Earlier this year I had occasion to return to Our Lady Help of Christians Church on the Navan Road. As a teenager I had started attending Mass there because I had stopped going to the Church in Cabra, where I lived, because I had told a school teacher about Father Ivan Payne and I knew he was to be challenged in due course. I loved that Church on the Navan Road and a very nice priest, Father Vincent Duffy, introduced me to the all the young people who ran the summer project. I had about 20 new friends, it was just what I needed. One of those friends passed away suddenly in April of this year and her remains were brought back from New York to the Church on the Navan Road. I sat in the Church with friends, some of us had not been in that Church for many years, others had never stopped attending - they had been baptised in that Church, made their First Holy Communion and Confirmations in that Church and since our summer project days they had married there, had their own children christened there and in some cases brought their deceased parents there. On the day of the funeral some of those friends stood on the altar and sang just as they had done in the folk group years earlier. For a moment I had a real sense of how much the Catholic Church and in particular the Church on the Navan Road had meant to me so many years earlier and how much it still meant to some of my friends from that time.
In conversations with some of those friends since, I recognised their sense of the Church being that Church on the Navan Road, it was a very significant part of how they lived their lives locally, it was social and spiritual, and they had a huge sense of belonging. Interestingly, and not very surprisingly, they did not at all identify with the Catholic Church they saw represented by self-serving bishops and those commentators who like to minimise what they have done, or in some cases, failed to do. And they were very clear that their support for their local Church should not be interpreted by anyone as support for how the institutional Catholic Church and the Vatican have responded to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy Reports.
For they had no identification with a Catholic Church which claimed not to have understood child sexual abuse, no identification with a Catholic Church which minimised its own role in covering up that sexual abuse, no identification with a Catholic Church whose bishops saw nothing in the Murphy Report that should cause them to have to resign, no identification with a Catholic Church which tried to blame everyone else for its own actions and inactions and which failed to take any responsibility for them, nor did they identify with a Catholic Church which campaigned against a move towards equality for gay and lesbian people during the recent debate on civil partnership, nor with a Catholic Church which doesn’t value women the way it values men – I had a lot more in common than I realised with my Mass going friends.
Last November the Murphy Report was published within months of the Ryan Report. I was angered and saddened by its findings – so many children sexually abused by priests known to the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin to be a danger. Tactics employed by the Church showed Bishops knowingly and proactively cover up the sexual abuse of children in order to maintain secrecy, avoid scandal, protect the reputation of the Church, and preserve its assets.
And those tactics were not unique to the Catholic Church in Dublin. Much has being made of the 1962 and 2001 Vatican documents instructing Bishops around the world to conduct investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse in secret. But I believe that the similarity of actions of Bishops in Dioceses so far apart from each, from Ferns to Philadelphia, from Dublin to Boston, from Manchester to Munich, demonstrate very convincingly that such practices had to be centrally co-ordinated and approved of in essence if not in detail. This is not a few rogue Bishops – this is a rogue Church, at least at the level of its hierarchy.
So how has the Catholic Church responded - to the truth now being so widely known, a truth it fought so hard to hide? For me the response beggars belief.
Initially Catholic Bishops here in Ireland took some ownership of the cover up saying that they were shamed by the extent of it and that it reflected a culture of cover up that existed throughout the Catholic Church in Ireland, though within days the spin had started and cover up became mismanagement – Catholic Bishops no more ‘mismanaged’ allegations of child sexual abuse than Bernie Madoff ‘mismanaged’ his clients’ money, but look who’s behind bars.
To his credit Bishop James Moriarty got it right. I was very grateful to him for the content and tone of his resignation statement. He acknowledged that he should have challenged the prevailing culture that existed within the Archdiocese and apologised for failing to do so, this was very welcome. His acknowledgement that ‘the long struggle of survivors to be heard and respected by church authorities had revealed a culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian’ was also very welcome - and compared very favourably to Bishop Drennan calling survivors vengeful and Cardinal Brady trying to pass himself off as a wounded healer. Add to that the sickening sight of Bishops Walsh and Field thinking they have won some battle to preserve their precious reputations, having lost sight of the fact that preserving reputations was one of the reasons so many children ended up being sexually abused in the first place.
Towards the end of last year Bishop Drennan had a meeting with his Galway priests to ascertain their views but ignored a request to meet victims . Instead, along with other Bishops, he described our requests for an honest, intelligent, meaningful response to the Murphy Report as unrealistic and exaggerated.
Pope Benedict similarly chose to ignore us - Marie Collins, Maeve Lewis on behalf of OneInFour and I wrote to the Pope a week before the Irish Bishops met with him earlier this year, it was important to us that our views would be considered at that meeting and unlike the Bishops we were happy to publish our submission. At no time then or since has the Pope even acknowledged our correspondence and our views were completely ignored.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone stated that there is a relationship between paedophilia and homosexuality. This is not the first time the Catholic Church has attempted to blame a small and often marginalised section of society for the actions of priests who sexually abused young boys and girls.
Nor is it the first time we have seen members of the Catholic Hierarchy misrepresent to the public, the views of the medical profession. As someone who was sexually abused as a child and who is a gay man today, I condemn any attempts by the Catholic Church to dishonestly misrepresent medical opinion in order to continue to avoid taking responsibility for its own actions and inactions in covering up the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
And the finger wasn’t just being pointed at gay men of course. Secularism, the media, loss of faith were all blamed, one minute revelations of sexual abuse and cover up were being ignorantly described as petty gossip, the next minute they were tantamount to the collective violence perpetrated by Christians on Jews over the centuries.
There are two parts to the response to a Report like the Ferns, Ryan & Murphy Reports – the first is looking to those responsible for the behaviour revealed to take responsibility for it. This has nothing to do with vengeance – it is a reasonable expectation that those who were part of the governance of an organisation at a time when the sexual abuse of children was being covered up, acknowledge how wrong that was, own the consequences of that and step aside. Out of pure self interest and a repulsive disregard for the experiences and wishes of those who were abused the Catholic Church has utterly failed in this regard – even as late as last month the Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary complained about the culture of blame – asking people to take responsibility for their actions has nothing to do with a culture of blame.
The second part of the response is what we do as a society to ensure today’s and tomorrow’s children live in a safer world. In Ireland that part of the response in relation to the Catholic Church is well viewed in the context of the National Board for Safeguarding Children.
I welcome Safeguarding Children but I am concerned about the extent of its implementation – there is a lot more to child protection at parish level than people ticking boxes on forms to confirm attendance at training courses or knowing what to do in the event of an allegation being made. It is also hard to believe that child protection is taken seriously by people, who also believe that Cardinal Brady has done nothing wrong or by those who delight in Archbishop Martin’s standards being undermined by Pope Benedict.
I know this debate is about the Catholic Church and the Reports that have been published but the debate about the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children is of course much wider than this.
We know only too well that the State is as capable of failing children as the Catholic Church is. We’ve had Reports into the deaths of children in the care of the State, reports about the absence of proper care for separated non-Irish national children, reports about the failure by the HSE and others to comply with Children First, reports about children being left in abusive foster care situations even though serious concerns had been expressed by teachers and members of the public – in the recent example of the HSE having failed to investigate concerns over children living in abusive situations Minister for Children Barry Andrews was singing from the same hymn sheet as the aforementioned Archbishop of Tuam saying .....‘the focus is not about apportioning blame’ which in effect meant no HSE manager or social worker was to be held responsible.
A Health Service, a Catholic Church and a Minister for Children scrambling to hide their abject failure to protect and respect children behind each other’s plunging standards.
Our response to all we know about past and present abuse, neglect and failure to protect children should include –
Putting Children First on a statutory basis, applying to everyone, with failure to comply being a criminal offence.
Replacing Article 42 in the Constitution as proposed by Joint Oireachtas Committee in February 2010, I am concerned that at Government level there is a process currently underway to water down the wording as presently proposed, Government needs to confirm wording as a matter of urgency and announce a date for that referendum instead of putting its own political fortunes ahead of the best interests of children.
We need to radically enhance the monitoring and support of convicted sex offenders on their release back into community, the system as it currently stands fails to monitor and support the offender as much as it fails to reassure the public.
Garda Vetting of people working with children needs to be extended to facilitate the passing on of soft information, as recommended by the Ferns Report 5 years ago.
EMPOWERING CHILDREN with knowledge, confidence and language is an important part of the child protection process. The STAY SAFE and SPHE programmes within schools need to be rigorously implemented and never should a child’s right to information take second place to any organisation’s ethos.
These are the issues I want to see advanced today, they are about the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children... I speak with many people and organisations which care as deeply as I do about advancing this agenda.....
with its current absence of any credibility... the Catholic Church isn’t one of them.