IF the Vatican was in any doubt about the relative futility of appeasing the apology-culture that we now live in, it shouldn't be any longer. "I want the Pope to know that if he's invited to Ireland -- and in fairness, he is welcome to come -- he must apologise to the people of Ireland and meet survivors of abuse": thus, Michael O'Brien, former mayor of Clonmel, and himself a victim of abuse, as quoted in the 'Sunday Times' over the weekend.
He must apologise, must he? This is what the Pope said in his pastoral letter two years ago:
"To the victims of abuse and their families. You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel . . .
"To priests and religious who have abused children.
"You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland . . . Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders . . . Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life."
Which is an unconditional apology, and an unconditional condemnation: QED. Yet despite its utter contrition, the Pope's pastoral letter now remains invisible within a popular culture of selective amnesia and vehement victimhood, in which the only culprits who are to be repeatedly condemned are the Catholic clergy.
Now, no comparable apology has been given to the people of Ireland by any former Taoiseach or ministers for education, health or justice, for the wrongs done to children within their legal areas of responsibility down the decades. The Catholic Church had no power that was not given it by the democratically-mandated governments of Ireland. Politicians fell over themselves to kiss the ermine hem of episcopal vestments. Even supposedly secular politicians such as Noel Browne and Sean McBride deferred abjectly to John Charles McQuaid.
From the first hours of "independence", the political heirs of 1916 were determined to exhibit chronic dependence, and to show that Irish republicanism was merely Irish Romanism in a political garb. Ireland was ruled by an unholy compact between the Catholic Church and by a political caste that almost wholly subordinated itself to the requirements of the Catholic hierarchy. Even the special provision given to the Catholic Church in the 1938 Constitution was removed in 1973 only at the instigation of Cardinal Conway, a northerner who thought the deletion might smooth the path to a united Ireland.
That was then. Today, within the ruins of the Irish economy, only one financial figure remains intact and inviolable, rather like Churchill's dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone; it is the redress bill of €1.36 billion to be given to victims of clerical abuse. This figure is as much related to reality as the Bertie Bowl, Dublin 4 property prices in 2008 and Malawi's task-force to seize the Falkland Islands. It was a figure largely dreamt up in that other Bertie Bowl, the Ahern brain. The Government -- in the shape of Ruairi Quinn -- is now demanding that the Catholic orders of Ireland foot 50pc of a bill that they never agreed to. If power without responsibility is the harlot's prerogative, then responsibility without power is surely the helot's condition; and helotry -- serfdom -- is the metaphorical state in which the few baffled old survivors of Irish religious orders now find themselves, here in this vicious, vindictive, post-Catholic Ireland. Ruairi Quinn, has been in the Oireachtas since 1976. In 1997, the child abusing priest Brendan Smyth pleaded guilty to 74 charges of indecent assault and sexual assault in nine counties and four provinces between 1958 and 1993. This latter date is 17 years after Ruairi Quinn entered Leinster House. For much of that time, any senator or TD who tried to raise the issue of clerical child abuse in the Dail would have been shouted down or ruled out of order; and any journalist who wrote about it would have been destroyed in the libel courts.
SO, many traditions within democratic Ireland allowed this abuse to go on, and to blame just one of them now is to exonerate those other parts which were passively complicit, either through neglect, indolence, cowardice or political convenience: namely, journalism, politics, An Garda Siochana and the courts. Yet some of these are now the loudest in the condemnation of, and demands for ruinous financial compensation from, the broken remnants of the religious orders, whose alleged "assets" -- state-subsidised schools and HSE-controlled hospitals -- have no real commercial value in the market-place. So, lynch mob, anyone?