Benedict addresses The Scandal… and what might come next

It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. (Luke 17:2)

I must say, it’s a rum situation when Martin McGuinness is calling for Cardinal Brady to reflect on his position. Dr Brady may not have covered himself in glory over the Brendan Smyth affair, to put it mildly, but Martin McGuinness has much more on his conscience – assuming he has a conscience. You don’t need to be any sort of an anti-republican to think Martin is on very thin ice, morally speaking.

As for whether Brady can survive in his post – one noted quite a disconnect between the obvious affection of Mass-goers at Armagh on the one hand, and irate callers to Speak You’re Branes Talk Back on the other – that’s really between Dr Brady, his conscience and the Pope.

Speaking of whom, the HF’s pastoral letter on The Scandal has been published. It’s a good letter – thoughtful, sensitive, penitent, angry where it needs to be – and is very much in the spirit of his 2006 ad limina address to the Irish bishops. It’s worth reading the full text, but here are a few highlights with my emphases and interpolations:

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

This is true. And it’s an important point to bear in mind when we think of the anger this has provoked. Clerical abusers are not only sinners or criminals, but have brought the institution of priesthood into disgrace.

Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations.

What this says, albeit in churchy language, is not that clerical abuse began in 1965, but that the Church’s resources for dealing with it were weakened. Beginning in the 1960s and carrying through into the 1980s – a lot of the credit for changing the atmosphere towards abuse in a less easygoing direction goes to Susan Brownmiller and Esther Rantzen, although it took a long time to filter through – there was a strong vogue in liberal society towards treating paedophilia as a therapeutic, not a criminal, problem. (And there were plenty of influential people who were in favour of destigmatising paedophilia. Oh yes there were.) This conflicts, of course, with Catholic teaching that child abuse is a grave sin, but it’s a way of thinking that did have some influence. Simultaneously, the Church’s internal judicial procedures were weakened – for decades, defrocking was almost never resorted to, and clerical discipline was far too lackadaisical.

On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them.

Benedict’s taking time out on his American visit to meet abuse victims was clearly the right thing to do. There are likely to be more initiatives along those lines.

Addressing the victims and their families:

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.

If the late Cardinal Daly, or Cardinal Connell, or Cardinal Brady, or any of the Irish bishops (leaving aside Diarmuid Martin, who is a special case) had spoken in those terms years ago, it would have helped enormously.

To priests and religious who have been guilty of abuse:

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions.

Again, the abuse of minors not only brought the Church into disrepute, it was a severe violation of the duties and obligations of the clergy.

To the Irish bishops:

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise.

When Benedict talks about the “frank and constructive” discussions he had with the Irish bishops last month, it looks very much like a euphemism for the Irish bishops leaving Rome with their ears burning, and so they should have.

There’s much more to say about the clerical child abuse scandal than can be said in a single post, so there are several tangents that may be followed up later. I’m not, however, going to go in for moral tubthumping – which is not, I stress, because I’m trying to minimise what happened. Let me make this perfectly clear – what happened was unconscionable and any perpetrators who can be pursued through the criminal justice system, should be. If you haven’t already, and you have the time and the stomach, it’s worthwhile reading the Ryan and Murphy reports in full, rather than relying on third-hand accounts of the executive summaries. But what I want to look at here is what can be done going forward, and also the political aspect.

Because there is a strong political aspect. Cardinal Brady’s involvement in the case of Brendan Smyth back in 1975 may have been tangential – he carried out investigative interviews and reported back to Bishop McKiernan – but that’s not the point. Nor, though it’s odd that this has been in the public domain since 1997 and is only exploding now, will it do to talk about how long ago this all was. What is wrong now was wrong then; and, unfortunately for Brady, what Brendan Smyth did was so unspeakable, and the response of church and state authorities so shockingly bad, that even a tangential connection to Smyth is toxic.

In all this, I have very little sympathy for the Irish bishops, good men though some of them are. One may point out the serial failures of successive governments, the judicial system and the gardaí, but the Church authorities had both an administrative and a moral responsibility, and fell down very badly. This included both sins of omission (failing to take action that might reasonably have been expected) and commission (as in, shuffling off offenders onto unsuspecting parishes). Now, we know that the levels of rape and sexual abuse in Irish society are shockingly high, and that most of it takes place in families, but there are very good reasons why clerical abuse attracts especial odium. It’s to do with the abuse of trust involved, because clergy are rightly held to a higher standard, and also because of the institutional aspect. It’s very hard to reform families, but you can reform an institution.[1] I’ll get onto that presently.

(Parenthetically, it’s hard to know why Ireland has a particularly severe problem with sexual abuse. This isn’t exclusively a Catholic thing by any means – there’s been a particular issue with the Church’s virtual monopoly on childcare, but it’s not as if the Protestant churches, or secular state childcare services in the north, haven’t had their share of problems. I do have the distinct impression, though, that quite a few clerical abuse scandals abroad have involved Irish priests.)

Anyway, as I say, I don’t have much sympathy for the hierarchy, and this despite the deafening sound of grinding axes. I stress here that I make no criticism whatsoever of victims’ groups, who have an absolute entitlement to make their anger heard. No, I’m thinking of the rather disturbing enthusiasm – glee might not be too strong a word – in some quarters. Most of it is perfectly understandable, if not always edifying. Journalists understandably love a scandal, preferably one with uncomplicatedly sympathetic victims. Our legal practitioners will have a professional interest. Senile anticlericals, of the type you often find on the Irish Times letters page, will have their enthusiasm for a Civil Constitution of the Clergy rekindled. And you’ve got the pretend Catholic groups of the Wir sind Kirche variety, who always come out of the woodwork at times like this when they think they can press home an advantage. I don’t blame them – when you have an advantage, there’s no reason not to press it home. It comes with the territory.

And the Church authorities will just have to suck it up. They’ve made their bed of nails and will have to lie on it. Because, not only have they handled the abuse issue incredibly badly in terms of concrete cases, they’ve proved absolutely useless at the politics of the situation, even when (as I believe Brady has) they’ve caught on to just how serious the situation is. There are a number of aspects to this. For starters, Irish Catholicism has always had a strong anti-intellectual bent. In a country like France, while most of the intelligentsia are anticlerical, there’s always been what you might call an anti-anticlerical tendency that could act as a counterweight. In Ireland, it’s hard to think of any serious Catholic intellectual outside the hierarchy, and not many in it. Further, most senior clergy are men in their fifties, sixties and seventies – that is, they were formed by the era of McQuaidism, when the Church was so powerful it didn’t need to explain itself. Hence the long tradition of bishops throwing their weight about like cassock-wearing mafia dons, without even bothering to try to win anyone over to their way of thinking. Basic communication skills, never mind openness and transparency, are not going to flourish in that sort of atmosphere.

One trivial but telling example. When the Irish bishops went to Rome for their crisis summit, there was TV footage of them lining up to kiss the Pope’s ring. For this – an entirely normal bit of protocol – they were derided by yahoos on the phone-ins. So you end up with bishops not even bothering to explain the protocol, but finding it less hassle to issue media apologies for following Church protocol when meeting the Pope. It really is pathetic. Sometimes I think this blog does a better job of explaining the Catholic position than the actual Catholic bishops – it couldn’t do much worse. These, remember, are the same guys who disbanded their press office, then moaned about all the bad press they were getting. A clearing out of the dead wood is long overdue.

So, let us move on to the question of what comes next. There is no doubt that a major project of Church reform is required, but it remains to be seen what that will be. The victims, of course, want some sort of vindication and quite right too, but I’m not certain that Colm O’Gorman has a reform programme. Even if Cardinal Brady falls, that doesn’t really solve anything. Pope Benedict does have a reform programme, though I suspect his liberal critics won’t like it. And those liberal critics of course have their own programme, which involves (a) getting rid of the whole hierarchy of bishops, cardinals and pope and replacing it with a congregational structure, and (b) getting rid of those bits of Catholic doctrine they don’t like, mostly the bits concerning sexual morality. Honestly, I don’t know why they don’t just decamp to one of the many Protestant denominations that will do all that for you wholesale.

The first thing that comes to mind is that, just as every phone-in punter has his own idea of what the law says, some of the thoughts that have been voiced about the way forward are not going to fly. Think of Tony Blair, about five minutes after he had become a Catholic (and I still think it was a scandal he was accepted), declaring that the Pope had to modernise and get with the zeitgeist. This overlooks the rather obvious point that Catholicism is of its very nature resistant to the zeitgeist, in that it stands for the maintenance of Tradition. This is a problem for those who think that democracy and human rights are the solution. The Pope won’t give you democracy and human rights – he’ll give you subsidiarity and natural law, which is often just as good (and better suited to a Tradition-based Church) but is not the same thing.

One obvious problem is that while you can mitigate the problem – and for the last fifteen years, the Catholic Church internationally has been adopting extremely strict child protection procedures – it’s a problem that’s impossible to eliminate entirely. There will always be miscreants, and a devious miscreant (such as Brendan Smyth was) will always know how to work the system. The real question will be whether the procedures are sufficient in dealing with miscreants as and when they arise, so that you couldn’t have a situation where Brendan Smyth went on abusing children for decades, and nobody in the Church bureaucracy seemed to be able to deal with him.

For instance, how you deal with the sacrament of confession is a problem. If priests come across information outside of confession, there shouldn’t be a problem. Now, it is possible to lay down that the confidentiality of confession should not apply to allegations of child abuse, but then you have the question of whether confidentiality should apply to other crimes. To take this out of the religious realm for a second, it’s comparable to the confidentiality expected of doctors, lawyers or journalists. If a journalist has a source in the Real IRA who feeds her stories, should she be obliged to disclose her sources to the police? The Irish journalistic profession felt very strongly that Suzanne Breen should not be obliged to do so. I make no judgement here, I just want to point out that it’s a tricky area.

On a wider scale, there will have to be a major change in the Church’s internal culture. Irish Catholicism’s besetting sins of Jansenism, ultramontanism and clericalism will have to be dealt with. There needs to be a radical break with the culture of silence; there also needs to be a war on the concept of mental reservation.[2] For instance, the now notorious motu proprio of 2001 ordering bishops to notify Rome of all abuse cases did not (contrary to what’s popularly believed) prohibit cooperation with secular authorities. Nor, on the other hand, did it instruct cooperation with secular authorities. That is something that shouldn’t have needed to be said, but evidently did. The Irish bishops, masters of mental reservation, have certainly been delinquent on a massive scale.

Finally, much as it may distress what remains of Irish liberalism, the reform will have to be driven from Rome. The Irish Church doesn’t have the resources to deal with The Scandal effectively on its own. And indeed, to the extent there has been reform up until now, it’s been driven from Rome. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been rightly praised for his heroic role in handling the crisis with compassion, sensitivity and firmness; what’s not as often remarked on is where he came from. It would suit the liberal narrative if he’d been a crusading parish priest; as it was, he came from the Holy See diplomatic service, whence he was headhunted both for his personal qualities and because he came from outside the discredited Irish hierarchy.

It’s also providential that Benedict is in charge at the moment. Poor old JP2 always seemed to be a bit lost and bewildered by these abuse scandals, but what’s needed now is firmness of purpose. Benedict, in his previous role as prefect of the CDF, has the background to deal with the crisis. As is well known, he was so profoundly shocked by the Maciel atrocities that, not only did he require every abuse allegation to be referred to the CDF, but he personally read every file that came in. Having waded through all this filth, he is probably more knowledgeable than anyone in the Roman Curia about the extent of the abuse and how serious it is. He also needs to take on those elements – even in the Vatican – who think they can get away with business as usual. Beefing up the CDF’s judicial system is a start, not an end.

The crucial thing in practical terms will be the upcoming Apostolic Visitation, which will certainly have sent a shiver up the collective spine of the Irish Episcopal Conference. Some bishops may be looking at the recently concluded Visitation into the Legionaries of Christ, and what the outcome of that will be. The Vatican would be well within its rights to suppress the Legionaries altogether; if they’re allowed to continue, it will probably be on condition of a thoroughgoing purge of Macielism and a serious reorganisation. It is unlikely in the extreme that the Legionaries will simply be able to carry on as before.

What might happen as a result of the Visitation here? You could do worse than pay close attention to Fr Vincent Twomey, who is not only one of our leading moral theologians but also a former student of one Joseph Ratzinger. The two are still close enough that Vincent makes an annual trip to Rome to discuss theology with his old mate and, while it would be wrong to interpret what Vincent says as His Master’s Voice, it’s unlikely that he and Benedict have not discussed the Irish situation. One interesting thing Vincent has been saying is to wonder aloud why Ireland needs no less than 26 dioceses,[3] when Germany has 27 dioceses catering for eight times as many Catholics. Vincent suggests that the number be cut to something more rational, like eight. This would have the desirable effect of allowing Rome to clear out a lot of the dead wood, but as you might expect it isn’t a very popular idea in the Episcopal Conference. (This might also have implications for the 23 bishops of England and Wales, serving a similar number of faithful to the Irish.)

Another angle, and I throw this out simply as a suggestion, is implied by Summorum Pontificum. At this point you will ask what exactly a motu proprio on the rehabilitation of the Latin Mass has to do with child protection. But one key element of Summorum Pontificum is its provision that, when a group of the faithful petition their bishop for the Extraordinary Form, the bishop is obliged to respond. It strengthens subsidiarity and episcopal accountability, which is one reason why bishops don’t like it.

What we do know is that this will be a long, tough process. We really need an Ignatius Loyola for our times, with the righteous zeal and the ability to definitively clean up the corruption that has dragged down a great institution. Whether we get one is another matter.

[1] There’s a parallel here with the outbreak of abuse allegations in republican Belfast. Although the abuse was known to have taken place in families, the fire was directed at an institution, namely Sinn Féin, for having responded inadequately. Was this unfair? Possibly, but it was understandable.

[2] This is a sneaky means of lying by omission without committing the sin of false witness. For example, if the priest sees a particularly annoying parishioner coming to the door, he may send the curate to answer the door. “The priest is not in,” says the curate, while adding in his mind the qualification “not in to you”. You find something similar in Trotskyist groups.

[3] The diocesan division of territory, based on ancient tribal boundaries, was established by the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111. It’s taken almost 900 years to rationalise it down to just 26 dioceses.


  1. Garibaldy said,

    March 21, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Been looking forward to your response to this, and you haven’t disappointed. However, as a senile anticlerical for whom the civil constitution of the clergy was a good first step towards the 1905 law ( ), I think it does show the need for the eradication of the remaining religious residues from Irish politics, north and south.

    Nevermind the power of the Catholic church in the south, when we have the Minister for Culture in NI coming out with an article arguing that we need to get back to “the real Patrick”, i.e. an Ulster biblical-based christian rather than an Irish papist, then we can see that, like corruption, this is something that infects the body politic north and south ( )

    As for the letter itself. I think one of the more important bits is the part about the challenges posed by social and economic change and the growth of secularism. This seems to me to be the real problem faced by the churches, and they know it. Just listen to Bishop Donal McKeown on the need for all religions to unite in defence of religious education. The sex scandals accelerated a process the churches, especially catholicism, where already struggling with. The fall off in vocations, especially to Christian Brothers and nuns, belongs to the more varied economic options available than the sex scandals it seems to me.

    Out of all this I suspect will come a leaner but more rigourous church, and like you say, modelled from above from Rome. Better fewer but better clergy sort of thing.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 21, 2010 at 1:46 am

      Better fewer but better sounds good to me. There was a good article recently by Frank Skinner, of all people, saying how great it was that the only people he met in church were people who wanted to be there.

      I’m less convinced by the theory of a liberal reform led by the laity, a bit like the old Fortnight theory of getting the middle classes to reclaim leadership of unionism and nationalism. Apart from anything else it assumes the active laity are liberal, which isn’t necessarily true. Anyway, the last Liberal Catholic conference in London had an attendance that was all white (something that takes a bit of doing in London) and mostly over seventy.

      Not that I’m pre-emptively writing Rome a blank cheque, but I’m not a utopian, and Benedict is likely to come up with a programme that might actually make a difference. A lot depends on him getting the right people in the right places… and then there was the ruthlessness displayed in getting Des Connell out of a leadership position he had obviously failed in.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 21, 2010 at 1:47 am

      Oh yeah, and Nelson McCausland does come out with some zingers. I hope you’ve been reading his blog.

      • Garibaldy said,

        March 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

        I had actively avoided his blog until I read this. I really wish I had continued to avoid it. A bizarre mix.

        No chance of a lay-led reform. As you note, the most active laity tend to be of the you are all a shower of wife-swapping sodomites variety. A move to younger bishops with no possible taint, and preferably time spent abroad, may well be part of the rejuvenation plan. Hard to see how that can be avoided – they’ll still be men in their fifties after all at this point.

  2. Garibaldy said,

    March 21, 2010 at 1:10 am

    Sorry if those links have screwed things up. Perhaps you can fix them. Can’t get hyperlinks to work without the wordpress doing it for me.

  3. robert said,

    March 21, 2010 at 1:25 am

    The appropriate punishment for some of these abuses would involve a hammer, a bag of nails, a tree and the perpretator’s scrotum.

    • anarchaeologist said,

      March 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Luke 17:2 does however have its attractions.

      More realistically perhaps, maybe they could reopen the Kesh and indeed Tintown down in the ‘State, and inter a good proportion of the known employees and associates of this criminal conspiracy until things have been sorted out. It’s not as if they’re hard to spot on the street and in the media. They wear a lot of black. They could fund it all with a pay for view channel with live 24hr coverage from the cells, or from timber huts if the Tintown option is investigated.

      If there were still an accommodation problem, the southern government could go ahead with Thornton Hall and create thousands of jobs in the building industry. It’s a win-win.

  4. Mark P said,

    March 21, 2010 at 2:47 am

    I’m confused. What’s “heroic” about Diarmuid Martin saying something approximate to what any halfway decent human being would say?

    You don’t have to be a “senile anti-clerical” to understand that the Catholic Church has been the chief social bulwark of reaction in the South since independence. The destruction of their power and authority is an entirely positive development – although it’s depressing that the events which are hastening it are so vile.

    The “programme of reform” we should be advocating is the nationalisation of schools and hospitals.

  5. March 21, 2010 at 8:20 am

    (And there were plenty of influential people who were in favour of destigmatising paedophilia. Oh yes there were.)

    Certainly. Allen Ginsberg was an early patron of NAMBLA, wasn’t he? On the other hand, the narrative coming from the traddies seems to be that priests were inspired to start raping children by the “permissive society” of the 60’s, which sounds like bullshit to me.

  6. De Northside Socialist said,

    March 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Sorry, I do not share your confidence in the ability of the Irish Catholic Church or the ability of the church authorities in Rome to provide the reforms required to ensure that abuse does not occur again or to ensure there will be no attempts at covering up the abuse in future.

    In your blog there was no mention of the current abuse scandal in Germany and the Ratzinger(s) role in the cover-ups there (maybe in a later blog?).

    It is not just an Irish Catholic or a Catholic problem either as you mentioned in your blog. Priests or Pastors hold a specific role in the life of the religious and in society in general. The Irish state was also complicit, but their role would take many pages of additional comments.

    I have on occasion have to attend Catholic church services (baptism and funerals of relations and neighbours). The church’s appropriation of such key moments in life as birth, death, education, marriage and confession, provides them with a power and privilege that few other roles in society provide.

    There is little mention of social class in your analysis. I can only speak from an Irish Catholic perspective and say that in Irish society there were many who sought the friendship and acquaintance of the religious as it provided a certain social status and respectability (and the Irish crave respectability). This is one way that the likes of Brendan Smyth inveigled his way into families in Ireland and the USA.

    For those outside Ireland the following link to an RTE podcast (if you have access) provides testimony of the victims of Brendan Smyth and also discusses the canonical sophistry of Sean Brady in his attempts to silence ten year old children who were abused by Brendan Smyth.

    [audio src="" /]

    It might also be worth mentioning that the religious in Ireland usually had access to a higher education denied to many others and some have used their education in Maynooth and Rome to gain the trust of others and on occasions to brow beat believers into silence. This also occurs outside the religious of course.

    Finally, I hope Diarmuid Martin is sincere in his attempts at providing justice to the abused. However, one notes that he will no doubt gain by moving up the church hierarchy if the dead-wood and the complicit above him are removed.

    • Mark P said,

      March 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

      Further on the class issue, it is worth noting that:

      (A): Much of the child-rape took place in industrial schools, orphanages and other institutions where the poorest of the poor were kept.

      (B): Outside of those institutions, when child-abusing Priests were shunted around from parish to parish they were consistently sent into working class districts and rarely if ever into more prosperous areas. It seems that the hierarchy didn’t understand the damage that being raped could do to working class kids but for some inexplicable reason were aware even back then that allowing the children of the wealthier sections of society to be raped just wasn’t on.

      • robert said,

        March 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        That’s exactly what you would expect. Those at the top of society would find it far easier to expose what had happened and be believed. It is the most vulnerable children such as those in orphanages who suffered the most since nobody on the outside cared about them.

      • De Northside Socialist said,

        March 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm

        I fully agree with Mark P’s comments above, working class children suffered disproportionately.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        March 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm

        Oh absolutely. Not many children of the middle class ended up in industrial schools. I refer you also to the differing treatment of the X case and the C case.

  7. DC said,

    March 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

    the narrative coming from the traddies seems to be that priests were inspired to start raping children by the “permissive society” of the 60’s, which sounds like bullshit to me.

    The idea that elements in the Irish Church covered this up because they were right-on goatee wearing hippies is just daft, and it detracts from what is an otherwise typically intelligent article from the author. Its a reflection of a lot of ambient denial that the Pope is trying to address in this letter . It may give us an idea as to why this issue hasn’t been addressed adequately until now, of course, but also how much anger has erupted, and not just from the usual suspects.

    Its entirely clear that the Splintered is right, though, about where reform has to come from. The impetus for change has to come from Rome, because there is something very rotten in the culture of the Irish Catholic Church.

    If the Church in Ireland is in difficulty in terms of spiritual credibility and leadership, and who can deny it at this point, its got little to do with the efforts of Irish secularism, it seems to me. Most of the political subsidence of Irish Catholicism has been self-inflicted, and it would be well not to write it off just yet. So secularist triumphalism will I hope be attenuated with that in mind.

  8. David Hillman said,

    March 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    It might surprise people that paedophilia was by no means universally condemned on the left in the 60’s. I had two freinds, one mail and one female who were tempted to indulge in underage sex and argued with me that the taboo was a bourgeois prejudice. Daniel Cohn-Bendit had the same attitude I think. We were much more ignorant then about the harm done to children, thinking all that the indignities we had all heard off were isolated secret incidents.
    Paedophilia was sometimes openly preached. There was I think a coference on Dostoievsky arguing that the sins he shocked freinds by confessing were a love of children (philia is the wrong word isn’t it?) that could be confessed today. And a conference of paedophilics was openly booked at Liverpool University as late as 1978, but was cancelled by the catering staff going on strike.
    Thank God all these dirty secrets are talked about openly now!

  9. Garibaldy said,

    March 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I seem to remember the Weekly Worker having discussions of this issue.

  10. Dr Paul said,

    March 21, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I wonder if the Polish authorities under the Stalinist regime collected details on paedo-priests and used them as a means of blackmailing and controlling the Roman Catholic church there?

  11. DC said,

    March 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I’m fairly sure no one has ever suggested that any elements in the Cathloic Church were in favour of paedophilia, as such. Its the revolting crimes in themselves, and that elements in the Church hierarchy facilitated those crimes through lying and pressurising of victims. Cohn-Bendit going on French TV in the 70s while high and saying something outrageous to annoy a right-wing pundit (he’s admitted as much himself) isn’t quite in the same league.

  12. Phil said,

    March 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Beginning in the 1960s and carrying through into the 1980s – a lot of the credit for changing the atmosphere towards abuse in a less easygoing direction goes to Susan Brownmiller and Esther Rantzen, although it took a long time to filter through – there was a strong vogue in liberal society towards treating paedophilia as a therapeutic, not a criminal, problem.

    Excuse the long quote, but I can’t quite see what’s going on in this sentence – or rather, I think there are two unrelated things going on. It was feminists (beginning in the 1960s) who made the rest of us aware of power relations within informal and intimate relationships, and the possibility of that power being abused. Before about the mid-1970s (and I’m old enough to speak from experience) there was a real feeling of having to tolerate a lot of things that nobody would tolerate now: whether we were talking about abusive husbands, abusive parents, abusive teachers, abusive priests, the basic starting point was “yes, it’s terrible, but what can you do?” So yes, a lot of the credit for making child abuse less tolerable goes to Brownmiller et al, and the Blessed Esther after them.

    But I don’t see that this has anything to do with a shift towards “treating paedophilia as a therapeutic, not a criminal, problem”, or indeed that there was such a shift. If there was a change in the way the Catholic hierarchy dealt with paedophile priests, I think it was far more likely to be related to this shift in perception as to what constituted being a paedophile priest – and the concomitant realisation that there were an awful lot more of them than they’d thought.

    (And there were plenty of influential people who were in favour of destigmatising paedophilia. Oh yes there were.)

    OK, I’ll bite. Name three. (‘Plenty’ is more than ‘some’, and ‘some’ is more than 1.)

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      There will be more on that theme forthcoming.

      That sentence went through a couple of rewrites and got a bit convoluted. What it was getting at was that there had been a trend towards the therapeutic-not-penal approach, and that took a while to be changed around. Given the atmosphere around child protection these days, it’s hard to imagine, but there you go.

      • Liadnan said,

        March 24, 2010 at 11:35 pm

        What it was getting at was that there had been a trend towards the therapeutic-not-penal approach

        Which seems to rather fit with Chapter 4 of the Murphy Report, eg 4.15
        “This development is perhaps not unrelated to broader developments in western society, featuring an increased emphasis on the rights of individuals and an attitude of suspicion of „heavy‟ regulation or control. Monsignor Dolan freely stated that pre-Vatican II, the tendency in the Church
        had been to subordinate the individual to the institution. It may be that there was so strong a reaction against this that it left the institution in a condition of near powerlessness when faced by the numerous and gross misdeeds of individual priests.”

        (But going on to point out that
        “However, it should be noted that this attitude extended only to priests; it did not extend to lay people and articularly, it did not extend to lay complainants of child sexual abuse.”)

        This is a rather different point from the frothing wing of the Traddies (eg Gerald Warner in the Telegraph) that VII is fundamentally to blame for the whole thing.

        Andrew Brown in the Guardian picks up on a point in Mgr Charles Scicluna’s interview: that not one case was sent to the Vatican between 1975 and 1983.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        March 24, 2010 at 11:44 pm

        Fair point, but we still must return to the fact that prior to the late 1960s there was a culture of cover-up evident within the Church and colluded by the State. I fear that it might also be an example of expedience on the part of some.

    • Phil said,

      March 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Following myself up, because on reflection it still seems relevant: my mother told me once that a friend complained to her regularly about her husband, how he was cruel and abusive, beat her up and raped her. Neither of them thought there was anything she could do about it – she couldn’t get a divorce, because he wouldn’t give her one, and she couldn’t just leave him because where would she go and what would she live on? It was an awful, horrible situation, but what can you do? Until, that is, she mentioned to my mother that he also raped her anally – and my mother, who’d done a bit of criminology when she was younger, told her that sodomy in marriage (unlike rape in marriage) was illegal & hence grounds for divorce. Happy ending: she found a lawyer and got her divorce. But it was about another thirty years before an Act of Parliament criminalised marital rape (and also legalised non-vaginal sex).

  13. March 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    […] Splintered Sunrise has the best piece on Joe Ratzinger’s letter. […]

  14. Gerard McCormick said,

    March 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    A very fair and readable analysis to counter some of the red top journalism from BBC NI.
    Your piece though should have used the word “cover up” and not “commission” and to suggest that the Protestant Churches would supply, wholesale, any clerical sexual needs was unfair.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 22, 2010 at 8:19 pm

      Well, not any clerical sexual needs. But for those who want an end to celibacy, ordination of women, and an easygoing attitude to condoms, divorce, abortion and gay rights – those would certainly be on offer on the other side of the fence. Although defectors might want to avoid the Free Presbyterians.

  15. Liadnan said,

    March 23, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Interesting different take on it here: (Interesting in that the author is generally pro-Benedict but unimpressed with the letter.)

    not that clerical abuse began in 1965, but that the Church’s resources for dealing with it were weakened

    In part an unfortunate side-consequence of the emphasis on the local church at VII: in itself a positive development at the theological and principled level, in my book, but the practical consequences of which still seem unsettled. Perhaps Catholics should (as Benedict does) look at the orthodox for an example of how it’s supposed to work.

  16. Dr. X said,

    March 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    A quick scan of thon Nick Milne piece, and this paragraph catches the eye:


    Worse still – and this is directed mostly to secular critics and entertainment pundits – don’t use these horrific events as a pretext for your fucking jokes. Have you no pity for the thousands of children – many now adults – who were hurt by the circumstances here being described? Have you no fellow-feeling? No sense of decency? Enough people have been seriously wounded by this fiasco that it would seem to be an act of craven and spineless contempt to turn their suffering into fodder for your canting comedy. Enough people have lost all that they thought they loved in life. Enough people have committed suicide. The God in whom you do not believe drinks down every drop of your infamy, and there will come a reckoning from which you will not easily escape. I do not know that it will be so very different from that which hangs over the abusers themselves.


    I have to say, I think this is pretty fucking outrageous. Now, most ‘comedy’ you get these days is pretty awful, recalling Flann O’Brien’s line about poetry being like jam: ‘you would not produce forty jars of jam in the hope that one jar might prove to be edible.’ But to say that people making jokes about these cases is an act on the same level, and deserving the same supernatural punishment, as the actual abuse of children and its concealment is nothing less than contemptible. This is especially so when the object of scorn is not the victims, but the church that victimised them. Even then the scorn is not as extreme as is merited; Father Ted is nowhere near as critical of the church as it appears to be.

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      March 23, 2010 at 8:24 pm

      Father Ted is sort of subversive though. Affectionate but still mocking. It sort of likes the individuals but presents the Church as one big scam – to all intents and purposes.

      BTW, while I think Benedict made some excellent points in the letter and that it is a document that bears rereading can I too dissent from the Vatican II line of his (and not least because while it absolutely true that Rome must do much of the heavy lifting it’s clear from the refusal of the Papal Nuncio to attend either the Oireachtas or go before Murphy on these matters that Rome itself was a player). His thought that somehow that led to a ‘loosening’ of the Church in Ireland whatever about elsewhere so fundamentally doesn’t gel with either the facts (abuse and a culture of secrecy and coverup had predated V2 by many decades and continued throughout the JPII period) or my own experience of activity within the Church. The idea that somehow the wildest shores of liberalism, or to be more accurate, the madnesses of a tiny portion of libertarianism, impinged on Maynooth or Armagh seems so wide of the mark as to make one wonder was he simply using it as a single transferable lash at that quarter of thinking in the Church.

      It’s a pity because I know some who bar that were impressed by the tone and content.

      • Mark P said,

        March 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm

        In which case it’s not a pity. There’s nothing to be impressed by.

      • Dr. X said,

        March 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm

        >>>Father Ted is sort of subversive though.

        No it’s not. It represents the apogee of Hot Press rebel poseurdom. By making its embodiment of clerical brutality – Father Jack – a figure of fun, it denudes itself of any right to be considered critical of anything.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        March 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

        I don’t know Mark P… which may indeed be my problem, but I do think that however inchoately this document does represent an effort to come to some terms, however guarded, with the situation. That it doesn’t work on certain levels is no surprise to me, that the effort has been made is perhaps slightly so.

  17. WorldbyStorm said,

    March 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Re Father Ted, well, fair point about HP, but it’s a comedy nonetheless. But I’ve always thought that the barbs in the humour exist nonetheless. Father Jack may well be a figure of fun, but Christ knows he’s also a perfect representation of a certain sort of priest who might be familiar to many of us through familial or other contexts whose life dissolves in drink and anger. I don’t think that’s a terribly comforting thought and as I grow older it becomes less so, indeed in truth I suspect he would be a much more typical figure than abusers. Then there are the depictions of a terribly stunted sexuality, both in terms of Ted and Dougal and indeed the other priests who come into view (there’s something about groups of them getting lost in the lingerie department of a store which is both funny and pointed)… There’s always a danger of overintellectualising this, but I don’t think it’s quite as ‘safe’ as it might now seem. And in 1995, when it first appeared before before the divorce referendum was won in the South (although granted in the wake of the first wave of scandals getting a public airing) it was quite a break in terms of depictions of priests etc. And the depictions of the hierarchy and Rome, debauched IIRC.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm

      I’ve known plenty of Father Jack types, not all (or even most) of them priests. Every walk of life has its share of angry old men clutching bottles and shouting incoherent abuse at the world around them.

      The whole traddie thesis about modernism being the problem… well, it’s not totally wrong in certain countries, viz those trendy nuns in America. But Maynooth or Armagh as modernist hotbeds, no. I have serious doubts about the orthodoxy of Irish Catholicism (sometimes I think Ted was closer to the mark than its writers realised), and some thoughts on why continentals find it so weird, but that’s a whole other story, and modernism has little to do with it.

      As far as the letter goes, there were always going to be quite a few victims who would find it inadequate no matter what it said – and that’s not a criticism of them, it’s a comment on the enormity of what they’d experienced. That can’t be undone. On the other hand – and I’m quite sympathetic to Benedict anyway – he may be the best chance we’ve got for cleaning the mess up. It’s certainly the case that during his time at the CDF he made plenty of enemies in the Vatican bureaucracy from people who really did want to sweep everything under the carpet. Nor do I think the Irish hierarchy would have opened up at all if left to its own devices.

      • Mark P said,

        March 24, 2010 at 12:05 am

        Well, those “trendy nuns” in America have the distinct disadvantage in Church terms of caring more about the alleged teachings of Christ about poverty than about the Church’s medieval sexual mores, which no doubt makes them contemptible figures to the “traddy” reactionaries you’ve taken to admiring. It’s a rather odd point of view for a socialist to be taking however.

        On the other hand, I somehow suspect that “trendy nuns” have had rather less part in raping children or covering it up than many others in the clergy. That would count for something with some people.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        March 24, 2010 at 7:59 pm

        It’s interesting splintered, because I’m trying to triangulate a position where it is possible to be both sympathetic to the Church and the positions it takes (in the sense that yes, it is – to put it at its bluntest – an association of people which has its own rules and therefore to complain about those rules from outside seems often a pointless exercise), and yet to also be open to the idea that traditionalism isn’t the only game in town and that for people like me who grew up in it and remain loosely attached that there were and remain other strands which are important.

        That’s also an interesting point about the Irish church and orthodoxy. I guess there’s an argument that it deformed in a sort of outwardly hyper-orthodox fashion, inwardly not at all… in sum a sort of Pharisaic approach. And that much of this was in terms of its relationships with the state (hegemonic) and command of many aspects of social policy and social instrumentality but that it was built conceptually on sand so that therefore when – as was inevitable – it was buffeted by events the superstructure couldn’t hold and the grim coverups and evasions served to undermine it even further.

  18. shane said,

    March 24, 2010 at 2:25 am

    Splintered, you make some very good points.

    Sexual abuse in Ireland is a widespread phenomenon, and abuse by secular diocesan clergy accounts for about 1.8% (Sexual Abuse and Violence Report in Ireland, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 2002). However the incidence of sexual abuse would seem to be slightly higher in England. I don’t think clerical abuse in the Catholic church is a particularly Irish problem, and recent revelations show it isn’t a particularly Anglophone one either. I agree with those who say that paedophiles become priests and not vice versa.

    However you are quite wrong about Maynooth not being a modernist hotbed. I have spoken with seminarians (of traditionalist persuasion) there. The stories are chilling. The selection process is also deliberately geared towards rooting out ‘rigid’ candidates, although this is less a problem now than a few years ago. Hostility to the motu proprio among the professors is universal. Even the most promising member of the faculty, Vincent Twomey, condemns Summorum Pontificum as a retrograde step. Most are carefully chosen disciples of Enda McDonagh.

    Incidentally Twomey in his book ‘The End of Irish Catholicism’ contrasts the rich Catholic heritage and culture he observed on the continent with the staid culture he believes has existed here since the Cullenite Reforms. Of course when those Catholic cultures were developing, the Church in Ireland was either persecuted or frantically grasping for breath. The Irish Church has always eschewed Baroque splendour and opted for standard neo-Gothic dreariness. The elaborate and decorative processions one observes in Latin countries are unknown here. However it would be easy to generalize: Irish Catholicism could be more multifaceted than many realize. Mary Kenny’s ‘Goodbye to Catholic Ireland’ is a good read.

    The intellectual mediocrity of Irish Catholicism was traditionally attributed to the lack of a proper Catholic university (UCD did not satisfy McQuaid). I’m not entirely convinced by that explanation but certainly historic conditions were not favourable. However Maynooth when originally founded had a faculty composed of mostly French emigré professors. It was known as the Sorbonne in exile; even today the Maynooth gown is an adaption of that worn by clerical professors at the pre-Revolution Sorbonne.

    Jansenism is a red herring. I think a lot of what we regard as Jansenism were simply Victorian values. And a lot of Irish sexual repressiveness was due to historic and social pressures; the Famine, Land Reform, austerity, emigration etc. Its origins are as Protestant as are they are Catholic. And as British as they are Irish.

    “Jansenism”. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. 2007.

    “Jansenism was viewed with great suspicion by Rome, and 17th‐century Irish synods toed the Roman line. Indeed, while its moral rigorism made it attractive to elements of the Counter‐Reformation church, Jansenism’s theological and political radicalism alienated both local hierarchies and Catholic monarchs. This was especially the case in France and most Irish clerical students there associated with milieux hostile to the movement. Indeed their anti‐Jansenist opinions were singled out for criticism by the pro‐Jansenist journal Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, Irish clerics, in general, being more attracted to Jesuit‐style humanism. The success of the anti‐Jansenist bull Unigenitus (1713) marginalized the movement but it survived as a popular millenarian‐cum‐miracle cult. Neither as a theology nor as a political attitude did Jansenism recommend itself to the Irish Catholic community, either at home or abroad. The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist‐influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”

    Dr Thomas O’Connor. Ph.D.
    Senior Lecturer – Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

    author of:

    _Irish Jansenists 1600-1670: politics and religion in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome (Dublin, 2008)
    _Strangers to Citizens: the Irish in Europe 1600-1800 (Dublin, 2008)
    _An Irish Jansenist in seventeenth-century France: John Callaghan 1605-54 (Dublin, 2005)
    _An Irish Theologian in Enlightenment Europe: Luke Joseph Hooke 1714-96 (Dublin, 1995)

    Healy, John. Maynooth College : its centenary history (1895). Dublin : Browne & Nolan, 1895.

    “During the eighteenth century many of the most eminent Churchmen in France were, to some extent, tinctured with these Jansenistic views, even when repudiating the Jansenistic errors regarding the operation of grace and free will. But although so many of our Irish ecclesiastics were educated in France during the eighteenth century, none of those who came to Ireland ever showed the slightest trace of this Jansenistic influence, either in their writings or their sermons. Nor has any respectable authority asserted, so far as we know, that the French Professors of Maynooth were in any way tinged with the spirit of Jansenism.”

    Most Rev. John Healy, D.D., LL.D., M.R.I.A.

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      March 24, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      Clerical abuse may not be a particularly Irish problem, but it most certainly is a Catholic Church problem. And for those of us who still hold the Church in some regard that’s a serious problem.

  19. Dr. X said,

    March 25, 2010 at 12:07 am

    >>>I have spoken with seminarians (of traditionalist persuasion) there. The stories are chilling.

    Funny you should say that, because a lad I knew (from Newry) was not only a seminarian, but also mad keen on all the latest developments in feminist theology. A pair of younger seminarians went and complained about him to the authorities, leading to him being sacked, and half of his year of priests-in-training resigning in solidarity. The Vatican had to send out a special envoy to find out what had happened there.

    Anyway, judging by the comments of splintered sunrise (who seems to be living in a bizarre parallel universe where the church is the only that stops the B-men from smashing his door down and dragging him off to an internment camp), this Milne lad and now Liadnan, this is how it will go down:

    1. ‘The whole world is against us’ (‘infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me).

    2. ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’.

    3. ‘We intend to learn nothing and forget nothing’. The attitude will be that if they keep their heads down the storm will pass and they will be able to quietly take back what they consider to be theirs.

    That church you still hold in some regard, WorldByStorm? It’s gone and it’s not coming back. The major task now is to make sure that it never, ever gets its hands on power in this state again.

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      March 25, 2010 at 7:24 am

      I would entirely agree that it should never get power in this state again, nor should any religion have that power and I spent three decades in political activism that had that as one of its goals. But the Church I have some regard for wasn’t about that and I hope that aspects of it still remain.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        March 25, 2010 at 7:35 am

        Actually I’d go a bit further. I see the removal of power as a good thing in and of itself and an essential one too. And that Church both deserved to go and never come back and had to. But as I say that’s not the totality of it. At least not in my view, and therefore I think to elide ‘the church I hold in some regard’ with the church in power – for want of a better term – is somewhat reductionist on your part Dr. X.

        On a slight tangent I’d be concerned that the different strands within the Church have drawn strikingly different conclusions from that retreat from power (a retreat that was/is often, if not indeed usually, grudingly). I’d be concerned about the Church pulling away from being as broad based an entity as was possible or the idea that only some people are allowed/can have a sense of ownership of it.

  20. Dr. X said,

    March 25, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Having slept on it, I can see my post there may have seemed hostile to WBS. If so I apologise. And he’s right to distinguish between the church in power and the church of the broad masses.

    Did people have a sense of ownership of the church really mean actual ownership? Or was that sense of ownership really an ideological fiction that concealed the real nature of the power structure in this country?

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      March 25, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      No apology necessary. Not so much seeming hostile as unintentionally painting me something I’m not which is a defender of the Church temporal, at least in the incarnation that held sway on this island. 🙂

      I think you put it perfectly, a church of the broad masses with all that that entails, and it’s that sense of ownership I would like to see. That the Church isn’t of the traditionalists alone, or indeed of those who don’t regard that label as necessarily appropriate to themselves, but is of all the people who are a part of it which very much includes traditionalists and others. Personally I can’t see how that sort of a church can be anything but in a sort of – perhaps muted – opposition to real power structures. I think that that could lead to a much stronger Church but one which eschewed power.

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