Sunday 8 December 2019

Alison O’Connor: Kenny's bruising words belatedly lay bare Vatican's pathetic charade

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Cardinal Sean Brady
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Cardinal Sean Brady

HE is less than six months in office but Taoiseach Enda Kenny has already guaranteed himself a place in the history books.

The Mayo man stood in the Dail yesterday and shattered those links between church and State that for so long have been an intrinsic part of the fabric of Irish society.

The stark change in tone was first struck last week with the publication of the Cloyne Report and the remarks made by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, and subsequently the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore.

The days of kowtowing to Rome, regardless of the circumstances, were clearly over.

But the Taoiseach stood in the Dail chamber yesterday, where so many of his predecessors had stood before him -- and when discussing matters of church and State virtually always showing remarkable deference -- and he made it clear that he was leading this charge from the front.

His speech was one for which he will always be remembered. At a diplomatic level, this was one state telling another in remarkably undiplomatic language that they were, to paraphrase the Taoiseach, dysfunctional, disconnected, elitist and narcissistic.

He said it in plain language, his intent clear, and told it exactly as it is when he said the rape and torture of children had been downplayed or managed, in order to uphold the primacy of the Catholic Church and its power, standing and reputation. It's easy to imagine the shock in the Vatican at the manner in which the Irish Government is holding them to account.

The dismay is easy to understand given that they've had the kid-gloves treatment for as long as anyone can remember.

What is particularly odd is that the manner in which our Government had continued to treat the church hierarchy in recent years was considerably out of kilter with how the majority of people in middle Ireland felt.

It's also easy to imagine the joy of the many victims of clerical abuse (and actually not just those who have been abused by priests) to realise that the man who leads the country has clearly recognised what happens when a child is abused, or, as the Taoiseach described it, raped and tortured.

As a result, it frequently ends up with them and their families having a shattered existence. While the Vatican will, no doubt, attempt to continue with its usual pathetic charade, these people now know that they are citizens in a Republic "where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular kind of 'morality' will no longer be tolerated or ignored".

The Taoiseach said that the revelations of the Cloyne Report had brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture.

But actually many Irish Catholics reached this juncture a long time ago, some of them after the Brendan Smyth case, some of them after the revelations from the Ferns Diocese, others after the Ryan and Murphy reports.

It just took our political leadership a considerable while longer to cop on to this fact. For all of the changes this society has undergone in recent times the continuation of this official attitude was certainly a puzzling one. It will be one for the historians to ponder in time to come.

At a time when there is so much said about the lack of relevance of the Dail and the general uselessness of politicians (a favoured theme of radio chat show callers) our politicians showed yesterday that they can be very relevant. There were no dissenters from the Government's motion on Cloyne which, among other things, "deplores the Vatican's intervention which contributed to the undermining of child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish bishops".

During the last few years any news on Ireland which has ended up making global headlines has almost exclusively centred on our disastrous economic downfall, interspersed with accounts of those reports into sex abuse mentioned earlier.

The welcome signal sent out from our parliament yesterday, which has made the headlines outside of this island, is that this is a situation which will no longer be tolerated.

Enda Kenny is not someone who would be especially noted for his liberal views, and perhaps that is why this speech and its vehemence was even more surprising and welcome. Yet, his pointing out that he is a practising Catholic, and that he did not say any of it easily, made his message all the more powerful.

He was also correct to include mention of the appalling abuse case involving a mother and her eight children which was before the courts last week and the current Donegal case involving a school caretaker. For all the nonsense spoken on the subject of how Irish children are at the heart of our society, he spoke the absolute truth when he said that for too long Ireland had neglected its children.

It can only be hoped that he will make sure that the Government's plans announced last week, to ensure that Irish children are properly protected from abuse, are carried through. If this work is not seen to be carried through promptly, it would lessen the impact of yesterday's speech greatly.

Over in Rome they must still be reeling in shock at the verbal missile unleashed on them yesterday.

There has been talk in recent days that the proposed visit by the Pope next year would not now go ahead. What a pity.

The least he owes the Catholics of Ireland is to come here personally and give some sort of account for what went on.

Having said that, it is hard to see how any explanation would suffice.

Irish Independent

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