suddenly, if I’d been headed to Galway, which I think I was, I decided getting off at the next little village was just grand, and so slipped out of the only awkward experience I’d had hitching around a half dozen European countries.
This was years before the world — but especially Ireland — learned all too well that the Catholic clergy of Ireland had a penchant for preying on young men, and especially young boys much younger than I was at the time, and because they were so young, much less able to defend themselves — in fact, totally defenseless.
Last week, a second report was published in the massive Irish investigation into sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the Dublin archdiocese and the cover up surrounding their predations. In the spring, the commission headed by High Court judge Sean Ryan released a 2,600-page dossier detailing the abuses inflicted on children in Catholic care run by the religious orders.
That made grim reading, with its litany of priests, nuns and sometimes civilians terrorising by beatings, rape and humiliation the 30,000 children put in their care from the 1930s through the 1990s.
(Photo: Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, 26 Nov 2009/Cathal McNaughton)
It would have been hard to imagine anything more shocking but the new report, exposing the extraordinary effort the Church, in collusion with Ireland’s Garda police force and the government, exerted to cover its tracks and to protect the offending clergy rather than the children victimised, comes close.
One priest admitted abusing more than 100 children, another said he’d abused children every two weeks for 25 years.But in almost all these cases their superiors, right up to the bishops and archbishops who were running the Church, turned a blind eye.
The Catholic hierarchy of Ireland even had a secret weaponfor dealing with those awkward moments when the parents of an abused child, or someone in authority, brought it to their attention that Father So-and-so was swimming naked in a pool with the altar boys.
“There may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be,” Connell said by way of explaining this cleverly nuanced take on St. Augustine’s treatises proving it is never lawful to tell a lie.
(Photo: Cardinal Desmond Connell, 14 May 2001/Paul McErlane)
So although Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who took over after the period when the abuse occurred, said “no words of apology will ever be sufficient,” it seems the Church still has trouble coming to terms with its shocking past. The Irish public, however, has its eyes wide open.
“The onus is now on the state, the Garda and the HSE (Health Service Executive, which has authority to investigate child abuse cases) to prove that deference to the Church is gone for good, and that either the state expects cooperation from other bishops, similar to that of Dr Martin’s, or that criminal prosecutions for further perverting the course of justice will commence,” a Cork resident wrote to the Irish Times.
“The problem is that for those young people who were abused over the decades, whatever is done now is too late. And I say that with no ‘mental reservation’.”