Ireland stands up to the Catholic Church

Last week, the Cloyne report was released. This document describes patterns of child abuse and in particular the willful intransigence of the Catholic church in correcting the problems in Ireland, and it’s pretty damned damning. One significant detail: the Church’s defense in recent months consists of claiming priestly pedophilia was a thing of the past, a product of the laxity and corruption of the general social atmosphere in the 60s and 70s, pushing the blame onto that awful liberal culture, not the church. Unfortunately, the Cloyne report assesses policies in the late 1990s, so we’re talking about relatively contemporary church practices. Maybe they can start blaming investment bankers instead of hippies.

Anyway, the report rips into the church at all levels, from the local diocese to the Vatican, and accuses them of failing to report cases of abuse, providing support for victims, or even of recording problems — the church had basically closed all doors for redress, and had insisted as usual on keeping the horrors hidden in house. It’s been a cult of secrecy that has permitted the abuses to continue.

Some of the local church officials have apologized — small comfort to the people who were sexually abused as children — but wouldn’t you know it, the Vatican rejects all criticisms. They say the Vatican’s instructions to Irish clergy were perfectly reasonable, because opening up these cases to secular authorities “risked contravening canonical law”. Right. Raping children isn’t as significant a contravention of canonical law as arresting child-rapers in a dog collar would be. It’s just more of the same dodginess from the Vatican.

However Maeve Lewis, director of abuse survivors’ group One in Four, hit out at Fr Lombardi’s claims. Saying they “completely lack substance”, she added his words are “part of the now familiar refusal by the Vatican to acknowledge that the culture of loyalty and secrecy which facilitated the sexual abuse of children extended far beyond the Irish Church.

“It is further evidence, if needed, that the Vatican’s claim to prioritise the safety of children is completely lacking in credibility,” she said.

Now though, in a major step, the Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland Enda Kenny has spoken out rather forcefully against the church.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil that the Cloyne Report highlighted the ‘dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.’

The rape and torture of children had been downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, which are its power, standing and ‘reputation’.

The hierarchy had proved either unwilling or unable to address what he called the horrors uncovered in successive reports, a failure which he said must be devastating for so many good priests.

Mr Kenny said that the Catholic Church needed to be truly and deeply penitent for the wrongdoing it perpetrated, hid and denied.

‘Instead of listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal,’ Mr Kenny pointed out that the Vatican’s reaction had been to parse and analyse it, with the eye of a canon lawyer.

The full speech is available online. Kenny is a believing Catholic, unfortunately, but good common sense and a recognition of what is morally right overrides obedience to the church, and here are a few more parts I liked.

But thankfully for them, and for us, this is not Rome.
Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world.

This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.

A Republic of laws…of rights and responsibilities…of proper civic order…where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version…of a particular kind of ‘morality’…will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.”

As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.

Not purely, or simply or otherwise.