Ireland’s Success and Catholicism’s Failure

Amendment 8 of the Irish constitution reads:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

The people of Ireland voted on its repeal yesterday. Ireland’s The Journal reports:

The Yes result was almost unanimous across the country: 39 of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted Yes, with only Donegal voting No by a margin of 51.87% to 48.13%.

Even more interesting was the demographic breakdown:

Exit polls showed that the Yes vote was supported across all social classes, across both urban and rural centres, by both men and women, and by the supporters of all political parties except for Fianna Fáil. In an unprecedented result, the only major demographic group not to support repealing the Eighth Amendment was people aged over 65.

While I don’t believe that people belonging to a specific demographic can be denied the right to vote on an issue because it does not appear to affect that demographic (directly, at least), I still think it’s both politically and morally relevant to note that given the current state of medical science, no one expects to get pregnant at age 65 or over. Some might still want to. No one expects to. If the only demographic you can win is a demographic that by its own judgement doesn’t expect to be directly affected by the relevant proposal, you’re probably not on the right side of that proposal.

Just a thought.

But hey! Polls showed the Yes vote leading and the result (though not guaranteed) didn’t really surprise any politically informed folks. So for me, the truly interesting thing that came out of this was what it said about how badly the Catholic Church’s attempted cover-up of the abuse of children, young and/or unmarried mothers, and a few others ultimately affected how the church’s credibility has been affected on other issues. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

…the Catholic Church has learnt from its failure in the 2015 gay marriage referendum. The church is losing its old influence on Irish culture and politics, damaged by clerical sexual abuse scandals. Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh told the Catholic news website Crux that the church had looked for lay figures to lead the pro-life campaign.

“We are fully involved, but our technique is to encourage our lay faithful to be the voices, because they are the people – particularly women, who have very strong feelings on this particular matter,” said Martin.

Why do I say failure? Because despite the temporary success in concealing the horrific abuse of the Magdalene institutions (often but not always “Magdalene Laundries”) and the systematic sexual abuse of children by Priests and others given status and access to children by the church, there was a purpose to these coverups, and that purpose was not vindicated.

The Church wanted to maintain its moral and social prominence through concealing wrongdoing, but by concealing wrongdoing it perpetuated wrongdoing. When a priest rapes a kid and gets transferred to a new parish instead of being arrested like anyone else, not only does that priest get to rape more kids, but the inevitable whispers that follow such unaddressed abuse will be heard by some (small?) percentage of people who might like to abuse kids or commit other bad acts. In this way, the impunity granted to one becomes a reason for taking vows to another.

Protecting bad actors recruits bad actors.

It’s impossible to say just how many people found moral, criminal, and social impunity attractive, but it was almost certainly not zero. Then, too, those who already have taken vows and see this impunity in action become more likely to act worse than they otherwise might.

There are reasons for imposing consequences for bad actions: one of which is that it discourages bad actions. Remove the consequences, you get more bad actions. This really isn’t hard.

But the Church did remove the consequences. In the Magdalene Laundries the nuns and others who controlled the lives of the “fallen women” they imprisoned there almost certainly became worse people because of their participation in the systematically abusive structure. When your superior nuns are abusing residents, you start to think that there must really not be anything wrong with abusing residents. Indeed whipping or starving or otherwise punishing women must be morally correct somehow, if the superior nuns with their presumed moral rectitude are willing to participate in those acts. No consequences were imposed for injuring residents or even ultimately contributing to their deaths. So horrible treatment continued and more injuries, more deaths were added to the toll.

That meant more bodies, and that meant that the inevitable coverup increased in size and difficulty. Similarly, the treatment of church employees who sexually abused children led to more sex abuse victims which increased the size and difficulty of that coverup.

And all that meant that when the abuses really did come to widespread attention, there was no possibility of sloughing off responsibility to a few bad actors. Church policy was implicated, and instead of Father A or Sister B losing moral and social credibility, the entire Catholic Church lost that credibility (and deserved to lose it, and more).

They can pretend that the church hierarchy in Ireland stepped back from the campaign because the church just can’t be bothered to take a strong position on abortion, but they’re not fooling anyone.

The church is stepping back because the systematic fulfillment of their immoral policies led directly to the people of Ireland’s increasing willingness to see the Catholic Church as an organization that makes immoral decisions. They need spokespeople who have allied goals but fewer institutional ties because the rampant immorality of the church to the detriment of the people of Ireland has been so extreme that even on topics that have nothing to do with “asylums” or “laundries” or sexual abuse, the perception that someone is speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church leads a significant, relevant percentage of the electorate to dismiss the message as likely to have been born out of policies just as immoral as the ones that fed children to sexual predators and enslaved women who became pregnant through rape.

I am thoroughly disgusted with the behavior of the Catholic Church and am not in any way trying to present this as a silver lining to abuse. Rather, I’m trying to prevent more abuse by pointing out to anyone who has any institutional power anywhere, that even if you’re a selfish, amoral fuck, if your goal is to safeguard your institution, hiding your crimes won’t help you.

Maybe the selfish, amoral fucks of the world will get that message and choose to throw actual criminals under the bus before their amoral policies encourage more crimes and create new criminals. The completed crimes have no silver lining, no good to ameliorate the bad.

But we moral folk can still hope that reducing future amoral responses to abuse will create a climate less likely to produce the same amount of abuse we’ve seen in the past. If I have to reach out to the amoral fucks in the Catholic Church or elsewhere in order to create that safer future world, I will.




  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    I hope my distant cousins across the isle are now planning the next step: secular schooling!

Leave a Reply

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