Wednesday 16 October 2019

Stop emoting, just show us the money Archbishop

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

The Mahon Report will have taken 12 years, cost €300m, and leave no legacy except wealthy lawyers. The Ryan Report took 10 years, cost only €60m and leaves us with a legacy of terrible truths. But enough already on the emoting. How about a brief alternative analysis of the child abuse scandal?

First: like the recession, there is nothing uniquely Irish or uniquely evil about child abuse. If you put men and women (particularly celibates) in positions of absolute power over powerless children you will get abuse -- as we saw in the USA, Australia and Poland.

Second: Patsy McGarry calls it our holocaust. Without going that far, I would argue there are striking similarities between Ireland and Vichy France when it comes to collusion and collaboration. Like the French, the Irish political class actively aided in both the abuse and the cover-up.

Third: the only uniquely Irish contribution was the historical background. Like Daniel Corkery, de Valera and his successors believed the Irish psyche comprised a trinity: religion, nationality and the land. I believe I can show how these three elements, plus class distinction, created the culture of complicity and cover-up.

Let's start with religion. Did abuse arise from something endemically evil in Roman Catholicism? Of course not. Apart from one infamous institution on the Ards Peninsula, abuse was rare in Roman Catholic institutions in Northern Ireland, simply because they were inspected properly. The problem was not Roman Catholicism, per se, but its distorted relations with the Irish Republic.

Let's look at land. Or rather the rural bourgeoisie. The Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Mercy and the Irish civil service were mostly the sons and daughters of farmers, survivors of the Famine, carriers of the Calvinistic Jansenism that Cardinal Cullen imposed on post-Famine Ireland. They looked down on the city poor with the same class contempt their fathers showed to spalpeens before the famine, and to landless labourers after it.

The culture of cover-up commenced after the Famine and continues today in the form of Famine commemorations. They create a spurious culture of common suffering. Participants portray themselves as descendants of Famine victims, when in fact they are descendants of Famine victors, those who held onto their turnips while the spalpeens starved.

Let's look, finally, at nationality. As a child, I was filled with Catholic nationalist propaganda which depicted the Irish Republic as morally superior to godless England and especially to the Black Protestant North. But the reality was that England was a refuge for our poor and for our poor sinners- and, in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic children were protected by the state.

Catholic nationalism told us that we were the norm. Actually we were abnormal. Republicanism was reduced to attacking Northern Protestants -- who were protecting our children -- rather than standing up to the Roman Catholic Church which allowed their abuse.

The abusers got away with it because the Irish public service was largely staffed by crawthumping Catholic activists. Many of them were members of secret Catholic lay groups, successfully conspiring to control public policy -- as chronicled by Dr Maurice Curtis's in a new study, The Splendid Cause: Catholic Action in Ireland in the 20th Century (Veritas Publications).

Far from standing up to the tormentors, the political class, as in Vichy France, colluded from the start. Ministers of education, senior civil servants, judges, policemen, doctors and lawyers -- all took part in the cover-up. And Irish society went along. Why?

The answer is that when it comes to Catholic nationalism, to Corkery's trinity of land, religion and nationality, Irish people seem willing to cover up any atrocity. We cover up the crimes of Catholic farmers and merchants during the Famine. We deny the enforced exodus of at least 60,000 Southern Protestants in the period 1920-22. We whitewash the Provisionals' sectarian campaign against Northern Protestants and their savage punishment beatings of Roman Catholic young boys.

So I was not surprised that RTE, the voice of Public Ireland, preferred emoting to analysis. As Prime Time is off the air on Wednesdays -- and Miriam O'Callaghan was filming in Cork -- it behoved Cathal Goan and Noel Curran to behave like public service broadcasters.

In my time, this meant clearing the schedule and calling in Brian Farrell. Today, it means calling in Pat Kenny.

Their decision instead to transmit a movie Deja Vu made me "uneasy" -- to quote their own words about the pre-election Late Late Show.

By contrast, the private sector media, particularly TV3 and Newstalk, rose to the occasion like lions -- proving that Minister Eamon Ryan's mollycoddling of RTE is as misplaced as his mollycoddling of Maura Harrington and the Shell to Sea activists. Vincent Browne on TV3's Nightly News, together with Eamon Keane and George Hook on Newstalk, cleared the decks and got down and dirty with superb contributors like Christine Buckley, Patsy McGarry, Colm O'Gorman and Mary Raftery.

But it was Browne's week. Last Wednesday he let Christine Buckley tell her harrowing tale and let himself be visibly moved. Last Thursday he wiped his tears and tore into the compensation issue. Maybe this moved Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to create another media moment by reprimanding an English archbishop.

To my mind, Archbishop Martin's rebuke of the hapless Brit bishop had the effect of deflecting attention away from the growing demand that the Roman Catholic Church start coughing up cash. Nobody else seemed to notice that. But then Archbishop Martin is the darling of the Dublin liberal media.

Perceptive poets like Paul Durcan and some people who are in the abuse arena would prefer a less pronounced media presence. Let me recall the Marian Finucane Show of January 10, 2009. Gerard and Mary, committed Roman Catholics from Cork, recounted how their daughter Elizabeth had been abused by a priest of the Cloyne diocese.

At the end Gerard, gently asked: "Where is the Christian voice, love respect and decency?" Clearly referring to Archbishop Martin's Christmas Eve attack on the HSE about child abuse, Finucane asked: "Did you hear anything in what Archbishop Martin said that you thought might indicate those qualities?"

Gerard paused. Then he spoke deliberately. "His statements were couched in... (pause) ... careful enough... ( pause), I would have thought, political-speak. The love of Christ did not come across in any of this... this thing that was preached to us." Finucane did not follow up.

Maybe that is why I was not carried away by the Irish Independent headline 'Archbishop rebukes English prelate who praised priests'. Apart from being a risible Ronan O'Gara moment, it proves my point. When pressed, the political and ecclesiastical establishment waves the green flag. But it won't wash this time.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Martin and Cori must stop emoting and write some cheques. Any more evasions will recall James Russell Lowell's remark about Rousseau's spineless father: "He waters the flowers of speech with the brineless tears of a flabby remorse without one fibre of resolve in it, and which impoverishes the character as it enriches the vocabulary."

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