Saturday 20 July 2019

UN names church for what it is: a rogue state

When you look at it minus the emotional baggage, your blood runs cold, writes Brendan O'Connor

A memorial plaque to victims of the Magdalene Laundries in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
A memorial plaque to victims of the Magdalene Laundries in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

WE CAN tend to outrage fatigue when it comes to reports about the crimes committed within the Catholic Church in recent years. So when the UN Committee on the Rights of Children reported last week on its ongoing engagement with the Catholic Church regarding the rights of children within the Vatican and the Holy See, many people will have been tempted to ignore it.

After all, there wasn't much new in it. The church has a history of trafficking babies, of discriminating against children based on their sexuality or that of their parents, and of allowing children to be abused, of protecting their abusers from the law, of moving abusers around –allowing them to abuse again, and when it came to abuse, of "consistently placing the preservation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests". The church has even protected priests from their own children, denying children the right to know the identity of their fathers and "only agreeing payments from the church until the child is financially independent only if they [the mothers] sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information".

We knew all that stuff already, didn't we?

Except it is a little different this time. Because previously our engagement with the church has tended to stay within the family. There has been an emotional attachment that has clouded the issue for us. Because there is always a sense, in this country, that everyone was complicit in all this because, after all, we are, or were, the church.

And because the church was so intermingled with the State here, and with the provision of health, education and welfare, the crimes themselves became intermingled with social norms of the time and so on.

So the Magdalene laundries scandal was viewed not just as a church scandal but as all of our shame. In short, in Ireland, the blame has tended to be spread.

That's why the latest UN report is important, because it takes all that baggage out of it and treats the church as what it is – a de facto state, geographically dispersed throughout the world certainly, but a metaphysical and legal entity, and therefore, "a sovereign subject of international law having an original non derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority of jurisdiction."

While some will argue about the Vatican's claim to statehood, the UN uses the church's claim to independent statehood against it. The UN is basically treating the Holy See as a state, subject to the same duties and responsibilities as other states. And what the UN finds is a rogue state.

Make no mistake, if the Holy See was an actual country, we would be at the least boycotting its fruit and at the most sending in the tanks. Here is a state that has institutionalised homophobia, discrimination against women and children, that has systematically overseen the protection of the abusers of tens of thousands of children, protecting abusers from the laws of their host countries. Here is a state that has overseen mass scale trafficking of babies, a state that opposes modern health and sexual education for young women, a state that forces secrecy on children, even those who are victims of sexual abuse.

These guys are up there with China or the worst of Africa in terms of their human rights record. And when you look at it coldly and clearly like that, your blood runs cold. Because instead of shunning this rogue state, we have invited it into the very heart of all our countries, and into the heart of our families.

Take out of the equation for a moment the tragedy that this has all been for good people of faith, and just view this as a political issue, and suddenly, we are faced with a very grim and outrageous situation. The Holy See, a rogue state, operating its own twisted Canon laws even while residing geographically in our country and others.

So the UN says that: "While welcoming the Holy See's approach to ensuring that the legislation of the Vatican City State complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee regrets that the same approach has not been followed in relation to its internal laws, including Canon Law."

Canon Law, for example, still refers to illegitimate children. The Holy See's past statements and declarations of homosexuality "contribute to the social stigmatisation of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples". The Holy See also refused to provide information to the UN on its attempts to take sexism and gender stereotyping from its textbooks as requested by the committee in 1995, nearly 20 years ago.

More critically, the UN found that "the Holy See has

consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators (of abuse) above the child's best interests". The UN also found the rogue state of the Holy See wanting in terms of torture. To our shame, it mainly referred here to the "inhuman, cruel and degrading" treatment and "slavery like" conditions in Ireland's Magdalene laundries, where girls were "deprived of their identity ... imposed with an obligation of silence and prohibited from having any contact with the outside world". The UN also refers to the unmarried girls who had their babies forcibly removed.

Put aside for a moment that this was the Holy Church doing this and look at it coldly. This rogue state, this parasite that fed off us, conducted torture and slavery in this country. And, to add insult to injury then took no action "to investigate the conduct ... and to co-operate with law enforcement authorities in holding accountable" the slave masters and torturers.

Torture and slavery may seem like strong words, but when you strip it all away and when you are not too close to it, as we are, that is what this was. That is how the UN sees it coldly and politically: torture and slavery and refusal to co-operate with the laws of the real world when it came to prosecuting the slavers and torturers.

When it comes to child abuse, the sinister state of the Holy See acted just as outrageously. Ignoring the laws of host countries, the Holy See moved offenders around so they could offend again and then allowed the vast majority of abusers to escape judicial proceedings by dealing with abuse not as a crime but as "grave delictas against the moral" which meant abuse was dealt with in confidential proceedings. This code of Omerta, and this classification of abuse as not being a crime, led to a culture of non reporting of what are accepted by those of us who live in the real world as very serious crimes.

The UN's message to the church is stark. If you want to be a state, you need to act like one. You cannot just declare yourself a jurisdiction, make up your own laws that excuse things that are universally accepted to be wrong, and refuse to be party both to the laws of the countries you operate in and universally agreed conventions on human rights.

Not since Enda Kenny's magnificent "thankfully for them and for us, this is not Rome" speech on the Cloyne Report, has the dysfunctional culture of the Holy See been laid out so starkly for Irish people.

For us, it is a whole new way of looking at the phenomenon of the Catholic Church. It is a way of taking the emotional baggage out of it. And when you layer up fact upon fact, it presents a pretty damning picture of these people, people that we invited into our lives because of our faith in a God who would surely be appalled by what they have done.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss