Press, and how not to do it

[Sigh] Here we go again. [Deep breath] Damian has put up an eloquent lament on the terminal inability of the Holy See Press Office to get its point across to the media, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but as usual, that’s not going to stop me expanding on the matter.

This is all apropos of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issuing new norms for the handling of graviora delicta, the serious offences reserved to the CDF under canon law. These are mostly matters relating to doctrine and the integrity of the sacraments, but since 2001 the CDF has also had oversight of clerical sexual abuse of minors. The latter, of course, what the media cares about in this situation.

So the CDF has announced measures to expedite the trials of accused priests; raising the statute of limitations from 10 years to 20 following the complainant’s eighteenth birthday (in line with existing practice, where the statute of limitations is normally waived on request); adding possession of child pornography to the list of graviora delicta; allowing for certain extreme cases to be resolved summarily by the Pope issuing decrees of dismissal from the clerical state; and extending provisions for offences against minors to offences against mentally disabled adults. To which I can only say good, and about time too – mostly, this is a codification of reforms that were brought in haphazardly some years ago, but it can’t hurt. If you want to know more, have a look at John Allen’s typically fair-minded analysis. But is this a positive news story? Nooo, of course it isn’t.

Because of course this was a blockbuster statement containing other norms issued on reserved delicts that aren’t as interesting to the media, such as desecration of the Eucharist, abuse of the sacrament of penance, heresy, schism and – the kicker here – sham ordinations of priestesses. So the line taken by those media outlets – such as the Guardian and Channel 4 – which appear to have decided that Popery, not climate change, is the major threat to the human race, is that the Vatican is equating child abuse with those nice ladies who just want to be priests. The fact that in the press conference Fr Lombardi and Mgr Scicluna explicitly said they weren’t doing so is irrelevant in a climate where media discussions of matters Catholic don’t need to be constrained by anything as trivial as the facts. However, while stupidity and malice in some quarters can be taken for granted, was it really beyond the wit of the press office to issue two separate press releases, one on the abuse issue and one on the doctrinal and sacramental issues? Your enemy may shoot you anyway, but there is no moral obligation to hand him a loaded gun first.

So why do they keep on doing it? At this point I’d like to midrash on Damo, who is correct in the essentials. The stories he tells about the Holy See Press Office – it only opens for about five minutes a week, anything dicasteries have dumped on the desk is issued without proofing, there’s nobody there who speaks English – are only slightly exaggerated. But there are reasons why it’s ineffectual. Conspiracy theorists may not credit this, but the “enormous Vatican spin machine” is basically Fr Federico Lombardi SJ with a modicum of admin support and however much espresso it takes to keep him going. To expand further, Lombardi always insists that he isn’t the Pope’s spokesman – if the Pope wants to say something, he does so himself – but the Vatican spokesman. He doesn’t have the access to, let alone influence over, Benedict that we would associate with the relationship between Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, or Andy Coulson and David Cameron. Lombardi answers to the Secretariat of State, which means that Vice-Pope Tarcisio Bertone gives him some broad guidelines and leaves him to his own devices. Needless to say, he doesn’t have any authority in dicasteries other than State, and is completely unable to stop Curia bigwigs from going off message.

These are all organisational constraints. This is before we even get onto talking about whether or not Lombardi gets the secular media (doubtful) or about the press office suffering from institutional lethargy as well as having a deaf ear for the Anglophone media.

Anyway, let’s bring it closer to home. Some of you may be aware of HardTalk, an extended interview show that News 24 runs for the benefit of insomniacs. You tend to see it when you’ve been gazing dreamily into Martine Croxall’s big blue eyes on the late night news, then you wake up and realise to your shame that for the last ten minutes you’ve been gazing dreamily at Stephen Sackur. I mention HardTalk because a couple of months back Bishop Malcolm McMahon was on talking about the sex abuse crisis, and more recently Archbishop Nichols was on talking more generally. Did the hierarchs perform well? Despite Sackur being very poorly briefed, not really.

Stephen Sackur is a graduate of the Paxman school of interviewing, whose main strategy is to ask a really stupid question in a really aggressive way, then repeat ad nauseam in the hope of making the interviewee look shifty. He didn’t manage to lay a finger on +Malcy, but that’s because arguing with +Malcy is like wrestling a blancmange. Evidently Bishop McMahon had been told beforehand to smile and nod a lot, use buzzwords like “reform” and “transparency”, and not to argue with Sackur about the facts no matter how wrong he was. The result was not very edifying. +Vincent did a bit better, being less of a moving target, but he was terribly wishy-washy in terms of defending Church teaching, and really if you wanted some sparks to fly then Keith O’Brien would have been your man.

Which leads me to the problem of CCN as the press arm of the Bishops’ Conference, and it occurs to me that there’s a sort of double-sided self-deception going on here. CCN like to believe that the bishops don’t need minding, when it should be obvious that at least some bishops shouldn’t be allowed out in public without some Catholic equivalent of Malcolm Tucker breathing down their necks. Meanwhile, the bishops like to kid themselves that they’ve got a professional press operation.

It’s not just that Alexander DesForges is not Malcolm Tucker. (Actually, he’s much more reminiscent of Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.) It’s not just that Alexander seems far too preoccupied with this obscure feud he’s got going with Peter Jennings. It’s not just that CCN spends most of its time on internal comms, when a professional organisation would have a separate desk for internal comms. No, I think the most annoying thing about CCN is that it puts out these stupefyingly awful press releases that are just a miasma of vagueness. They will tell you, for instance, that “around 35” people took part in some event, when apparently it would be much too vulgar to say 34 or 37. Some day I expect to see a CCN press release giving attendance at an event as “somewhere between five and a million”. And then, if you ask them for clarification, you find yourself transported into that sequence from The Twelve Tasks of Asterix where Asterix and Obelix have to enter the Madhouse of Bureaucracy.

Wait til I tell you, the Peppermint Spinster can be as sniffy as she likes about “web-logs”, but when the official comms are so shockingly bad you can’t blame anyone for resorting to unofficial methods.

This also leaves the door open for freelance media operations such as that currently being run by the wheeler-dealer from Catalunya and his diminutive tracksuit-clad sidekick. As it happens, this last weekend the dweebs volunteers were up at Worth Abbey for their intensive media training. Why Worth? Well, Abbot Chris Jamison has his finger in nearly as many pies as Jack Valero, and is co-patronising the project along with Dan Brennan. My spies are silent on whether advanced pedagogical methods such as Lego and the Rubik’s Cube were deployed. However, in the video above you can see Dr Ivereigh demonstrating the use of such up-to-the-moment tools as the whiteboard and the dry-wipe marker; he also has an uncanny grasp of Mr Tony Blair’s hand gestures and interview mannerisms, such as that slightly constipated look that conveys sincerity to the teevee viewer.

You may well snicker, but the bar is set so low that you don’t need to have Peter Mandelson on the payroll to get some value added. If you handed Alexander DesForges a dry-wipe marker, would he know what to do with it? My guess is that he’d just stare at it in bemusement, like those ape-men in 2001 when the black monolith appears.

Maybe a slick press operation is too much to hope for, given the creaky foundations and the Catholic Church’s unparallelled ability to reward incompetence. But a functional press operation would be a start, and bishops who aren’t an outright menace in front of a microphone would be even better. The Caitlin Morans or Johann Haris of this world we shall always have with us; there’s really no need to do the bastards’ job for them.


  1. Phil said,

    July 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

    those media outlets – such as the Guardian and Channel 4 – which appear to have decided that Popery, not climate change, is the major threat to the human race

    Can I just point out (a) that I haven’t even seen this story in the news – not once, at all – which suggests that the climate change analogy may be slightly overdrawn; and (b) the phrase is “women priests”; not ‘priestesses’, and not anything involving the word ‘womyn’. Using this kind of gratuitously offensive language may help you bond with some of your new readers – a kind of attack-shibboleth, like calling Hezbollah Nazis on HP – but it’s not doing much for us pinkoes.

    But thankyou, sincerely, for dropping the “Suppository” – that was straight out of the Brother…

    “And you know why he calls it that?”
    Thankyou, I have an inkling.
    “He says you can STICK IT UP-”
    Yes, quite. I understand the allusion.
    “That’s a good one isn’t it?”
    It is a droll and amusing play on words.
    “He says it’s not the Tablet, it’s the Suppository!”
    So I gather.
    “Because you can- isn’t this my stop?”
    I believe it is. Good day.

    The Caitlin Morans or Johann Haris of this world we shall always have with us; there’s really no need to do the bastards’ job for them.

    “What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fucking, fucking fuck?”
    (Jerry Springer: The Musical)

    Here’s Damian. And here’s Johann. If you’re really more comfortable these days with D. than J., there’s not much more to be said.

  2. ejh said,

    July 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Hari is a “bastard” in this context because?

    • McGazz said,

      July 16, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Maybe because he’s the kind of Dawkins-fanboy liberal fundie who, while able to produce eloquent, on-the-money pieces on a number of issues, can’t write anything about the Church more nuanced than “OMG Catholics!” He’s like those people who think it’s the last word in metropolitan sophistication to refer to God as “magic sky fairy”.

      • robert said,

        July 16, 2010 at 12:44 pm

        Reminds me of the Rowan Atkinson sketch with him playing the Devil welcoming the new recruits into hell. “Ah yes the atheists, step this way please. You must all be feeling a right bunch of plonkers…”

      • neilcaff said,

        July 16, 2010 at 2:48 pm

        I don’t think you’ve really answered the question.

      • Phil said,

        July 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm

        So (someone who can at least remember being a believer writes) Hari doesn’t Get It. So what? If done intelligently and openly – as it often is – anti-religious polemic is well worth engaging with; it can be quite a useful exercise, not to mention being fun. If done stupidly, it’s just one more person who doesn’t Get It, and so what? It’s certainly not worth getting worked up about.

        Mind you, I’m talking as a lapsed member of the state church, so this whole “religion as oppressed minority” thing doesn’t quite chime with me. (My mother was brought up Plymouth Brethren, but since she didn’t believe a word of it that doesn’t really help.)

        Talking of Caitlin Moran, I think Damo completely misread her one-liner. For people outside the church (any church), “the church” doesn’t mean the worldwide community of believers united in faith across the centuries, it means the guys in frocks. She was accusing the priesthood of being gay-hating, woman-hating paedophiles, not the church as a whole.

      • shane said,

        July 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm

        Her surname bears a certain suitability.

      • Phil said,

        July 17, 2010 at 10:28 am

        Take it up with the Bishop of Aberdeen.

      • Dave Weeden said,

        July 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm

        Rowan Atkinson Devil sketch. Bears out Robert’s point rather well, I feel. (I’m not sure what reminded him of Rowan Atkinson: calling Caitlin Moran a ‘bastard’ perhaps?) If you’re interested in Atkinson, BTW, he got married in a New York restaurant. His best man was Stephen Fry. Those points aside, Atkinson clearly backs up Robert’s argument.

  3. Res Miranda said,

    July 16, 2010 at 11:16 am

    It’s not constipation, it’s piles.

  4. Nicolas Bellord said,

    July 16, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I wonder whether there are many like me who are tired of spin and spin-doctors. I thought it said somewhere in the New Testament that one should not worry about what to say but just wait for the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It seems to me that virtuous people who speak the truth do well with the media. The the less virtuous who try to skate round the truth make a nonsense of it and do badly. Do we need spin to cover this up?

    Nicolas Bellord

  5. Policraticus said,

    July 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    excellent piece yet again – a propos the statement from Lombardi about the new norms did you notice

    “the introduction of a new category: paedophile pornography. This is defined as: “the acquisition, possession or disclosure” by a member of the clergy, “in any way and by any means, of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen”.

    Now I know that currently canon law permits [with parental consent] the marriage of girls from 14 upwards and boys from 16 upwards] but why limit this new crime to looking at images of those up to age 14??? Doesn’t this run the risk of echoing the likes of those who campaign to lower the age of homosexual consent to 14?? I’m sure the Vatican press office would never intend to be even remotely connected with such a thing but even so it doesn’t take a PhD in communications to know that those risk factors on perception ought to be covered.

    • Mark P said,

      July 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Who exactly is campaigning to “lower the age of homosexual consent to 14”? As opposed to, say, campaigning to lower the age of consent of 14?

  6. Phil said,

    July 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Could you release my comment from limbo? Ta.

  7. Gabriel Olearnik said,

    July 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the otherwise interesting blog, but you seem to run out of steam towards the end. When I say steam, I mean facts. By your own admission you don’t have a lot of info about Catholic Voices. The Jack and Austin show seems to be doing quite well, and if you look at the website (which I assume you haven’t) you can see they have decent pool of experts including barristers, a doctor of physics and a veteran broadcaster. Frankly, it looks like a professional operation, not a bunch of nuts. So we won’t need the Snickers, then.

    • Mark P said,

      July 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      If you think that barristers, broadcasters and academics can’t be nuts, you will find your interactions with some people involved in those lines of work rather perplexing.

      • Gabriel Olearnik said,

        July 27, 2010 at 7:50 pm


        In light of knowing some of those barristers, broadcasters and academics personally, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you know better, do let me know.

  8. Chris Williams said,

    July 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Hmmm… The reason that I like Rowan Williams (no relation) is that he doesn’t have a spin machine, two posts down, I thought that Splinty agreed with me. Yet this post appears to suggest that the problem with the RCC is that it doesn’t have enough of a spin machine.

    • magistra said,

      July 17, 2010 at 6:48 am

      Splinty is an observer of the Church of the England, so he can appreciate people in that regardless of their effectiveness; he’s personally committed to the Catholic Church, so if it’s ineffective it pains him. Conversely, as an Anglican, if the Pope says something stupid I try not to gloat, but it’s not my problem. If Rowan Williams says something stupid, it’s an embarassment for me personally.

      • Dave Weeden said,

        July 17, 2010 at 9:00 pm

        With ref to Splinty’s earlier post, I was struck by a similar thought. There, I thought the argument was less about spin than that the Vatican at least had a clear line, while the C of E doesn’t.

        You could have Rowan Williams across the table from you and have very little idea whether what he was saying was an official Anglican position or just Rowan’s opinion.

        As I understand this post however, poor Fr Lombardi has no idea what the official Vatican position is much of the time, either.

        Or did I read this bit wrong?

        To expand further, Lombardi always insists that he isn’t the Pope’s spokesman – if the Pope wants to say something, he does so himself – but the Vatican spokesman. He doesn’t have the access to, let alone influence over, Benedict that we would associate with the relationship between Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, or Andy Coulson and David Cameron. Lombardi answers to the Secretariat of State, which means that Vice-Pope Tarcisio Bertone gives him some broad guidelines and leaves him to his own devices.

        But then I don’t get the “[they] explicitly said they weren’t doing so” argument. Alastair Campbell explicitly said that intelligence showed that there were WMD. Press officers lie. It’s what they do.

  9. shane said,

    July 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    The Irish Independent reproduced an article from the Daily Telegraph in a similar vein. Religious reporting in the UK is really dire, but we aren’t far behind. The Indo supplemented this with a tiny article by the spectacularly incompetent Breda Heffernan – who seems to have an unfortunate tendency for making things up – informing us that ‘Irish women involved in the Church’ (or something like that) were indignant, quoting from pro-woman’s ordination group BASIC as if it were representative of Irish laity (I doubt if more than 500 people have ever heard of it). John Cooney does something similar with the arrogantly titled Voice of the Faithful, which is nothing more than a fringe group. Ironic when you think that the Irish Independent was once the effective house journal of the Catholic Church; it used to be said that nothing in it would offend the oldest nun in the remotest convent in Ireland. Had we bishops of any competence, they would establish a Catholic propaganda orientated newspaper, to counter the increasingly extreme anti-clericalism of the Irish media.

    • Mark P said,

      July 21, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      There are already quite a number of “Catholic propaganda orientated newspapers” are there not? From the howling backwoodsmen of Alive all the way across to the rather more staid Irish Catholic. The problem isn’t the lack of such papers, but the lack of an audience for them. As the far left, with its own plethora of low circulation propaganda publications could tell you.

  10. shane said,

    July 16, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    In fairness though Wednesday’s Irish Times carried an uncharacteristically interesting article by Fintan O’Toole, where he writes about his childhood love for the old liturgy. Again highlighting the fact IMO that the Novus Ordo is but a pathetic skeleton of the pre-conciliar liturgy. It never ceases to amaze me how Pope Paul VI could have got it so wrong.

  11. Kenny said,

    July 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Excellent as usual.
    The media have had a field day on this one. Even Sarah Kennedy on radio 2 yesterday am, stated as if it was fact that the Vatican equated child abuse with attempted ordination of the fair sex.
    To have the two in the same document was (yet another) spectacular own goal.

  12. policraticus said,

    July 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    “the Novus Ordo is but a pathetic skeleton of the pre-conciliar liturgy. It never ceases to amaze me how Pope Paul VI could have got it so wrong.”

    In so far as the de-sacralisation and protestantisation of the Mass did happen on Paul VI’s watch – the fact is he did ‘banish’ the masonic architect of the Novus Ordo [very close to the phrase New World Order] Archbishop Bugnini to the Apostolic Nunciature in Iran [where presumably he couldn’t do any further damage]. However, though Paul VI’s greatest achievement [eventually] was the encyclical Humanae Vitae – his policy of non implementation of it led to his almost interminable look of depression and sadness. Hence the nickname amongst the Curia at the time of Paolo Sesto Mesto.

    • shane said,

      July 17, 2010 at 9:00 pm

      Paul VI’s exiling of Bugnini to Iran is something of a contradiction in his pontificate. If the Pope did believe the allegations that Bugnini was a Freemason – and it seems from his actions that he did – why did he ratify the conclusions of the Consilium? Why had he initially promoted Bugnini as Secretary of the Consilium and later to the CDW when John XXIII had, very mysteriously, banished him from the Prepatory Commission and his chair at the Lateran University? It’s always interested me how Pius XII, who one might have thought would know better, was far more indulgent with Bugnini than his two successors. I actually know some traditionalists, including both SSPX and FSSP, who will have nothing to do with the post-1955 Holy Week for this reason; perhaps they have a point, but even Archbishop Lefebvre expelled professors at Econe who refused to say the 1962 Missal on this account

    • Phil said,

      July 17, 2010 at 11:33 pm

      You surely aren’t going to tell me that the Church is an oppressed minority where he comes from?

      • shane said,

        July 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm

        No…not yet.

  13. policraticus said,

    July 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Paul VI’s pontificate was full of contradictions – not least the outcome of the infamous ‘Washington Case’ and the manner in which the late Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle was allowed to lose face in his perfectly legitimate canonical ‘stand-off’ against the clerical dissenters of Humanae Vitae -whilst they were ordered to be rehabilitated in to public ministry without having to publicly recant their former dissent. Conclusion: the ‘truce of ’68’

    • shane said,

      July 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      He was an extremely weak pope and I think history will be very unkind to him. The current pontiff also bears blame too; Fr Ratzinger personally drafted Cardinal Frings’ devastating attack on the Holy Office at the Second Vatican Council and was credited by de Lubac for its effective replacement with the pussycat (S)CDF. In an era of such widespread and rampant heresy, unparalleled since the Arian crisis, it was total madness.

      The Pope also ignored the rebellion of the hierarchies in the Rhine countries, especially Holland, where bishops published extreme heretical statements and were totally unpunished. According to
      Fr John A. Hardon, S.J, the Pope was afraid to clamp down on heretical bishops and theologians because he feared, perhaps not unreasonably, that it would result in a new schism. Still he had been prophetically warned about the Novus Ordo (this is before even other abominations crept it, like Communion in the Hand, lay ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ (EMHCs) and vernacular ICEL style ‘translations’) back in 1969 by the extraordinary Intervention of Cardinal Ottaviani (Secretary of the Holy Office/Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and Cardinal Bacci, in a cover letter endorsing the critique of the Novus Ordo by 9 Roman theologians.

      Letter from Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to His Holiness Pope Paul VI

      September 25th, 1969

      Most Holy Father,

      Having carefully examined, and presented for the scrutiny of others, the Novus Ordo Missae prepared by the experts of the Consilium ad exequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, and after lengthy prayer and reflection, we feel it to be our bounden duty in the sight of God and towards Your Holiness, to put before you the following considerations:

      1. The accompanying critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae, the work of a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors of souls, shows quite clearly in spite of its brevity that if we consider the innovations implied or taken for granted which may of course be evaluated in different ways, the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.

      2. The pastoral reasons adduced to support such a grave break with tradition, even if such reasons could be regarded as holding good in the face of doctrinal considerations, do not seem to us sufficient. The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place, if it subsists at all, could well turn into a certainty the suspicions already prevalent, alas, in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people, can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound for ever. Recent reforms have amply demonstrated that fresh changes in the liturgy could lead to nothing but complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful who are already showing signs of restiveness and of an indubitable lessening of faith.

      Amongst the best of the clergy the practical result is an agonising crisis of conscience of which innumerable instances come tour notice daily.

      3. We are certain that these considerations, which can only reach Your Holiness by the living voice of both shepherds and flock, cannot but find an echo in Your paternal heart, always so profoundly solicitous for the spiritual needs of the children of the Church. It has always been the case that when a law meant for the good of subjects proves to be on the contrary harmful, those subjects have the right, nay the duty of asking with filial trust for the abrogation of that law.

      Therefore we most earnestly beseech Your Holiness, at a time of such painful divisions and ever-increasing perils for the purity of the Faith and the unity of the church, lamented by You our common Father, not to deprive us of the possibility of continuing to have recourse to the fruitful integrity of that Missale Romanum of St. Pius V, so highly praised by Your Holiness and so deeply loved and venerated by the whole Catholic world.

      A. Card. Ottaviani
      A. Card. Bacci

      To read the excellent and prophetic critique ….

      In the 60s Fr Ratzinger was absolutely ecstatic about the abolition of the Tridentine Mass. In Problemi e risultati del Concilio Vaticano II he dismisses the rite of St Pius V as a medieval anachronism and looks forward to its abolition. But by the 70s he became “convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy”. Sometimes you just don’t appreciate something ’til it’s gone.

      • magistra said,

        July 19, 2010 at 7:15 am

        To point out the bleeding obvious, the report of the Irish Commission of Child Abuse showed that abuse was endemic in Catholic institutions long before the 1960s. Therefore liturgical reforms and 1960s sexual liberation are not the main causes of paedophile abuses by Catholic priests. To try and claim they are shows a complete detachment from reality. And if you call receiving communion in a different way an ‘abomination’, what language have you got left to condemn sins that actually scar children for life?

        Even though I’m not a Catholic I understand that particular forms of liturgy can arouse strong feelings – I’ve had friends in the Prayer Book Society. But they simply stuck to claims about cultural vandalism and poor theology – they weren’t daft enough to try and pretend that new forms of liturgy were responsible for moral coallpse.

      • Kenny said,

        July 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

        No one is saying that the Church reforms “caused” the Child abuse scandals. But they did not help, as many Bishops, who compounded the problems, after Vatican2 igorned Church law, (Canon law), and did whatever they chose. This included moving around the errant Priests, insted of reoprting and removing them.
        Your knowledge of matters Catholic, is very patchy.

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 5:47 pm

        magistra, I’ve re-read my comment three times and there is absolutely nothing about child abuse in it, so I don’t see the relevance of your reply.

  14. magistra said,

    July 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Kenny – I don’t claim to have more than a patchy knowledge of Catholicism, but again, the evidence from the Irish Commission on child abuse is that moving around paedophiles (or allowing them to leave an order voluntarily) was standard practice before the 1960s. The main concern was the reputation of the schools and orders involved, not the welfare of the children.

    Catholic organisations have not been alone in having problems with paedophiles: there have been problems in other schools and children’s homes as well. But this was compounded in the church’s case by an organisational culture which emphasised preserving the church’s reputation at all costs. When the same attitude of excuses appears again in modern defenders of the Catholic church, it suggests that they still haven’t come to grips with some of the reasons that abuse was so prevalent for so long.

    • ejh said,

      July 19, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      A few days ago there were a number of comments here on the subject of the Church and child abuse – I remember one in particular but it wasn’t the only one. The theme was that it had all happened a long time ago, it had been dealt with in the end and – most importantly – the media fuss had been brought about because of a deep and hypocritical hostility to the Church, from people who didn’t care about child abuse when it happened elsewhere but were simply interested in getting at the Church: their opinions therefore could be disregarded. I do not think I distort the meaning of the posts to which I refer.

      Now the most obvious thing that struck me about this viewpoint was that it explained on its own how the abuse was able to continue so long. It didn’t explain the abuse itself, but it did explain the cover-up, because all complaints against the Church were to be interpreted as hostility to the Church. That’s not so much an organisational culture as an ideological one,and one which obviously isn’t confined to the Church – but it’s manifestly strong within the Church and this blog is, for reasons that I am not sure I fully understand, playing up to it.

    • Kenny said,

      July 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm

      Yes Magistra, that may have happened pre 1969, but I don t think you d call it “standard practice”. Much more likely to be referring to eg the Christian Brothers than Priests moved around Parishes.

      • Mark P said,

        July 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm

        The point is that there isn’t a pre/post 1960s divide in how child abusing clergy were handled by the Church. Those looking to construct a narrative in which the abuse and/or the coverups were caused by modern liturgical or doctrinal liberalism are self-evidently axe-grinding traditionalists.

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm

        Kenny, malhandling of abuse allegations was standard practice not only in the Church but throughout the whole of society. It’s only since the late 80s that western Europe has really cared about child abuse. Indeed many abusive priests were moved onto new parishes with the full approval of psychological experts. There was a letter in History Ireland by Helena Kelleher Kahn, a veteran social worker in the UK, on child abuse. From her experience she described abuse of children as a “commonplace feature of boarding institutions, workhouses, prisons, detention centres, schools (including public schools) and even the Royal Navy. The abuse of boys especially was viewed as a very minor offence, especially if the perpetrators happened to be talented” and that “Mistakes were frequently made, not only by bishops but also by school heads, police and even directors of social services”.

        Vol III, Ch VII of the Ryan Report actually gives the number of sexual abuse reports by decade of discharge in relation to the 253 reports of sexual abuse perpetrated in 20 schools (see Table 22):

        1914-1959 88 (35%)
        1960-69 119 (47%)
        1970-79 37 (15%)
        1980-89 9 (4%)
        Total 253 (100%)

        It should be noted that abuse in industrial schools was not just a clerical or religious one. About 35% of the complaints relate to lay staff (care workers, cleaners, fellow pupils, etc).

        David Quinn, who attended most of the Ryan Commission hearings, and reported them for the Irish Independent, reflected on what he heard in an article in Studies magazine:

        “As mentioned, a total of 1,090 former residents of the institutions reported to the Ryan Commission. Between them, they named 800 alleged abusers in over 200 institutions. But there was very wide variation from institution to institution in terms of the amount of abuse taking place in each of them, something that the executive summary of the Ryan Report, which is what most journalists will have read, did not make clear. For example, fully 50 per cent of physical abuse reports and 64 per cent of the sex abuse reports heard by the Commission that involved boys, related to four of the boys institutions. The same applies to the girls’ institutions. Three schools account for almost 40 per cent of the physical abuse reports, or 48 reports each, while 19 schools had an average of 2.5 reports each.

        Sexual abuse was also far worse in the boys’ institution than in the girls’, which is probably to be expected. In the girls’ institutions, sex abuse was normally perpetrated by outside workmen, or by visiting priests or religious, or by foster families, with whom the girls occasionally stayed.

        A relative handful of individuals accounted for a disproportionate share of the complaints. For example: a total of 241 female religious were named as physical abusers. However, four of these were named by 125 witnesses, and 156 Sisters were named by one witness each. In total, of the 800 religious and others named as abusers, half were named by only one person.

        It is also worth noting that an institution only received a special chapter in the Ryan Report if it was the subject of more than 20 complaints of abuse. Sixteen institutions, out of the dozens run by the orders, had more than 20 complaints made against them.

        When I first reported the above figures in the Irish Catholic and the Irish Independent, I was accused by a handful of people (fewer than I had expected) of ‘playing the numbers game’. But surely numbers matter immensely? If they do not, then why did numbers feature so heavily in the Ryan Report and in the subsequent media coverage of it, and in the debates about it? In the North, for example, it is not immaterial whether 300 or 3,000 people died in the ‘Troubles’.”

  15. July 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    “So the line taken by… the Guardian and Channel 4…is that the Vatican is equating child abuse with those nice ladies who just want to be priests. The fact that in the press conference Fr Lombardi and Mgr Scicluna explicitly said they weren’t doing so is irrelevant” Please understand that it is this statement that makes their words so utterly offensive to those of us who are priests in the Catholic tradition (in my case of the Church of England)and who just happen to be female . They didn’t do it by accident. They had actually considered that it might be offensive and did it anyway in full knowledge of the damage it would cause. I am not easily offended and generally brush most negative comments off with a smile, but this one is in an altogether different vein to thow away comments about “priest-esses” or “women dressed as priests”. Whilst i would not agree with illicit ordinations as I think they do a lot of damage,it would be nice if the Vatican could understand that this statement has caused us a lot of offence on our side of the Tiber. It would be even nicer if the Vatican issued a statement of apology and clarification that it does respect and is willing to work with female ministers (and I chose that word carefully as I hardly expect Rome to understand that we are priests, but I do expect to be treated as a minister of the gospel) on ecumenical projects. Otherwise the mission of the church as a whole is damaged, and then the rabid athiests who are constantly trying to cause trouble will have gained more ground. Who loses then? We all do.

  16. shane said,

    July 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Ann Marie Hourihane has a good piece in today’s Irish Times which leads me to suspect that she’s a reader of this blog.

    • Kenny said,

      July 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

      Ah Yes, Ms Hourihane, an old pro abortionist from the 1980 s . Not sure you d call it “a good piece”!

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

        I didn’t agree with all of it but she made a number of very good points about the Church’s inability to communicate. Being an opponent of Church teaching and the Church generally actually makes her perspective all the more interesting. It’s wonderful to see writers in the Irish Times (bar our own Breda O’Brien and John Waters) write about Catholicism without frothing at the mouth.

  17. Kenny said,

    July 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    LOL John Waters used to froth quite a lot!!
    But you are right the article was not vicious. Though it was rather pointing out the obvious as far as Church communication is concerned.

    • shane said,

      July 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      Waters writes a lot of nonsense, I find him hard to read. So you could be right.

      Pointing out the obvious is a big step up for the Irish Times. I wish Patsy McGarry could be so contented. The Irish media and intellectual establishment have become so vehemently anti-Catholic that it risks becoming counterproductive; perhaps she wanted to distinguish herself by going contrarian.

  18. Kenny said,

    July 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I have not lived in Dublin for 5 years now, though I spent most of my life there. I don t remember the “mainstream” press being anything else but Anti-Church. Sometimes they had cause, mostly it was just badness. They wanted to, and indeed have, take over the role of “running the country” from the Church.A role the Church should never have had, but was understandable, in an emerging country like Ireland.

    • shane said,

      July 19, 2010 at 8:05 pm

      I don’t accept that the Catholic Church ever ruled this country. She was influential – but her influence was sustained on popular consensus. The Catholic Church in Ireland, as in the entire western world, has been slipping at an increasingly rapid rate since the Second Vatican Council, but even as late as 1995 almost half the electorate voted against introducing the most restrictive divorce laws in the world.

      The (democratically-ratified) Constitution of 1937 did recognize “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens” but what was that but the constitutional recognition of a demographic fact? In substance that was almost identical to a similar clause in the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801.

      Had we listened to some Catholic groups, we might have made Catholicism the state religion, endowed her with public funds, recognized the exclusive competence of the Church over civil marriage, suppressed the public worship of other religions, restored pre-Reformation churches back to our proprietorship and introduced laws against heresy, schism and apostasy.

      But some people are never pleased 🙂

      • Kenny said,

        July 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm

        Popular consensus it was indeed, because in those days the people trusted the Church above any other group, media or Politicians.
        Is your last paragraph for real? Apart from the return of the pre-reformation Churches, it seems a bit heavy handed.

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 9:27 pm

        No I’m not. But if Maria Duce, Father Feeney etc. had their way (and doubtless public opinion would have been sympathetic) that’s the sorta state we would have had. DeValera actually sought the approval of the Vatican to ensure that the Irish hierarchy wouldn’t be able to campaign against the Constitution, from a more clericalist perspective, in a referendum. There is a nice traditionalist Catholic appreciation of the Constitution here, with which I agree:

        It would be lovely to get back the CoI churches/cathedrals. Maybe some day. Many people fail to appreciate how bitter Catholic opinion was at the time re. our ‘stolen churches’ and how some Protestants were afraid that their churches would be forcibly returned. Presumably it is for this reason that the Constitution (Article 44, 6°) states: “The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation.”

        There’s lots of examples of politicians ignoring the Church or using her for political advantage. For instance the Report of the Commission on Vocational Organisation in 1944 (chaired by Bishop Browne) planned to restructure society on Catholic Social Teaching but was totally ignored (except for the establishment of the Labour Court)…quite a pity.

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm

        Father Fahey* not Feeney

      • Garibaldy said,

        July 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm


        “In substance that was almost identical to a similar clause in the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801”

        Are you outing yourself as a supporter of Napoleon here? 😉

      • shane said,

        July 19, 2010 at 10:00 pm

        Garibaldi, most certainly not. It’s just we generally don’t think of pre-1905 France as a theocratic Catholic state just on account of that.

      • Mark P said,

        July 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

        Shane – oddly enough I agree with your comments about the 1937 perspective. Despite the press it receives from liberal writers, the remarkable thing about it in retrospect is just how secular it is, given the time and place it was written.

        I’m a bit confused though at your desire to take old churches from the Anglicans. Don’t Roman Catholics have enough difficulty maintaining and keeping open the churches they already own?

      • neilcaff said,

        July 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

        And if you put the 1937 Constitution into an international context, with the rise of Fascism and the general retreat of liberal democracy in Europe, it is remarkably progressive.

        Unfortunately the Irish state and society in general showed little sympathy for another emerging democracy under threat at the time, Spain. Not least thanks to the malign influence of the Church and the lies it peddled about the Spanish Republic.

      • shane said,

        July 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm

        Mark, it’s their property now and I certainly wouldn’t ever want them taken from the Anglicans by force. In a way I’m actually very glad, given the post-conciliar ‘wreckovations’ in our own Church, that the Irish bishops can’t touch them. In France, where the state owns the churches built before 1905, it’s been much more difficult for the French clergy to arbitrarily ‘reorder’ sanctuaries.

      • Mark P said,

        July 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

        Doesn’t that attitude reflect what is perhaps a greater attachment to the trappings of Catholic tradition than to its religious content?

      • shane said,

        July 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

        Neil, the preamble to the Constitution (“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority….”), which as I understand has no legal force, is widely seen today as an example of deference to the Catholic Church, but at the time Catholic groups were campaiging for the Constitution to be dedicated to denominationally-specific devotions like the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin Mary (back then the Irish Messenger to the Sacred Heart was the largest selling publication in the country). The preamble was remarkably and deliberately ‘ecumenical’ for its time.

        RE: the Spanish Civil War, as Mary Kenny demonstrates in Goodbye to Catholic Ireland, support in the Irish Church for Franco was far from monolithic or uncritical, but hardly without warrant considering the extreme anti-clericalism of the Spanish Republic and its *tolerance* (to put it mildly) of the mass-murder of Catholic clergy.

      • shane said,

        July 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

        Mark, I don’t see any contradiction between the two.

      • Mark P said,

        July 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm

        The fascists weren’t exactly slouches when it came to Priest-killing themselves, as the Basque Church could tell you. Although most of the rest of the Franco-sympathising clergy in Spain were never too keen on publicising that.

        There were, of course, many clergy killed during the Spanish Civil War. Some were doubtless murdered, although others like the “Blessed” Bishop Cruz Laplana y Laguna were fascist activists and active collaborators with the Francoist coup, were quite reasonably shot for treason during wartime.

        The Spanish Catholic Church was a bulwark of reaction, of the dominance of the landlords and the rich, of the oppression of the poor in general, and of course it was itself the biggest landlord in Spain. The Catholic Church didn’t side with the fascists because Republicans were anti-clerical. Republicans were anti-clerical because the Church sided with the Monarchists and fascists.

        To this day, you will find Catholic churches and Cathedrals across much of Spain “decorated” with large monuments to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange (these monuments are often defaced, sometimes by parishioners). And the Church happily resumed its prior role under Franco, and maintained its benevolent attitude to the regime, even while it massacred countless thousands of people in the name of a unified, Catholic, traditional, Spain.

        In the gallery of Catholic rogues, much of the Spanish clergy in the 20th Century must surely feature alongside the Croatian Franciscans.

      • Mark P said,

        July 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        You really don’t see a contradiction?

        On the face of it, it seems that being glad that churches are not being operated as Catholic Churches so as to preserve their “traditional” interiors, displays a greater attachment to traditional interiors than to Catholic worship.

  19. Sharon said,

    July 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Should the Church have to scrutinise all of their documents to see if there is anything the English/American speaking media could criticise or spin to the detriment of the Church? Should the Church have a representative of the NYT to vet all of its public pronouncements?

    Is the Church doing enough to refute the attacks against her which spin the truth and rake up issues long settled? If not, what more can she do? What did other minorities of times past e.g. homosexuals, Jews, blacks do to reverse public perception of them so that now not a breath of criticism is voiced against them? Why aren’t Muslims criticised? How can the Church learn from the way these minorities managed to get such a positive press?

    • Mark P said,

      July 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      “Why aren’t Muslims criticised?” What did they do to get such a positive press?

      Normally the appropriate response would be the question “are you fucking nuts?”, but as with so many of our dearly cherished new comrades in the comments section of this blog, the answer to that question is all too apparent.

  20. sadie vacantist said,

    July 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I agree that Vatican II chaos has contributed to the collapse of the Church in Western Europe but if one takes Richard Williamson seriously the problems began post-1945 when War guilt cause was established by the intelligentsia of both East and Western Europe with the Council merely an accident waiting to happen. Williamson has chosen to reject both the intelligentsia and the Council.

    Change the names of the banking ‘community’ to Barzini, Phillip Tattaglia, Moe Greene (no need to change), Strachi, Cuneo and finally Corleone of course and I think you get the picture of what is happening in our World and where it is headed – almost certain conflict (just like in the movie). The problem is that is nobody (apart from Williamson) is prepared to make the connection. It will take millions of deaths before people start asking some hard questions about what has happened since 1945. Until this period of post-catastrophic reflection (out of which the Church will start making converts again) Catholicism in the West is finished

  21. Paul Priest said,

    July 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    ….There’s a story doing the rounds regarding the Catholic Voices training weekend of Peter Williams being ordered to remove his miraculous medal because the poison dwarf didn’t want any of his ‘ordinary, representative. pauline structured’ team to be seen as ‘a sad old trad’ – UNQUOTE…

    Just when you think the reprobate can’t go any farther…he takes a pop at Our Lady ?? We all know how he treats the non-maternal women in his life – but to offend the Mother of God !!!???

    ONE WORD : WAR!!!!!

  22. Sadie Vacantist said,

    July 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    ” All the best wars are prompted by ‘a story doing the rounds’ “

    I was intrigued by the Italy and New Zealand game during the World Cup and the tactics of one of the NZ players. I googled him and discovered that he had been accorded a ghosted column in the Daily Mail for the duration of his country’s stay in the tournament. In his post-match analysis of the Italian game he offered the following gem: an accusation of cheating against the Italians on the basis that they kept placing their cheekbones near his elbow in order to earn him yellow cards.

    Starting wars is easy.

    • birkenstock said,

      July 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      That little old miraculous medal just kept glinting in the sunshine, ruining Dr Ivereigh’s magic moment. It had to go…

  23. Paul Priest said,

    July 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    sadie – he started the war – we Catholics have few qualms finishing it…

  24. Sadie Vacantist said,

    July 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm


    I was making an abstract comment about war in general rather than responding to your personally. Using my own example, I would be deeply concerned about a House of Common’s vote on the issue of ‘cheating’ Italian cheekbone v ‘top bloke’ New Zealand elbow.

    As for you, declare war against Austin if you must but he is an untouchable and won an out of court settlement against Damian and I do believe, yes you’ve guessed it, “The Daily Mail”. The latter should evidently stick to Italian cheekbones.


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