Saturday 17 August 2019

Patricia Casey: 'Leo's got more worthy targets than priests for his cheap jibes'

Guilty: Director Roman Polanski admitted to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Photo: Reuters
Guilty: Director Roman Polanski admitted to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Photo: Reuters

Patricia Casey

Leo Varadkar was in stereotyping mode last week. He made a cheap and unwarranted jibe at Micheál Martin, comparing him to a person preaching morality on the surface, but beneath it like a priest who engages in grievously serious offences behind the façade of the altar. Being a priest was a byword for hypocrisy in this mindset. In this cheap insult, Varadkar cast a slur on all the caring, hard-working and honest priests on this island and on the hundreds of thousands of parishioners who turn to them for comfort, prayer and forgiveness in confession.

If Jeffrey Epstein had been in the news for his alleged sexual offences on the day Varadkar taunted his political opponent and insulted the priests of the country, would he have made similar comparisons?

Of course he would not. Epstein claimed to be a benefactor of many charities while simultaneously sexually molesting under-aged girls. For people like Varadkar, who value image over substance, the opportunity to take aim at priests is a ready and cheap shot too difficult to resist. It is so much more potent and up-to-the-minute in the trendy world of modern Ireland than the thought of a millionaire like Epstein using under-age girls for his own sexual needs on a grand scale while claiming to be a donor to worthy causes.

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Is there any real difference between sexually predatory priests and sexually predatory millionaires? In reality there is none apart from the attitudes of the commentariat.

The story about Epstein isn't new and he already has served time in prison for his offences; at least it was referred to as a prison but he struck a deal with the then attorney in Florida that allowed him to work from his home office for 16 hours every day. His office is in his nearby mansion.

And Epstein's activities have been common knowledge for years. His jet carried personages such as Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and a host of other Silicon Valley and Hollywood luminaries to various countries in receipt of his financial largesse. It was nick-named the Lolita Express.

Epstein is not an exception. He is not the one bad apple. Think Roman Polanski, who raped a 13-year-old and still has apologists for his activities. Woody Allen allegedly raped his adopted daughter Dylan, who along with her brother Ronan have constantly re-iterated this. Allen later married another adopted daughter, Soon-Yi-Previn. He has never been charged with any sexual offence.

Michael Jackson was named by several boys as being an abuser, although the public may have been kinder to him as the abused vulnerable child turned abuser. Pathetically, in adult life, he spoke of having children in his bed, appearing childlike in this disclosure. Everybody feared the worst but distanced themselves from such lurid thoughts, until the allegations kept emerging, posthumously.

And in Britain in 2015, Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall, Gary Glitter and Max Clifford were among more than 1,400 men investigated by Operation Yewtree. The alleged perpetrators of the abuse of minors included politicians, artists from the music industry and TV, radio and film.

An inquiry by Dame Janet Smith concluded that the culture of the BBC enabled the offending by Savile and Hall to go undetected. This included undue deference to talent and to presenters.

She concluded that the BBC, while conducting two investigations into these men's behaviour in 1973, seemed more concerned about the reputation of the organisation than the wellbeing and safety of the young girls.

Our knowledge of child abuse and of the behaviour of organisations in which its members are engaged shows us that the most common reaction is to ignore it, hope it will go away or pretend it is not occurring. Be they film producers, media pundits or bishops they try to protect the accused at the expense of the victims. In the case of Polanski, Whoopi Goldberg argued that he hadn't committed "rape-rape" and his cache remained high. Harvey Weinstein made a documentary about him but he is now in the producers' purdah for alleged adult rape. Similarly Woody Allen, whom actors were queueing up to appear alongside, is now avoided by those who previously gleefully worked with him. Hollywood is replete with actors and producers charged with child abuse.

The naïve perception that only the Catholic Church and its supporters covered up the true extent of child sexual abuse is now the common narrative among the political and media classes. Yet, according to a report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 4pc of priests in the US were charged with sexual offences and a much smaller percentage found guilty. According to the report this is similar to the proportions in the general population and in other religious denominations.

We do not have any data on the proportion of actors, producers and others in the entertainment industry who have been charged with and found guilty of the sexual abuse of minors. What is common knowledge, however, is the extent of awareness of these activities and of attempts to conceal them from the relevant authorities.

Dame Janet Smith reflected on the abuse scandal at the BBC, saying: "Fame is power." Too right, indeed, and people like Epstein, Allen and Savile had buckets of fame. The priests in Ireland and elsewhere at the time had power rather than fame.

But these groups had more in common than most realise. The trust of the people, their desire to be part of their set and the complicity of their respective occupational organisations, shows paedophile priests and molesting millionaires share common ground. So, let's hear the Polanski or Savile analogy, Leo, next time you try to attack an opponent in Dáil Éireann.

Irish Independent

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