Ulster stood at a crossroads in 1969 when Prime Minister Terence O’Neill faced down arch rival Ian Paisley who objected vociferously to what he saw as Captain O’Neill’s sell-out effrontery in holding cross-border meetings with Taoiseach Sean Lemass.
Today it’s the Republic that stands at a crossroads as Taoiseach Enda Kenny faces down the Vatican in Rome over what he and many others in Ireland regard as the Vatican’s policy of encouraging the Catholic Church in Ireland to ignore the laws of the land and, in so doing, provide church protection for child rapists in order to save the good name of the church.
So, for very different reasons, these are defining moments in the short histories of the two states – and certainly in the long history of the island of Ireland.
The 1969 defining moment was the precursor to more than 30 years of political turmoil, murder, mayhem and criminality on a vast scale in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
The other more recent defining moment represents a government in what has been regarded since its foundation as a Catholic State taking on the Catholic Church and the Vatican for complicity in protecting child rapist priests from the laws of the land. For allowing the rapists to go on and on raping and destroying the lives of children – in so many cases causing a lifetime of pain and dysfunction that, in turn,, causes more and more pain not only to the survivor of abuse, but also to their circle of friends and family.
The paradox is that Enda Kenny is demanding the Vatican to explain why it instructed Irish bishops to deal with paedophile priests in a manner that obstructed law enforcement agencies in Ireland – obstruction of the very laws the Irish Catholic Church helped the government of the day draft at the time of partition in Ireland.
In his damning assessment of Rome’s attitude to rapist priests, the Taoiseach said the latest inquiry into clerical abuse cover-ups has exposed a dysfunctional, elite hierarchy determined to frustrate investigations and he went on to make it clear to the Holy See that religion does not rule Ireland.
“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago,” he said. "And in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.
“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”
This latest hiatus over rapist priests in Ireland follows the damning report into the diocese of Cloyne in Co Cork and how it dealt with its abusing priests. And the answer is that under the leadership of Bishop John Magee – once the personal choice of Pope Paul VI as a secretary and an aide to three Popes – the diocese did virtually nothing to protect children.
The Cloyne report spelled out Bishop Magee’s failings. Little wonder he was embarrassed into resigning. This was the fourth major report in six years to reveal the way the Catholic Church in Ireland failed children by covering up for the criminal activities of rapist priests.
Bishop Magee was singled out for misleading investigators and for “dangerous” failures on child protection. His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict last year.
On one occasion, according to the report, Magee was found to have written two different reports on an abuse allegation – one for Rome and one for diocesan records.
Enda Kenny told the Dail the Catholic Church had a calculated withering position on clerical abuse that was, he said, “the polar opposite of the radicalism, the humility and the compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded".
The Taoiseach went on to say that the Vatican’s reaction to evidence from victims of abuse was to have it parsed and analysed by a canon lawyer. He went on: “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.”
On Vatican radio, Fr Federico Lombardi who’s a Vatican spokesperson, apparently dismissed the criticism and denied that Irish bishops were encouraged or advised to cover up clerical abuse or evade laws designed to protect children. He said he was not speaking on behalf of Pope Benedict and claimed the severity of criticisms against the Holy See was curious.
But then he would say that wouldn’t he?
This is the same Vatican that remained silent during Judge Yvonne Murphy’s report. Both the Vatican and the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland, the papal nuncio in Dublin, simply ignored the Murphy tribunal’s written requests for answers. This amounted to obstruction of a formerly established State sponsored official inquiry into how rapist priests were able to go on raping for as long as they did while Catholic Church authorities stood by and did nothing.
Apparently, Judge Murphy and her tribunal did not use the proper protocol – they should have gone through the Vatican’s foreign affairs office…or something like that. No matter to the Vatican about the serious judicial questions about how children were so unprotected.
But criticise the Vatican like the Taoiseach Enda Kenny did and they respond immediately.
The Cloyne report criticises a 1997 letter from the papal nuncio to Irish Bishops which described the response to the clerics’ plans to improve child protection policy as “entirely unhelpful”.
Fr Lombardi commented on this too. He said: “There is no reason to interpret that letter as being intended to cover up cases of abuse. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in the letter that is an invitation to disregard the laws of the country.”
If Enda Kenny is to be believed – and his performance in the Dail suggests he is genuinely angry – then it is safe to say the Irish State has finally lost patience with the Catholic Church. This comes as a result of years of contemptuous behaviour by the arrogant Irish Catholic Church hierarchy towards the laws of the land. And their utter disregard for the welfare of children no matter what public utterances the Catholic Church in Ireland has proclaimed.
This was never more clearly demonstrated than by the admission by Cardinal Sean Brady that he had listen to two teenage boys describe in 1975 the sexual abuse they suffered from Fr Brendan Smyth – but although securing from each an oath of secrecy about the church tribunal, he did not go to the police.
There was outrage when a Canon law expert, Monsignor Maurice Dooley spoke up for Sean Brady on RTE and BBC radio shows claiming Fr Brady, as he was at the time, had no obligation under Irish law to tell the Gardai anything. He suggested the people to do that were the boys themselves or their parents or legal guardians.
Monsignor Dooley like so many in the church hierarchy lives in a kind of parallel universe where Canon law rules above all else. The mindset is that the lives of those who run the affairs of the church are governed by Canon law and are not answerable to the normal laws of the land. Strangely Monsignor Dooley’s broadcasting career ended almost immediately he concluded his second outburst on radio.
In actual fact, at the time (1975) in the Republic there existed in common law the offence of ‘misprision of felony.’
Misprision of felony meant that if a person had knowledge of a serious crime having been committed by another person or persons but had concealed or failed to report such a crime to the Gardai they could be prosecuted. However, the Republic’s 1997 Criminal Justice Act removed this offence and replaced it with two other offences but neither offered the same scope as misprision of felony.
Had Cardinal Brady interviewed those two teenagers north of the border in 1975 he would have left himself open to prosecution because there were then as now laws against failure to report criminal activities.
Many practising Catholics are sickened each and every time there are revelations about the cover up of paedophile priests by the church hierarchy. The Taoiseach himself said that as a practising Catholic he did not say these words easily.
He is not the first politician and active Catholic Church worshipper to be compelled to confront the Catholic Church.
Frank Keating, a devout Catholic who was governor of Oklahoma state and who had been an FBI agent and US Attorney for the state, was appointed in 2002 as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board examining the issue of sex abusing priests. But he wasn’t in the job very long. In June 2003 he stepped down. His resignation followed criticism by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony of remarks Keating had made weeks before comparing some church leaders to the Mafia.
Keating’s resignation letter repeated the allegation when he said: “My remarks, which some Bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology…To resist Grand Jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organisation, not my church.” The very things Enda Kenny was objecting to.
Of course, much evidence has been gathered in various parts of the United States in recent years about the duplicitous behaviour of the Catholic Church hierarchy in sheltering rapist priests and allowing them to go on raping hundreds more children.
And it was in the United States last year that I met a district attorney Will Dekker who successfully prosecuted the Catholic Church in the Manchester diocese in New Hampshire. He said he was shocked by what he found under court order hidden in the secret archives of the Manchester diocese. He eventually found that there was a criminal case to be answered by a bishop for failing to deal with the criminal activities of raping priests.
“There was one auxiliary bishop that we felt we had sufficient evidence to bring charges of obstruction of justice,” he told me, “and, and basically lying to law enforcement about information that he had about a priest who was being prosecuted for abusing children, who had been prosecuted for abusing children, and when he was asked about whether the church had any knowledge of that previously he lied to the authorities and told them that there was no knowledge on the part of the church, even though the files were complete with information that the church had that this priest had allegations by other children.”
In the event he didn’t take the case against the auxiliary bishop because he got the Catholic Church to make a deal agreeing to being audited for the next five years. This was a good trade off for the State of New Hampshire as it gave them a direct role in the operation of the Catholic Church and how it dealt with allegations of sex abuse and more importantly how the church put in place measures that would properly protect children and prevent any more cover ups.
But Will Dekker was in no doubt that the performance of bishops, some deceased, in the Manchester diocese amounted to criminal activity in the protection of rapist priests at the expense of more pain and hurt for children. He said the same pattern emerged at other US States when it came to examining the role of the Catholic Church hierarchy. That might be explained by the policy suggested by the Vatican to steer the church through the crisis of child raping priests.
But the experience of Will Dekker brings us to the serious issue of dealing with those who administered the cover up – the men who committed crimes in order to protect the church. Will Dekker wanted to prosecute them.
And that brings us to the next step for the government in the Republic. Will they be prepared to seek out the guilty bishops and bring them to court? Because the survivors of rapist priests here now see the cover-up by the church authorities as an even more heinous crime because it allowed so much more abuse to take place.
Whether it requires a change in the law or simply the will to apply existing measures, will Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s government consider moving against those who covered up for rapist priests? He along with Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter have promised to honour the survivors of abuse who had the courage to speak out in the case of the Cloyne investigation.
But whilst attacking the performance of the Catholic Church, they failed to note the failures of successive governments in not making child sex abuse a matter of mandatory reporting. That’s a major government failing that must be corrected. That matter is in hand we are assured.
So let’s hope the Irish government finds the courage to do something about the errant hierarchy. Justice for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse are owed that at the very least.
Enda Kenny told the Irish people: “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.”
It remains to be seen if he will now take the next step to guarantee justice to those young children who suffered rape and sexual abuse as a result of the underlying “crime” – as most people would see it: because a bishop took steps to cover up for rapist priests.
And all of this perfectly tees up the upcoming Assembly-sanctioned investigation in Northern Ireland into institutionalised abuse. The Republic has set a fine standard – it may be a hard act to follow.