WHAT happens when the Taoiseach addresses the Dail like a particularly enraged caller to a phone-in radio programme? Do harmony, lucidity, thought, care and reason result? Or does public life begin to resemble a mob in a market place? And if the speaker on the platform is sounding inflammatory, what exactly is happening at the back of the crowd, where young men appear to be gathering rocks?
The last person to use such unforgiving and disdainful language about the Vatican was Ian Paisley -- the old Paisley, mind, not the dottily babbling and cheery old grand-uncle that has emerged in recent years. Go back 40 years and you will find in the pages of 'The Protestant Telegraph' precisely the kind of vituperative talk that graced Enda Kenny's speech to the Dail on Wednesday. This now, from the leader of Fine Gael, the party which was once a political extension of the Catholic Church and which faithfully did its bidding: hence the Taoiseach's party and governmental predecessor, Liam Cosgrave, actually voting against his own government's bill to allow the sale of contraceptives.
The Taoiseach's allegations and tone were thus unprecedented: "Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic ... as little as three years ago, not three decades ago."
(What? As recently as three years ago? No, actually. A Government spokesman later explained this did not refer to any specific event, but described the cumulative effect of the Vatican's actions. Quite so: what need of accuracy when the mob is abroad?)
The Cloyne Report, he continued, "excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism ... the narcissism... that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."
(Rubbish again: Cloyne was into Cloyne and not into the Vatican, and moreover, it studiously avoided the vituperative Kenny terminology, of "rape", "torture" and so on).
However, the Taoiseach did not use such strong language about the failings of this State: "The unseemly bickering between the Minister for Children and the HSE over the statutory powers to deal with extra-familial abuse, the failure to produce legislation to enable the exchange of soft information as promised ... "
So, on the one hand "narcissism, elitism, dysfunction, disconnection", by the Vatican: on the other, "unseemly bickering", by the State. And all this, after the revelations about the Roscommon incest case or the brutality of the mother towards her children exposed in last week's court case in Galway: yet the savagery of both cases vastly exceeded anything done by any priest in recent times. Needless to say, both families were in HSE "care".
The measured words of the Vatican press officer Fr Federico Lombardi are barely audible beside the Taoiseach's shrill outpourings: "Therefore, the severity of certain criticisms of the Vatican are (sic) curious, as if the Holy See was guilty of not having given merit under canon law to norms which a State did not consider necessary to give value under civil law."
In other words, the Government of Ireland is denouncing the Vatican for not introducing those very changes to its canon law which it had itself failed to introduce to its civil code. To remind you: in February, 1998, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that mandatory reporting of child sex abuse would be introduced within the lifetime of that government. Yet here we are, thirteen and-a-half years later, and this has still not happened.
WHY? Is it because the very concept of mandatory reporting of abuse escapes easy legal definition? For when does "mandatory reporting" simply become passing on tittle-tattle? Moreover, the Catholic Church cannot operate outside its own canon laws: it is bound by them, as the State is bound by the civil laws. So why this expectation that the Catholic Church can select whatever laws it likes, like a child at a pick and mix sweet counter?
The Irish Catholic Church and Irish nationalism have been conjoined twins for over two centuries, and it's often difficult to say who did what. Did Irish Catholicism achieve the political power that it did simply because the Irish people wanted it that way? Or did the Catholic Church bully Irish politicians into doing its will? But where did the clergy for this power-obsessed Irish Church come from? Mars? Complex matters indeed, and ones that are more extensively elucidated in Mary Kenny's brilliant 'Goodbye to Catholic Ireland'.
As an opponent of the political power of the Catholic Church all my adult life, I will just say this. The nuns of Ireland ran our hospitals with greater efficiency than the HSE, and at far less cost. The Celtic Tiger was made possible by a conservative educational system that was largely the creation of the Catholic Church. Tens of thousands of Irish people became priests, brothers and nuns, in the fond and fervent expectation that they would be serving God and the needs of others, not themselves or their own appetites. As the cataclysm of hate, hysteria and humbug washes the Catholic Church out of our lives, it is worth remembering those basic truths.