The history of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past 60 years provides specimen case studies that demonstrate the adage that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Irish bishops’ manipulated themselves into a position absolute power that was sufficiently robust to enable them panic the government of the day in much the same way as bankers do nowadays. They did this without any mandate whatsoever except a presumption of trustworthiness, a benign acceptance that they act in the common good, like neighbourhood enforcers in gangland, the maintenance of secrecy and a tolerance for prevarication. They were experts at flattering, smooching and cajoling politicians and still are.
Their deviousness was manifested in their manipulation of social policy on issues such as the availability of contraception, divorce and sex education and was clearly evident until the mid 1980’s. But even before the publication on May 20th 2009 of The Ryan Report into child abuse at industrial schools, the Christian Brothers were routinely and stridently denying any culpability on their part. There is now a new phenomena in Irish society – trust breakers who only respond to culpability when they are exposed. They are wholly capable of reposing in a world of denial and obfuscation until the veil of secrecy is removed.
It is sometimes hard to comprehend the positive impact of the world wide web on the flow and velocity of information across the globe against this background and culture. I would imagine that the Irish bishops would have put a veto on the establishment of the internet in the early 1990’s had they the savvy to understand its potential. But, of course their technical know-how was restricted to the versatility of a fountain pen that used black ink and their cultivation of an ethos in Ireland that ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’ .
A milestone of this wretched environment concerned the legislation in 1951 to facilitate what was known as Mother and Child Service Scheme that had been introduced by Dr Noel Browne TD, then Minister for Health. Browne became a minister on his first day in the Dáil following the 1948 general election at the age of 33. This was intended to provide free maternity care for all mothers and free healthcare for all children up to the age of 16 years. Browne, a medical doctor, had a particular interest in the treatment of tuberculosis which had reached epidemic proportions in Ireland in the 1950’s and he was also keen to overhaul the standard of public healthcare.
The bishops did not agree with his proposals and fought them vigorously on seven grounds:
- The State would control nationwide education relating to “very intimate matters of chastity – individual and conjugal”
- The health service proposed, the believed, ought to be secured on an individual basis and by “lawful associations”. This meant they did not want any doctors involved on whose neck they could not stamp their ecclesiastical jackboots.
- They opposed the “undue and intimate interference in the relationship between parents, children and doctors”
- They argued that because they proposed services would be funded through taxation that citizens would feel compelled to avail of them and they objected to this.
- They considered that the raising of taxes to pay for a service “independent of the necessity or desire of the citizens to use the facilities provided” was objectionable. I wonder what they would think of the Irish Government throwing €3 billion this month at the recently nationalised Anglo Irish Bank following the duplicity of its former Chairman, Sean FitzPatrick?
- The proposed scheme would “when enacted on a nationwide basis would damage gravely the self reliance of parents, whose family wage or income would allow them duly to directly provide whatever medical treatment they wished to avail of”.
- They were concerned that ministerial regulations rather than legislation would govern the service
- They pronounced themselves pleased that the proposed scheme did not have the support of the Government, as a whole.
The foregoing gives some insight into the unlimited capacity to connive and Machiavellianism and the concept of choice being limited to options that they approved of.
The prime mover on the part of the bishops was the Archbishop of Dublin (1940-1972) , Dr John Charles McQuaid who acted as principal manipulator and lobbyist with the politicians. The consequence of their lobbying was that the proposal failed; the minister resigned from office and the Taoiseach, John A. Costello TD, took direct responsibility for health.
But it was this culture that also facilitated rampant child sex abuse; a culture of absolutism, denial, obfuscation, intolerance, autocraticism and a total absence of accountability and vicarious responsibility.
Following the publication of The Ryan Report on May 20th 2009 into child abuse in industrial schools and the appalling vista of paedophilia that it reveals, Ireland is awaiting the publication of another major judicial report into child sex abuse by priests in the archdiocese of Dublin. This is likely to implicate up to 15 bishops and 4 archbishops, including McQuaid and his successors, Ryan (1972-1984), McNamara (1984-1987) and Connell (1988 – 2004) in respect of how they responded to these matters and handled allegations that abused individuals made. Three of the four are long dead while Connell is a Cardinal. Connell was appointed but the former president of the national seminary at Maynooth, Michael Ledwith, was strongly favoured by the then Nuncio, Dr Gaetano Alibrandi. Ledwith resigned in disgrace from Maynooth College in 1994 and is no longer a Catholic. He had been nominated for the presidency of the seminary for the former Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, who also resigned in disgrace in 2002 when sex abuse in his diocese and the schools of his diocese became endemic.
The Dublin report is understood to contain up to 1,000 pages of detailed forensic accounts of child abuse by priests but unlike The Ryan Report it will name perpetrators, three of whom are currently before the courts.
Two serving bishops Walsh of Killaloe and McAreavey of Dromore in Northern Ireland, sat on a tribunal governed by Canon Law in 1992 to investigate allegations against a former priest, Fr Tony Walsh. They found him guilty and recommend that he be dismissed from the priesthood – but no civil authority was ever informed.
Walsh had been a curate in the Dublin working class suburb of Ballyfermot.
He pleaded guilty in 1997 to 12 charges of indecently assaulting six boys aged from eight to 14 between 1980 and 1986. He had been in charge of 60 altar boys as well as the children's Mass each week.
The Chairman of that tribunal Monsignor Alex Stenson wrote to the Gardai indicating the address at which Walsh was residing following his dismissal. The letter also stated 'in view of Fr Walsh's behaviour in the past, you might give this information whatever attention you may think it deserves.'". Stenson has been parish priest of Killester, Dublin since 2007.
Walsh decided to appeal the 1992 tribunal decision and he attended a funeral in Palmerstown, Dublin in 1995 as a 'priest' where he abused the 11 -year-old grandson of the deceased in a church toilet at the child’s grandfather’s funeral service, despite having been told to stay away from that funeral by two other serving curates.
But he also attended in full clerical attire including a Roman collar posing was a friend of the family.
When this Dublin report is published bear in mind the history, context and the scurrilous and unaccountable culture that prevailed in this country for decades, if not centuries as being the oasis in which this cactus flourished. There are even more formal reports pending.