In abuse by Irish priests, a little “mental reservation”

November 29, 2009

irish-countrysideIt was a ride and I was hitchhiking around Ireland and the driver of a tiny Morris Minor who’d stopped was a priest, so what could be wrong?

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.

martin3

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.

Cardinal Desmond Connell said that while a priest could not tell a lie, he could knowingly leave a false impression, under what Connell said was the concept of “mental reservation.”

cardinal“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’.”

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

11 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

The time has come for the Irish church to dissolve itself. This can be the only answer and the only result for the decades-long intentional heartless abuse of over 30,000 innocent children.

Posted by J. Sutton | Report as abusive

Regarding the statement by the former Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell:Bishop Connell in correct when he says that apologies, “lose their value through repetition,” because his actions like the actions of so many bishops here in the United States, are crimes and it is just appalling that such members of the hierarchy are not being prosecuted as conspirators and facilitators in these perfidious crimes against children, these crimes against humanity.Hopefully, the Holy See and its bishops along with the superiors of those religious communities of men and women involved will be brought to answer for such crimes against children before the U.N. because these are violations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the Holy See is a signatory.Since Bishop Connell, again like so many of his brethren in the United States and around the world, seeks to minimize his responsibility in enabling such heinous crimes while attempting to convince the People of God of what he has done.I would ask him what he intends to do investigate, dismantle and rebuild the the eclessiastical governmental structures that contributed so much to such a horrific abuse of episcopal power and authority?Apologies, whether from bishops, cardinals or Pope Benedict XVI are no longer enough. The bishops have made them and the pope has made them but little has been done beyond that and what has been done was done because of the force of public opinion and not from any altruism on the part of those in high places.My heritage is Irish on my mother’s side. My great-grandparents are from Donegal and Mayo and I am as ashamed of the actions of the hierarchy there as I am of the hierarchy here in the United States.Sister Maureen Paul TurlishVictims’ AdvocateNew Castle, Delaware, USAmaureenpaulturlish@yahoo.com

Posted by SISTER MAUREEN PAUL TURLISH | Report as abusive

I guess that when I was a child and attending catholic grade school..and had to learn the #7 commandment.. “Thou shalt not lie”, someone completely screwed up!… they forgot to tell me that it was ok to have ‘‘mental reservation’’????OR, could it be that a different #7 commandment was taught in the seminaries???Judy Jones, SNAP “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”snapsteubenville@gmail.com

Apologies for sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is called for, yet hardly a complete reparation for the grave damage suffered by survivors of such horrific abuse on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.The fact that our own hierarchy have yet to place a strong and open emphasis on the Magisterial Teaching of The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2356 which unabashedly states that rape of children is always an INTRINSICALLY EVIL ACT AND CAUSES GRAVE DAMAGE THAT CAN SCAR THE VICTIM FOR LIFE is appalling and should raise the eyebrows and ire of any Catholic, practicing or not.As a survivor of child abuse myself, a former health professional and life long Catholic I advocate for a strong and persistent call for this teaching to be clearly taught to all in the form of pamphlets and in sermons openly in every Catholic Church worldwide.Authentic healing is both right and true. CCC #2356 is both.Peace,Maria

Posted by maria | Report as abusive

The concept of mental reservation is more nuanced than was previously suggested and the previous interpretation is wrong. They never mentioned that it is necessary for the person not to have the right to know. Parents have the right to know as do the authorities, other hierarchy and parents whose children may be placed in such under such situations or have been. Accordingly by using mental reservations in such matters they definitely sinned. Here is a link to a very good article about mental reservations from a Catholic viewpoint.http://www.newadvent.org/cathe n/10195b.htm

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

Whats in a naming word language said Jesting PONTIUS Pilot. Irish Priests you Say. Perhaps try Catholic Church. Or derivitives Point to. SPLINTER GROUP of CHRISTIANITY called Catholic arranged as Catholic GAY Church. Not that there is anything Seinfelt about it. Pitty there is as yet no lesbian Churches. Sigh such sweet unkscion. i saw a perticularly fine Joke said by a fine comedian that he had given up homosexuality. And when asked why, he said it was because it made his eyes Water. Maybee Bo Peep never realy lost her Sheep flock. maybee Shaggers had them all along

Posted by Beekeeper from New Zealand | Report as abusive

I am sweet Bo peep. Where is my Flock of Sheep. Gate keeper says Wolves are in with the Chickens even though the firmament looks stary

Posted by BO PEEP ( eden and apple ) | Report as abusive

IRISH S O C AWas formed to Campaign for victim`s rightsFighting for Justice by dayAnd answering the phone by nightThousands of members round the worldAll with questions to askThe Chairman he was exhaustedHe had a difficult taskSeveral volunteered, a committee was electedA brave group one fearedReferring victims to outreach workersA friend in the hour of needNo one asked about background, Religion, class, or creedExhaustion was the costThose on S O C A team their childhood they had lostNo State funding to repair emotional hurt on the spotOnly the Catholic Church and the Irish governmentCould step in and stop the rotS O C A sought for the truth and uncovered wicked liesNo one wanted heroes – there never would be a prizeEvery victim looked like a victimWith that far away look in their eyesThere would be no grand hotels where celebritiesWould have a photo callOnly broken hearted victims and a past beyond recallCourage was in short supplyBut each victim told their storySome cried, some fell silent,There would be no crowning gloryThere were many suicidesSome drowned themselves while depressedWhile others went on hunger strikeFacing death and nothing lessAnother sustained serious burnsS O C A Was there for him too…..We took it all in turnsDoctor RogersChairperson of Templemore Forgotten Victims

The church and the government have conspired too long on the pretext that this is strictly a church matter, to be dealt with internally, and the State must keep hands off. How many years has it been now, that the Catholic Church has dug in its heels, stonewalled, covered up, protected their frocked criminals, and betrayed the children past, present, and future, whose lives and welfare are entrusted to them. It’s time for the State to step up and remove the phony shield of “religious” immunity enjoyed by this gang of perverted monsters, treat them the same way any lay citizen would be treated in similar circumstances. And it’s high time the Catholic church either clean up it’s filth or dissolve. The list of victims is growing longer every day, and no one seems to care enough to do anything about it.

Posted by Chuck S. | Report as abusive

There is a Spirit at work in the Catholic Church–but it it not the Spirit of God.

Posted by P.J.Grant | Report as abusive

I have read with great sadness the large number of abuse victims. However, there is no listing of the names of the offenders. I believe that it is important that their names be listed so that people who do come in contact with them, can be protected today. Is there a listing of names of the Catholic priests, nuns and brothers in Ireland who have been the aggressors?

Let’s protect the innocent before they become victims.

Posted by Athlone | Report as abusive