Saturday, May 23, 2009


With our sixth year students graduating I have not had much time or energy to blog. I am still busy but I'm taking a few moments to comment on the darkness revealed by the Inquiry into Child Abuse.

There is anger, hurt, embarassment, confusion, a sense of betrayal, a desire to deny, some 'blame-gaming' and a lot of pain around this. First two points I'd make is that the media are not a balanced or trustworthy source of information. They are too pressurized and eager for news to analyse or question their sources. Secondly is that those who can should read the report here. I doubt many will read all 3,000 pages.

A teacher in the school where I work asked "What kind of society allowed this to happen?". What kind of Church? In the 1850's, not long after the famine, there were 77,000 children in the Irish workhouses and unknown numbers living rough and running wild. The British Government eager to deal with the problem established the Reformatory and Industrial school systems through Britain and Ireland. In Ireland the Catholic Church was in the process of rebuilding itself after the Penal era and wanted to keep the Irish Catholic. The Government wanted to keep the costs low and the Religious Orders wanted to be involved, to make a difference. It worked but at what price?

The myth out there is of 'Clerical child abuse' and the 'paedophile priest'. I want to make it clear that I find it appalling that anyone, especially a priest or religious, should do such things to a child, one of the most vulnerable of people. This was not about sex, it was about power and abusing that power at the expense of the weakest. Yet when one reads the report, at least for the girls, the single biggest abusers of children were laymen, the fathers and sons of homes to which the girls were sent either to work or on holiday. Lay people were involved in abuse in other ways - often through working in the homes and were often as vicious as any others.

People claim ignorance, that they did not know. Some knew - Bishops, priests, religious sisters and brothers, police, doctors, nurses, care-workers etc. They knew and said nothing.

If you haven't seen the film Downfall you should. It's very good. It tells the story of Hitler's last days from the point of view of Traudl Junge his personal secretary. At the end of the film she speaks about her own involvement and her shock when she learned about the fate of the Jews. She talks about how she long denied she had any responsibility for what happened. Then one day she passed the plaque commemorating Sophie Scholl who, along with her brother and a friend, were executed for opposing the Nazi regime. She realised that Sophie had been the same age and that she could have found out but she chose not to. People in Ireland did not know because they did not ask. They did not ask because they did not want to know.

Irish society and the Irish Church forgot its ideals, became complacent, lacked not just the proper skills but the basic, genuine charity and compassion and failed to listen and to act. Indeed it penalised those who chose to do the right thing. It, we, were guilty of cowardice.

So we are all in need of God's mercy. We are, as Catholic Christians, part of the Body of Christ against whom these crimes have ultimately been committed. If one part sins all are affected. If one part is in pain and is hurting the rest cannot go on as normal. If one tries to isolate oneself from this and say "I am innocent, I was not involved" then one effectively cuts oneself off from the Body and from the Church.

People may object that it was a different time, a time when blind obedience was emphasized. Forgive me but that excuse was not accepted at Nuremberg so why should we accept it now? Sophie Scholl made it her business to find out. Sophie Scholl made it her business to speak out despite the Gestapo and informers. Where was Ireland's Sophie?

This Saturday the Gospel of the day invites us to hear Jesus' words "Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name He will give it to you." I say that we need to ask for the Holy Spirit and He bring with Him the gift of forgiveness. I say that we need to beg God for mercy and the grace of repentance and conversion of heart. I say we need the grace of taking the Gospel seriously and of making it the true measure in our lives not the mores of our society. I say we need to ask the Father for the courage to oppose evil and speak out.


Nancy said...

Thanks for this statement. I am in the U.S. and was looking for some commentary on the release of this report. Much of what you say I find so sadly true. Here we are dealing with our own scandals and abuses of power (can we ever come to grips with the torture we presided over?), ones I sorely hope will see the light of day.

This is about power and abuse of power, a theme all too human, and one that spans all endeavors from day care providers to captains of industry. This is not a "Catholic" scandal, it is a human scandal.

Best to you, enjoyed your blog.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for this, Brother.

Shane said...

Irish Catholicism degenerated in its morals because of a historic entanglement with Jansenism. The Ryan Report expresses acutely the fruits of this noxious heresy, which creates an attitude to sex that is downright gnostic and engenders an aversion to human goodness. Especially anathema to Jansenists is the innocence of children. This spread to other parts of the world missionized and ministered to by Irish clerics.

I was recently reading a book on the history of Irish Catholicism. A priest in the 1940’s (Fr Flanagan) from Nebraska who had established the main orphanage network there (Boys Town) attacked the industrial schools here as a ’scandal to the nation’. He was attacked in the media for his comments. No doubt many of those same newspapers are imputing malice to other authorities while conviently neglecting to mention the role they played in keeping this information distant from the public.

I have always maintained that British society is more amenable to Catholicism, and certainly its culture is in many ways influenced by Catholicism to a greater degree than we are. There are no Irish theologians of great repute, nor is there any distinctive Catholic literature from Ireland, at least for the last 3 centuries. A short and by no means comprehensive list of British Catholic luminaries will suffice to highlight the disparity: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Edward Elgar, Eric Gill, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Anscombe, Elizabeth Jennings, Michael MacMillan – the Irish equivalents of such figures simply don’t exist. In fact the vast majority of Irish writers were Protestant (Joyce was lapsed Catholic) -hence ‘Anglo-Irish literature’. A theological sewer (which is what essentially Ireland was for a long time) is never prodigious for literary or theological talent.

Unfortunately Ireland has long been rife with Jansenism. There are historic reasons for this. The first Irish seminary since the Reformation, the Royal College of St Patrick in Maynooth was staffed by French emigrants from the Revolution. A very high percentage of the faculty were Jansenists. Even before the Royal College, the Irish students at Louvain were taught by the Irishman Lord Trimblestown, who was a Jansenist and whose family played a crucial role in trying to defend Jansenism from persecution.

There has thus always been a Jansenistical air in Irish Catholicism, for historic reasons, and this has caused immeasurable harm to souls. I can remember my uncle telling me about going to Mass, and the priest demanding that any couples who had sexual relations would have to go to confession. No wonder you hear so many horror stories of this sort coming from Ireland.

When compared with Mediterranean Catholicism it could look quite grim, dreary and unpleasant. Often Irish Catholics were infected with what Garrigou-Lagrange calls “the proud Jansenist austerity” which “lost sight of the spirit of Christian mortification, which is not a spirit of pride, but of love of God”

The lesson in all this: Jansenism is a spiritual cancer, destroys piety and ruins souls.

Shane said...

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Tom said...

Shane, while I agree with much that you say about the Jansenist influence in Ireland there's more to it than that. Perhaps after all that was done to the Irish Catholics the attempted rebuilding of the Church is still a work in progress. I believe that there were many factors behind the abuse - poverty, low levels of education, Jansenism, a violent reaction to British/Protestant ascendancy that overflowed into society, a desperate need to 'prove ourselves' to the world and the universal Church, apathy, and a failure to embrace the deeper message of the Gospel - settling for legalistic externals.
As for great theologians it takes time to build up such a tradition. Anscombe may be claimed as 'Irish' (born in Limerick to Irish parents) as could C.S. Lewis (though not a Catholic). Ireland's flowering was in the arts and perhaps that's where her orthodoxy or heterodoxy might be seen - material for a doctorate there. Fr Flanagan never attacked the Industrial schools he praised them but said they were underfunded see He attacked the prison system. I guess the Christian Brothers handled that PR job very well.


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