Ruth Dudley Edwards: Scandal shows how prone we are to hypocrisy and hysteria
Ruth Dudley Edwards is sickened by the abuse of children, but also by the persecution of essentially good people like Brady
Published 21/03/2010 | 05:00
I had a struggle to feel proud to be Irish this St Patrick's Day. Normally I would have smiled tolerantly at the ubiquitous shamrock-bespattered leprechaun hats and orange beards infesting central London. But I was afflicted by an attack of existential gloom, brought on by listening to Morning Ireland in full cry over Cardinal Sean Brady.
It wasn't so much that we are at our least attractive when in sanctimonious lynch-mob mode: it was because this was RTE at its worst.
It was bad listening to Charlie Bird in Washington trying to persuade Brian Cowen to call for Brady's resignation and order a police investigation of his behaviour in the Seventies, but at least the Taoiseach firmly dismissed any idea that he should interfere in Church matters or the operational independence of the gardai.
But then came the utterly fantastic interview with Martin McGuinness, who had no such statesmanlike inhibitions.
Wringing his hands, McGuinness told us how he tried to be as good a Catholic as he could be, how the people whose voices have not been listened to should be heard, how the Church should demonstrate real leadership and how the Cardinal "should consider his position".
When it came "to such a serious matter as child abuse I do think there's a very grave responsibility on everybody in positions of leadership to do everything possible to ensure the protection of children".
I waited for Bird to ask a few of the obvious questions. Surely you are in no position to criticise Cardinal Brady for a sin of omission as a young man?
By your own admission, were you not involved by 1975 in an organisation that killed and mutilated children and destroyed innumerable lives?
Did Pope John Paul II on his knees in 1979 not beg the IRA in the name of God "to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace"? Why did a good Catholic like you ignore his plea?
Would the IRA not have murdered anyone who reported any of its members to the police?
Was there not a culture of secrecy and authoritarianism within the republican movement that suppressed all criticism of the leadership?
Since Gerry Adams allowed a brother he believed had raped his own daughter to work in his constituency in youth organisations for years, should he not resign?
Which heads should roll because it took months to suspend an alleged child-abusing Sinn Fein councillor?
Is your neck not made of solid brass?
Bird didn't ask those questions. He just kept pressing him to go further and call directly for Brady's resignation. And at the end, he said sympathetically, "It must be hard for you to say something like this to him".
Oh, it was hard, said McGuinness, because he had found Brady "very decent, very supportive of the peace process". However, "We who are in positions of political leadership have a responsibility to lead".
And so I mooched off into the street, glowered at the leprechauns and with difficulty held back from explaining to passers-by that we are a nation of slovenly minded hypocrites and self-righteous hysterics.
However, that isn't really true. I spent a few days in Clare the other week, where one could speak of showing some compassion to the clergy without someone shrieking that you condone child abuse.
After abandoning religion in my teens, I spent the next couple of decades practising anti-Catholicism until I realised it was time I got over it.
So I learned to be a religion-friendly atheist, not least because I found in Northern Ireland many people whose Christianity had enabled them to forgive perpetrators of terrible crimes. And now my country is in the in the grip of adolescent anti-Catholicism and I feel sorry for its victims.
Some Catholic clergy did bad things, others showed a lack of moral courage and others defended their
institution blindly in the way the institutionalised do. In Ireland, our craw-thumping society colluded all the way in allowing them to abuse their power.
I am sickened by what happened to children, but I'm sickened too by the persecution of people I believe to be fundamentally good, like the 70-year-old Cardinal Brady and the 82-year-old Pope Benedict XVI. We are all fallible.
Perhaps next time Bird is looking for a question to ask Martin McGuinness, he might ask him why he's forgotten Jesus Christ's recommendation that you don't throw stones unless you're sinless.