I read the Pope’s letter to the Irish yesterday. As an exercise in damage limitation for the church it was fairly masterful. As an example of a genuine effort to root out and punish offenders it was an abject failure.
I will admit up front that I’m no fan of the Roman Catholic church. Quite apart from being an agnostic (almost to the point of atheism), history shows us that the church has a very nasty past and it remains to this day a deeply flawed organisation. Take just a couple of examples – Christ’s parable of the rich man and the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19) and his action in casting the money changers from the temple (Matthew 21). And yet the catholic church remains a vastly rich entity that owns its own bank.
That aside, I have nothing against individual Catholics and will defend to the last their right to hold their beliefs. But belief and action are two separate things. The Pope may believe that the sexual abuse of children is wrong – I’d be gobsmacked if he didn’t – but his actions have fallen very short.
In his message the Pope first gives us all a history lesson on Irish Catholicism. Fair enough – not much to take issue with there, except that it’s a tactic of obfuscation – first show the good things then maybe the bad things won’t look quite so dark. (At the risk of pre-empting Godwin’s Law – in it’s worst form of the tactic the holocaust denier would point out that Hitler was a non-smoking vegetarian!)
Let’s just look at a few of the things the Pope said in his letter, the whole tone of which seems to suggest that he regards the Church and canon law if not above, then aside from civil law.
At part 7 of his message the Pope writes to “priests and religious who have abused children” and says “I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow.” He stops short of saying that they should hand themselves in to the police. He does exhort his brother bishops to “continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence” – but this is little more than a side remark in a whole tract about the processes of the church and canon law. There is no real condemnation and, more to the point, there is no real commitment to defrock the guilty and expel them.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, has resisted calls to resign over his handling of abuse allegations in the 1970s that saw victims sign confidentiality agreements. The Pope nods in this direction when he says “In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations.”
I don’t know about you, but if someone came to me with accusations of child abuse against a colleague it would be a no-brainer – go straight to the competent authority, the police.
Let’s be clear about what Sean Brady was up to and give it its proper title – Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice.
At part 9 the Pope writes to “the children and young people of Ireland” as follows “I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age.”
Excuse me if I laugh. I am old enough to be a grandfather, and I remember being warned as a child forty years ago to beware of Catholic priests. The Vatican might genuinely believe that this is a new(ish) phenomenon, but that merely shows again how out of touch with the real world they are.