Thursday 23 November 2017

Rotten to the core

"It was just a few bad apples." That's been the standard excuse trotted out by the Catholic Church and its cheerleaders ever since the first evidence of clerical sex abuse started to emerge in the mid-90s.

The Murphy Report has now exploded that myth once and for all -- and no matter how painful it might be, it's time to face up to the truth of what that says about us as a country.

The Murphy Report is three volumes long, contains 750 pages and can be summed up in a single sentence. Rotten to the core.

It's the only possible verdict on a system where priests, police and politicians all colluded in protecting child rapists from the full rigours of the law.

The defining image of 20th-century Ireland is a famous photograph of Eamon de Valera kneeling to kiss the ring of the notoriously hardline Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

From the very moment that the British cleared out of Dublin Castle, the Church's leaders were made full partners in the new Irish Free State.

Their influence was so pervasive that Dev even sent drafts of the constitution around to the Archbishop's house to seek his approval before putting it to the people.

The legal system and Catholic social teaching became one and the same thing.

The State officially demanded a united Ireland, but the constitutional ban on divorce meant that keeping the clergy happy was actually a much higher priority.

The Church ran most of our schools and hospitals, giving them access to children with the horrific consequences that we now have to confront.

We all knew before yesterday that the Church contained more than its fair share of sadists and perverts. That in itself is not news.

What this report shows us is that the vast majority of priests knew what was going on but chose to turn a blind eye -- and for the many decent Catholics in this country, that's the hardest thing of all to accept.

Instead of the comforting "few bad apples" theory, we now have to face the fact that a "few good apples" was closer to the truth. The report makes clear that there were some brave individual priests who were deeply disturbed by the crimes being carried out in the name of God and brought complaints to their superiors.

In virtually every case, those complaints were ignored on the sick and twisted grounds that the Church's reputation was far more important than the suffering of innocent children.

Since the high point of Pope John Paul II's visit here in 1979, of course, the Church's power over every aspect of Irish society has been on a steep downwards curve.

After the unholy trinity of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy Reports, it is hard to see how it can ever recover.

Even so, there's a long list of actions the State needs to take now to put that dark era of deference and suffering well and truly behind us.

First, Judge Yvonne Murphy (who really has done the State some service) should be asked to extend her remit to every other diocese in the country.

Second, we must begin the long and complicated process of removing the Church's still considerable influence over our legal and education systems.

Finally, we need to see prosecutions -- because while vengeance might be an ugly emotion sometimes, many of the victims have made it clear that they won't be at peace until they see their tormentors standing in the dock.

So far, the response from the Church's leaders has been pitifully inadequate.

Diarmuid Martin is probably the most media-savvy Archbishop of Dublin we've ever had. Even this transparently decent man, however, cannot bring himself to call for the resignations of the bishops who have been named and shamed by this devastating report.

Cardinal Desmond Connell has suggested that the best thing is for abused children to forgive the paedophiles who destroyed their lives -- a statement which, not for the first time, makes you wonder what planet the man is living on.

Dermot Ahern has promised that the era when evil people could do these things under the cover of the cloth is over for good.

The Minister for Justice must be held to that promise.

We owe the victims at least that much -- and as a nation, we also owe it to ourselves.

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