Sex scandal now involves gardai who did not do more
Keeping abuse "secret - very, very, secret" marred lives and smeared the church as authorities reacted poorly
Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30
James Finley was abused physically and sexually as a child. He overcame the abuse and decided to become a monk. Years into his training he was abused by a priest, and quit.
Finley turned his life around. Today he is a clinical psychologist and respected spiritual teacher. In Ireland last week he gave a moving talk to mark the launch of Spire, the new Irish Spirituality Institute for Research & Education.
But his visit was overshadowed by more revelations about sex abuse here. The kind of positive religious path that he walks, one praised by Fr Michael O'Sullivan SJ who introduced him, seems choked by a Catholic Church mired in abuse and cover-ups.
It is hard to look at pictures of the late Brendan Smyth, multiple child-molester, without wincing. He abused scores of victims when church authorities let him. And it seems, the Gardai let him also.
Any idea that people "did not adequately understand" what child abuse really was "back then" was blown away last week at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland.
Revelations continue to emerge north of the border, where UTV in 1994 first revealed Smyth's crimes.
We now learn that gardai as far back as 1973 knew that Fr Smyth was sexually active with children. He came to their attention in Finglas, and was admitted to St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin to evade further action by civil authorities. Why did gardai not do more?
A doctor's report written in 1974 was clear. The psychiatrist diagnosed "psychosexual difficulties" and nailed these explicitly as "paedophilia". The doctor added that, "His paedophilia has brought him into contact with the police."
In Northern Ireland, stories about the protestant Kincora Boys Home have suggested collusion between security officials and abusers. In the Republic, was a blind eye being turned to abuse for other reasons? Victims now say that they will sue.
And it also emerged last week that Smyth's religious order had grounds to suspect that there were problems even before he was ordained. The abbot of his order is alleged to have lied later to the RUC about this. Cardinals might call it "mental reservation".
Smyth's ordination in Rome went ahead, despite a suggestion that he had abused at least one boy there. The Norbertine Order thought that it might look bad to stop it. That decision has destroyed the order. One of his fellow priests, Fr William Fitzgerald, said sadly last week that the Norbertines, "from the top of Denmark to the bottom of Brazil, has been slashed with the paedophile brush."
And still the revelations come. How Sean Brady, later a cardinal, with fellow priests who met a child victim of sex abuse, acted as some kind of interrogators, effectively covering up abuse and (in his words) keeping it "secret -very, very, secret".
Brady now says, "There was a shroud of secrecy and confidentiality with a view not to destroying the good name of the church."
Well that "good name" is rightly smeared now, and the Catholic Church itself has lost the loyalty of many in Ireland. This is hardly surprising when the response of Irish bishops to the scandal has been, as Fr Fitzgerald described that of his own order, "pathetic".
The Irish hierarchy could scarcely have done less or worse, as if convinced that its position in society could be again what it was for too long, a perch from which to pontificate in a lordly manner to priests, nuns and laity.
Apart from lame apologies repeated even as they continued to fudge things, there has been no effective confessional process of corporate accountability on the part of the bishops. They should have been shaken up and the organisation radically retooled. But the minimum was done.
The what-might-have-beens are almost irrelevant now, as an unreformed Irish Catholic church disintegrates. The last pope's envoys came and went, meeting people, including this author, and writing reports that were kept secret and made no obvious difference. Priests are dying off, congregations decline, hearts are broken.
When James Finley visited Dublin last week to talk of religious realities that can transform lives and bring happiness, he recalled warmly his spiritual master before he left the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and later got married, the renowned Thomas Merton.
Merton pointed to a path that church authorities might have taken after the good Pope John convened the Vatican Council. Unfortunately, they did not.
But hope springs eternal. This month, Pope Francis issued a substantial encyclical on the future of our planet, based solidly on hard evidence and on the best scientific consensus. It was a call to action and a challenge
The future of our planet challenges not least the Catholic church itself, which must look at some of its dogmas and doctrines that stand in the way of fundamental Christian welfare, and can be a source of scandal rather than spirituality.
One stumbling block is birth control. By a narrow majority, the powerful men (all men) who control the Catholic Church adopted a position on contraception that Pope Paul VI published as the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. It has been ignored by very many Catholics as irrational if not immoral, but it continues to encourage some to have unduly large families. It gets in the way of seeing Christ's actual words, and living a Christian spiritual life.
Family planning is one of the ways in which we need to realign our behaviour with the environment for the future of this planet. That the Catholic Church seems unable to extricate itself from Humanae Vitae even after the shambles of its authorities' response to clerical sex abuse, seems simply arrogant. Perhaps in future they could ask the laity about sex, rather than depend on celibate old men.
Ordinary Catholics understand the idea of "the Real Presence" as indicating a sense of spiritual presence when people of good will gather together to celebrate Jesus by breaking bread. This does not mean that they think bread and wine literally defy physics by really becoming flesh and blood.
But a range of ordinary Catholics do not figure much in decisions about the development of their Church, which is one reason that it is out on its feet in Ireland.
Its denial of reality and its abuse of power have been central features of the sex abuse scandal.