Tuesday, December 15, 2009


To my knowledge no decision has yet been made on the future of those bishops mentioned and criticised by the Murphy report. It's not my place to say what they should do but I do know that many of my confreres believe they should go. Indeed there's also a feeling that the Eucharistic Congress should go elsewhere too and that Rome should take it from Dublin as a sign of its disapproval of all that has happened here.

It is good news that Rome is set to act and that at the very least we will get a pastoral letter on the matter. It is to be hoped that the Holy Father will take actions that will bring a new healthy, direction for the Church.

I am trying to keep my own anger in check though, anger not just at the abuse, the negligence, the incompetence, and the cover-ups, but also at our government and its ham-fisted, partisan, and unjust handling of the budget. Again the poor and the workers (public and civil servants in this case) are asked to foot the bill for the incompetence of the bankers and the government. I know that this is an opportunity for me to face my own passions and to learn how to keep peace in the midst of turmoil.

One area where my eyes are opening is in regard to the Irish Church. Everyone says its 'conservative' but I don't think so. Now 'conservative' and 'liberal' are of course imports from the secular, political world and open to a broad variety of interpretations. I merely wish to point out that there are different kinds of liberal and conservative in the Church: doctrinal, moral, pastoral etc. The Irish Church is doctrinally conservative. There are no major wide-spread denials of the central doctrines of the faith, especially among the practising faithful. But morally and pastorally, like much of the Church in the Western world, it is liberal at least behind closed doors. After all how much flak did +Willie Walsh get for his recent statements? I have seen too many dodgy liturgies and watched liturgical abuses, heard whacky lectures, and put up with so many unorthodox opinions that I can no longer accept this Church can really be described as 'conservative'. It is certainly not in a healthy state. Over recent weeks I have heard, from practising Catholics, opinions in favour of homosexuality and abortion (don't mention contraception!). I have been challenged for asserting that the clergy are called to a higher degree of holiness than the laity (and that the laity should expect us to be that holy) because after all didn't Vatican II say we were all equal? The arrogance of earlier clergy and the negligent teaching of more recent times has done much damage. No wonder people scramble to look at the Sun at Knock or to see the pseudo-visionary at Achill.

Somewhere along the line between 1850 and 1950 the Irish Church lost its way. It went from an oppressed to a dominant majority, from poverty to riches, from hedgerow to the centre stage. In that time the nation went from subjection to the British to an independent, if dirt poor, Republic. As a nation and a Church we came to believe our own propaganda - that we were once again to be a nation of saints and scholars (and republicans). This Church sent huge numbers of missionaries throughout the world just as the country sent out emigrants. Yet the seeds of our present trouble were planted and took root in those years. Jansenism and liberalism (encased in Republicanism) came here from France in the beginning and they have been around since. If the former dominated in the beginning the latter has bloomed since,if secretly. Where the moral corruption began is hard to say, probably it was always and will always be with us. Yet how did it get into the clergy and thrive there? Why wasn't it dealt with? There's even the suggestion that a clerical paedophile ring operated, and not just in Dublin, and that it may have had its origins in seminaries like Maynooth and Clonliffe. A cancer took root and now part of it is exposed. Might I suggest that the secret liberalism of the Irish Church lacked the moral courage, conviction and self-belief to confront this evil as it grew. It could not conceive of the inhumanity involved in child abuse and when confronted with it simply tried to bury it (and save its precious reputation in the process).

Today over lunch a colleague at school told me that the Catholic Church does nothing for him, has no relevance to him. I was lost for words. At the time all I could say was that for me it is about Christ first. It is also about truth and whether it can be known and experienced. Christ is Truth made flesh and He established His Church. It belongs to Him not us (as I recently had to point out to a fellow priest and friar). It all belongs to Him. It's not about us, it's about Him and one day each of us must give an account of ourselves to Him. Who'd want to be an Irish bishop on that day?


shane said...

A lot of what we regard as ‘Jansenism’ were simply Puritan-derived Victorian values – which were obviously not uniquely Catholic nor uniquely Irish (...and neither of the two in origin).

“Jansenism”. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. 2007.

“Jansenism was viewed with great suspicion by Rome, and 17th‐century Irish synods toed the Roman line. Indeed, while its moral rigorism made it attractive to elements of the Counter‐Reformation church, Jansenism’s theological and political radicalism alienated both local hierarchies and Catholic monarchs. This was especially the case in France and most Irish clerical students there associated with milieux hostile to the movement. Indeed their anti‐Jansenist opinions were singled out for criticism by the pro‐Jansenist journal Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, Irish clerics, in general, being more attracted to Jesuit‐style humanism. The success of the anti‐Jansenist bull Unigenitus (1713) marginalized the movement but it survived as a popular millenarian‐cum‐miracle cult. Neither as a theology nor as a political attitude did Jansenism recommend itself to the Irish Catholic community, either at home or abroad. The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist‐influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”

Dr Thomas O’Connor. Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer – Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth faculty

author of:

_Irish Jansenists 1600-1670: politics and religion in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome (Dublin, 2008)
_Strangers to Citizens: the Irish in Europe 1600-1800 (Dublin, 2008)
_An Irish Jansenist in seventeenth-century France: John Callaghan 1605-54 (Dublin, 2005)
_An Irish Theologian in Enlightenment Europe: Luke Joseph Hooke 1714-96 (Dublin, 1995)

Healy, John. Maynooth College : its centenary history (1895). Dublin : Browne & Nolan, 1895.

“During the eighteenth century many of the most eminent Churchmen in France were, to some extent, tinctured with these Jansenistic views, even when repudiating the Jansenistic errors regarding the operation of grace and free will. But although so many of our Irish ecclesiastics were educated in France during the eighteenth century, none of those who came to Ireland ever showed the slightest trace of this Jansenistic influence, either in their writings or their sermons. Nor has any respectable authority asserted, so far as we know, that the French Professors of Maynooth were in any way tinged with the spirit of Jansenism.”

Most Rev. John Healy, D.D., LL.D., M.R.I.A

shane said...

Personally I think the church's handling of the abuse cases was a product of its time. Patricia Casey Professor of Psychiatry at UCD pointed out how psychiatrists would often give horrible advice to bishops, emphacizing a 'therapeutic' approach: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/patricia-casey-psychiatrists-must-take-share-of-blame-on-abuse-2105623.html

Paedophilia was assumed to be malleable to theraputic treatment. There was a huge misunderstanding of paedophilia in the ’secular’ realm also. Freud, mysitified by such a high incidence of child abuse reported among his subjects, taught that those claiming to have been abused as children were simply projecting guilt about latent sexual troubles in their childhood onto adults. DR GP Lewis in the Irish Times pointed out that the Department of Education (who actually refuse to investigate abuse they deem "historical", as does the HSE) followed a similar path:

Ironically canon law might have offered more promise, at least had it been applied stringently, although it was often ignored even in the pre-conciliar area. Bishops who received a complaint of abuse were canonically required to investigate it, and if the priest was found guilty, expel him from the priesthood. The post-conciliar reforms led to a backlash against ‘legalist’ pre-conciliar procedural norms and it was assumed that the 1917 Code of Canon Law had fallen into abeyance. The Murphy Report into child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese found a “collapse of respect for canon law in archdiocesan circles” after the Second Vatican Council. It also stated:

“The Commission is satisfied that Church law demanded serious penalties for clerics who abused children. In Dublin from the 1970s onwards this was ignored"

Bishop O’Mahony has strongly criticized some of Archbishop Martin's statements in his Letter to Members of the Council of Priests: “You were out of the Diocese for 31 years and had no idea how traumatic it was for those of us who had to deal with allegations without protocols or guidelines or experience in the matter of child sex abuse.”

Bishop O’Mahony is also annoyed by media and diocesan acceptance of a “cover up,” and points to a police investigation, in 2003, which found no sign of interference with evidence and no attempt to obstruct the course of justice.

He dislikes the way in which Martin did nothing to challenge certain conclusions of the Report, such as the Report’s allowing a ‘learning curve’ for other professsions, but not for clergy. He also criticizes Martin for doing “nothing to counteract the statement of the Murphy Report, widely circulated in the media that ‘the majority of clergy knew and did nothing’.

shane said...

...This resulted in some offending priests being given appointments on the basis of medical assessment, and other professional advice, which indicated that they were fit for ministry and/or fit to remain in existing appointments. All of this was done in good faith but with appalling consequences. The Report covers the years 1976 – 2004. Within that period there have been major advances in the understanding of the nature of paedophilia, and the impact of child sexual abuse. The absence, particularly during the early years, of the range and level of expertise now available meant that bad decisions were made. This does not excuse them, but puts them into the context of a different time. While there is no mandatory reporting of complaints for child sexual abuse in Irish law, the Archdiocese committed to mandatory reporting since 1996. I am on record as advocating this approach since 1990.

When I was appointed Apostolic Administrator in Ferns I piloted, with the Diocesan Team, the inter-agency meetings whereby the diocese, HSE and Gardai met to share information so as to inform best practice in dealing with child sexual abuse. The Ferns Report commended this pilot scheme and recommended that it be replicated throughout the country. Legislation has yet to be passed to give support to this. It is the practice at present in the Dublin Archdiocese. My actions as Auxiliary Bishop and as Apostolic Administrator could not be described as those of ‘cover-up’.”

At National level in 1999 I was appointed Chairperson of the Irish Bishops’ Liaison Committee on Child Abuse, which later became known as the Irish Bishops’ Committee on Child Protection. Through that Committee, the Irish Bishops’ Conference established the National Child Protection Office in 2001. The Committee, under my Chairmanship, commissioned the College of Surgeons to produce a comprehensive research study on clerical sexual abuse. The result ‘Time to Listen’ – is commended in the Murphy Report. “In this Commission’s view this was a very valuable contribution to the debate on child sexual abuse by clergy “(7.47) My work in child protection since 1996 assisted me in my appointment and work as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Ferns from April 2002 – April 2006. My work there is outlined in the Ferns Report where both Mr. George Birmingham, S.C., and Mr. Justice Frank Murphy commended the co-operation they received from the Diocese of Ferns and myself.

[...]The question of resignation has been raised on the grounds of ‘guilt by association’. However, guilt by association only arises where someone is complicit in a decision or action, or is silent when to speak would have made a difference. Present in a room or proximity to a decision-maker of itself is not guilt by association. If anyone attributes such guilt to me, he or she does so without foundation, and against the findings of the Dublin Report.”

shane said...

This was also echoed by Bishop Eamonn Walsh in his Letter to Dublin Priests of 3 Deaneries:

“Following the death of Archbishop McNamara, I became secretary to Bishop Carroll, when he was Administrator during the interregnum, and, subsequently to Archbishop Connell in 1988. As the Report points out, I had no direct role in dealing with child sexual abuse cases. When I was given information, following a meeting of a priest with the Archbishop, it was only in the context of follow-up action e.g. medical/pastoral needs/accommodation. As secretary I was not party to discussions between either of the Archbishops and individual priests, regarding allegations of clerical child sexual abuse. The confidential nature of the relationship between priest and Archbishop precluded that from happening.

Secretary: 1985 – 1990
From 1985-1987 I was secretary to Archbishop McNamara. The duties were basically administrative and secretarial, with no involvement in any personnel issues involving child sexual abuse.

Auxiliary Bishop: 1990
Regarding my role as Auxiliary Bishop, the Report states in 1.56:
“There was no clear job description for the auxiliary bishops”.
In my appointment I was given pastoral responsibility for the deaneries of Blessington, South Dublin and Tallaght. In the course of my work with you, if I was approached on a matter of a confidential nature, or if I had a concern which had been expressed to me, I brought this to the attention of the Archbishop. Archbishop Connell took a very conscientious line in respecting a person’s reputation, and on any other matter he deemed confidential. Information given in this way was not shared at meetings with others present. The result was that discussions were often held where the full facts of the subject under discussion, were not known to all participants. Sometimes the Archbishop himself would not have full information. It is very regrettable that clear pathways of communication were not effected until after the introduction of the Framework Document in 1996. Poor communication led to long-term disastrous consequences.

shane said...

David Quinn, who attended the Commission's hearings and reported them for the Independent, also wrote a good article in Studies magazine on them, having realized that most media commentators had read no more than the summary:


"[...]As mentioned, a total of 1,090 former residents of the institutions reported to the Ryan Commission. Between them, they named 800 alleged abusers in over 200 institutions. But there was very wide variation from institution to institution in terms of the amount of abuse taking place in each of them, something that the executive summary of the Ryan Report, which is what most journalists will have read, did not make clear. For example, fully 50 per cent of physical abuse reports and 64 per cent of the sex abuse reports heard by the Commission that involved boys, related to four of the boys institutions. The same applies to the girls’ institutions. Three schools account for almost 40 per cent of the physical abuse reports, or 48 reports each, while 19 schools had an average of 2.5 reports each.

Sexual abuse was also far worse in the boys’ institution than in the girls’, which is probably to be expected. In the girls’ institutions, sex abuse was normally perpetrated by outside workmen, or by visiting priests or religious, or by foster families, with whom the girls occasionally stayed.

A relative handful of individuals accounted for a disproportionate share of the complaints. For example: a total of 241 female religious were named as physical abusers. However, four of these were named by 125 witnesses, and 156 Sisters were named by one witness each. In total, of the 800 religious and others named as abusers, half were named by only one person.

It is also worth noting that an institution only received a special chapter in the Ryan Report if it was the subject of more than 20 complaints of abuse. Sixteen institutions, out of the dozens run by the orders, had more than 20 complaints made against them.

When I first reported the above figures in the Irish Catholic and the Irish Independent, I was accused by a handful of people (fewer than I had expected) of ‘playing the numbers game’. But surely numbers matter immensely? If they do not, then why did numbers feature so heavily in the Ryan Report and in the subsequent media coverage of it, and in the debates about it? In the North, for example, it is not immaterial whether 300 or 3,000 people died in the ‘Troubles’.

If I were a member of an order that ran those institutions that were relatively better run than some of the others, I would want people to know this. I would regard it as particularly unfair and unjust if every institution was universally regarded as being as terrible as the very worst of the institutions.[...]"

shane said...

Atheist communist Brendan O'Neill also points out that abuse rates in Catholic institutions were actually quite low and that the vast majority of children received a decent education. He attacks the hysteria surrounding the abuse issue. [important to note also that according to the Sexual Abuse and Violence Report in Ireland, commissioned by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons, only about 3% of all abuse was perpetrated by clergy]


Richard Dawkins, of all people, believes similarly:

“Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset, to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way. Others have noted that we live in a time of hysteria about pedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692… All three of the boarding schools I attended employed teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety. That was indeed reprehensible. Nevertheless, if, fifty years on, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defense, even as the victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).

The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.”

(The God Delusion, pp. 315-16)

shane said...

BTW, Church & State magazine has a fantastic editorial on the abuse scandals, the historical development of the Irish church, and the Church's critics. C&S used to be the organ of the Campaign to Seperate Church & State - a front for the BICO - but which wound up after secularism became mainstream and then started writing sympathetically about the Church.

You can read it here...its a very good read:



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