Our understanding was so inadequate

Lots of people are calling for Sean Brady to resign. Lots of people are horrified at how clueless he still is, how indifferent the Vatican still is, how morally obtuse they all are.

Brady said something in his statement on Wednesday that needs close attention.

With many others who worked regularly with children in 1975, I regret that our understanding of the full impact of abuse on the lives of children as well as the pathology and on-going risk posed by a determined paedophile was so inadequate.

Their understanding was so inadequate in 1975.

Well if their understanding was inadequate then and is better now, that means their understanding has improved over time.

But the clergy are supposed to have a pipeline to god, aren’t they? Aren’t they?

Aren’t they supposed to know what’s what, and isn’t that’s why they consider themselves entitled to tell all the rest of us what’s what?

Their understanding isn’t supposed to be “inadequate,” now is it. They consider themselves moral arbiters, entitled to tell everyone what to do. Not guide, not suggest, but tell. They are priests. They are a special body, so special that filthy weak immoral women are officially barred from entry. They are authorities; they represent Authority.

So how can their understanding of something so basic (and so very important for them in particular, given their history) as what child rape does to children – how can it be inadequate? Why doesn’t god make it not inadequate? Why don’t they know? Why don’t they get it right just by virtue of being priests?

We’re always hearing about “church teachings.” “Church teachings” are why the church keeps demanding the right to ignore equality legislation and treat gays as contaminants. Surely this implies that “church teachings” are timeless and always right, while mere equality legislation is the product of foolish human whims and fashions that come and go. But if that’s how church teachings are, why was there no church teaching that timelessly informed all priests about the full impact of rape on the lives of children? Why has their understanding improved over time?

I want to know. I want to know why they’re so certain of their rightness about gays and the ordination of women and abortion when they were so wrong and brutal and self-interested about children being raped by their own colleagues. I want to know why they think they have so much as a toenail to stand on when it comes to morality. I want to know what the hell makes them think they know better than the rest of us about how to treat human beings.


  1. says

    Your link is not to a report of lots of people asking Brady to resign but to a report of Martin McGuinness saying so:

    Mr McGuinness urged the all-Ireland primate to “do the right thing”.

    “Here we had an habitual child rapist, Fr Brendan Smyth, who was allowed free rein within the Catholic Church and within the community to destroy the lives of children,” he said.

    “We hear that three well educated men, some of whom were canon lawyers, sat in the room with one of these children and then decided that enough for them was to report it to their superiors and not ask in the weeks and months and years ahead what happened to that man.

    “I just have to say it’s incredible.”

    This is incredibly significant because McGuiness, whom I wouldn’t trust any further than I could throw, relies on political support from the Roman Catholic community in N.I. He would not say this unless a he believed a significant majority of that community would agree. It also means that no one there can dismiss the statement as anti-Catholic bigotry.

  2. Daniel Schealler says

    Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one – the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession – at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.

    There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

    It is not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

    – Mark Twain, Bible Teaching and Religious Practice

  3. says

    Sorry, you are right, Ophelia. I guess I was a bit stunned by what McGuinness is reported to have said. Not only is it a very strong statement but he is suggesting the Brady should have reported this to the British authorities at a time when he (McGuinness) was (allegedly) a member of the IRA army council.

  4. Rudi says

    Ophelia, I have to say – what a truly excellent piece. Just fantastic work.

    If only national newspapers had the guts to print things like this, maybe more
    people would start to accept that the Catholic church has simply lost its right to exist.

  5. Brownian says

    Really, if your source of morality leaves you confused about whether or not it’s okay to rape children—and it’s worth noting that the Church was quite aware of secular society’s position on child rape, hence the international decades-long coverup—how can it be any source of morality whatsoever?

    This is a question defenders of the Bible, especially moderates, need to answer.

  6. Gordon says

    I view his resignation as completely unimportant. I’m happy for him to remain a Cardinal. I just think he should be a Cardinal in prison.

  7. says

    I think Brady should stay – as it looks like he’s not going to be arrested. Better he’s consumed by the fast-crumbling edifice that he’s clinging on to.

  8. Sigmund says

    In 1975, exactly the time in which Cardinal Brady claims there was inadequate knowledge of the effects of child abuse, I was a pupil in a primary school in Ireland. One morning, I remember clearly, the police turned up, seeking one of the teachers. He’d been reported on suspicion of molesting pupils in his class. While the school was religious (92% of primary schools in the Irish republic are Catholic schools), the teacher was not a member of a religious order – and, by the looks of things, unable to avail of the sort of protection that the likes of Fr Brendan Smyth received.
    The teacher in question was taken away in the police car and never returned to the school (I was too young to follow court proceedings in the newspapers to find out the legal ramifications but I guess he was convicted and sentenced to prison.)
    This sort of response is exactly what you would expect from the authorities and it is what generally happened – so long as the accused was not a member of the religious orders.
    That the action of the police was appropriate was obvious, even to primary school children of the time, like myself.
    Marie Collins, one of the most prominent anti-abuse campaigners in Ireland, asked about Brady’s response to the programme, destroyed his pathetic ‘I did everything I could’ argument by pointing out the simple fact that the correct thing to do was so blindingly obvious it could have been figured out by a child. Indeed it was figured out by a child, who did his best to save others from the abuse he had experienced, by reporting the matter and warning Brady about Smyth abusing others.
    What Brady did, however, was to silence the boy, under threat of excommunication, and neglected to inform the families of the other children about the abuse – which Brady admits he was convinced had occurred.
    Look at his weasel words as he tries to distance his own inaction at the time:
    “With others, I feel betrayed that those who had the authority in the Church to stop Brendan Smyth failed to act on the evidence I gave them. However, I also accept that I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church, which thankfully is now a thing of the past””
    Thing of the past, my arse (as we say in Ireland).
    “Unhelpful culture of deference and silence”?
    The targeting of such structures is probably the defining feature of ‘new atheism’ and Brady’s example is one we would do well to remember.

  9. Catwhisperer says

    I had the impression that rape has been widely frowned upon since before 1975, so it was hardly a great leap to figure that raping children was also bad. Then again, if the catholic church had only ever considered rape as “something that happens to women” I’m not surprised they didn’t think it was wrong.

    Maybe we’re supposed to applaud them for finally adopting some kind of scientific method… you know, they weren’t really sure, the bible wasn’t totally clear on it, so instead of just pulling something out of their arses like they usually do,they waited for some evidence about “the full impact on the lives of children” to come in.

    Lock ’em up, throw away the key, I say.

  10. Rumtopf says

    Oh their understanding hasn’t changed at all. They always knew it was fucking awful, exactly why they tried to hide it from public view to preserve the RCC’s reputation. I’m not buying a word of this “inadequate understanding” bullshit.

  11. says

    Yes, that’s another problem with the whole thing. I almost said so but decided to focus on the morality changing over time issue. But yes, it’s such a giveaway. If they didn’t know, why was swearing young Brendan to secrecy the very first thing they did? Why did they keep his father out of the room?

    Uggh, god, they’re such a pack of crooks.

  12. says

    I have many family members who were devoutly catholic. When I get together with them, I am often surprised to discover that their hatred of the catholic church is much deeper than mine–and I’m the family atheist. They’ve all stopped going to church. They’ve become “spiritual but not religious”. Not much of an improvement, you might think, but the fact is, they’ve stopped putting money into the baskets.

    And for the catholic church, this is death. They are closing their churches, selling off their real estate, and all of their most popular priests are leaving. Did you know that every pope gets a new crown, just for him? Even the house of Windsor didn’t do this, not even in the days of empire. Ever wonder what the pope’s outfit costs? Probably more than your house.

    This is an emperor without an empire, and he wants to remain an emperor. We all know that this can’t last–but Ratzinger doesn’t.

  13. says

    I come from a devout Catholic family. Many Catholics find it very psychologically very difficult to leave the church even after the recent scandals. However, they can be very angry having left. Although many Europeans will leave, I’m not sure this is the end for the RCC. Ratzinger is on record as saying that the church in Europe may become much smaller but more devout. OTOH the RCC seems to be trying to expand in much of the third world, especially Africa. Besides I’m not sure that Ratzinger is that important in all this. He has always struck me as a particularly weak pope.

  14. says

    That’s what I was thinking – people may be leaving in secularized parts of the world, but are they leaving in Latin America? I don’t know, but I haven’t heard that, and I doubt it. I wonder if their numbers are even declining in the US, given immigration.

  15. says

    Hm. I found one news story that said Catholic numbers are rising (though not dramatically) in the US, but I’m not going to link to it because it plays ads with sound without warning (and no way to mute them that I could find, and it’s not just one ad, they keep going; most obnoxious thing evarr). But another news story says they’re declining.


    I need a good reliable source of stats, and I’m too clueless to know how to find it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *