There’s a particularly disturbing story developing in Northern Ireland:
The police, the Catholic Church and the state conspired to cover up a priest’s suspected role in one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles, an investigation has found.
Forgetting for a moment the face-palmingly euphemistic name “North Ireland Troubles”, this is a poignant illustration of what happens when religious leaders collude with secular authority. Police found evidence implicating one Father James Chesney, and instead of acting on it, collaborated with politicians and the Church to cover up the evidence and move the suspected terrorist to another parish.
Now I’m sure some of you will think it’s unfair of me to pick on this organization based on acts that were committed 30 years ago, but you’d be missing my point. If the accused had been a member of a secular organization, there would have been no such cover-up or collusion. The Catholic Church wielded (and continues to wield) power that was sufficient to shield its members from any kind of justice. This is another example of the willingness of the RCC to subvert secular authority to preserve their veneer of respectability and shield their power from scrutiny.
Besides, this is not something that happened once 30 years ago and has been dealt with. The Church still refuses to co-operate with secular authority, demanding special exemption from justice at every turn like a petulant child protesting the punishment of a fair parent. When caught and forced to face up to their systemic corruption, they offer non-apologies in the hope of mollifying critics, simultaneously demonstrating that they don’t understand the nature of the problem, and virtually guaranteeing that it will continue in the future.
As disgusted as I am with the RCC for this latest atrocious betrayal of human decency and justice, they cannot accept the entirety of the blame:
[Ombudsman Al Hutchinson] said he told his superiors he was going to raid Fr Chesney’s parochial house within 30 minutes unless he was told to do otherwise. He said he had soldiers standing by in Magherafelt police station as back-up for the search and arrest operation. “They (senior officers) gave me an answer back within 15 minutes that things were under control, not to go. I was told, leave it alone, we’re looking after it. Then the next thing I heard was that he was transferred to Malin Head (in Donegal).”
The corruption was widespread enough to touch the police force, and the political establishment. The entire country was in turmoil, and authorities feared that arresting a priest would result in widespread violence and rioting, touching off a civil war. Perhaps it would have.
The problem is in allowing a group – any group, religious or otherwise – to hold that kind of unchecked power. There was no check on the Catholic Church either from within or externally. The religious authority held such control over both the people and the secular powers that it could thwart the judicial system at its whim. Secular authorities are subject to the approval of the populace (for good or ill), and in many cases are also limited by other branches of government. Religious authorities, however, are accountable only to themselves, and have demonstrated their ability to confuse “the good of the Church” with what is good for the people time after time. There is no mechanism of voting out the Pope, and the threats of excommunication and social ostracism (not to mention hellfire and other fun supernatural punishments) ensured that no citizen group could or would form to check the power of the Church.
Perhaps Ivan Stevenson of Northern Ireland says it best:
The Church is right in saying that they didn’t cover up an evil act. It would seem that the British government offered to do it for them. However, this doesn’t negate their moral responsibility to respond more appropriately. All in all it stinks of hypocrisy, considering recent disclosures relating to child abuse and whatever else lies festering in the closet. The Catholic Church’s self declared divine mandate to be the moral conscience of the world is nothing but the pompous, self-righteous posturing of a large group of very sad and desperate men.
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