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Should a Taoiseach’s statements be factually true or merely emotionally satisfactory?

Surely, one lesson has been learned from the abuse crisis: lies and half-truths can be deadly

By on Friday, 9 September 2011

It seems that Enda Kenny is happy to let foreigners at the Vatican take the blame (Photo: PA)

It seems that Enda Kenny is happy to let foreigners at the Vatican take the blame (Photo: PA)

Only two logical possibilities arise from the Irish government’s statement on the Vatican’s response to the Cloyne report, released Thursday evening. Either:

(a) The Taoiseach has evidence of the 2008 Vatican interference with the Irish inquiry he alleged last July – and he is withholding it; or

(b) The Taoiseach has no such evidence of interference and is covering up the embarrassing fact that he made a false statement in international diplomacy.

Either way, the Irish people – and Catholics worldwide – deserve straight answers, and not the sort of disregard for fact and truth that enabled widespread abuse to go undiscovered for so long in the first place.

The government statement on the Vatican’s response to the Cloyne report was published yesterday evening. It struck a conciliatory tone in places, but reiterated the government’s view that that the now infamous 1997 letter “from the then Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Storero, to the Irish Bishops, regardless of whether or not it was intended to do so, provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities in regard to the abuse of minors.” This may well be true.

However, when it comes to the Taoiseach’s specific allegation that the Vatican interfered in an Irish enquiry three years ago, the statement only contains the extremely spurious line that “the comments made by the Taoiseach and other political leaders accurately reflect the public anger of the overwhelming majority of Irish people at the failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Holy See to deal adequately with clerical child sexual abuse…” However, such emotional accuracy is hardly a proper substitute for factual accuracy.

Kenny’s speech most certainly did reflect widespread – and in many ways justified – public anger at the Church. However, the head of a government engaged in international diplomacy should not be acting as the leader of a therapy group. He should make statements based on fact, in the interests of his people and – in this case – most especially in the interests of the victims of child abuse.

Given that Kenny is extremely unlikely to hide evidence of any Vatican wrongdoing, the Taoiseach’s ongoing failure to substantiate his allegation forces us to conclude that, in all likelihood, he has no real evidence of the Vatican interference he so dramatically claimed last July. So, why did he make such a claim?

The Irish state, at all times when the abuse in question was perpetrated, had a free press, a police force, a judiciary and democratically elected politicians – of which Mr Kenny was one since 1975. Ireland even had an army, if it came to it. In reality, there was little to stop the Irish state from protecting its children, except a bizarre prevailing attitude that meant sexual crimes by clergy were utterly unthinkable to most people – and therefore became unsayable too. That, and the actions of some bishops, police and others amounted to a horrendous cover-up in officialdom and in the Church.

The state had the ultimate responsibility for supervising schools. It had a responsibility for looking after its citizens. It failed. And not just as regards Catholic schools, but Protestant ones too – and it continues to fail children in civil society to this day, as very recent reports have shown.

This should not be allowed to distract from the Church’s failures, and the terrible crimes that were committed by some of its clergy. The failures of Church and state are closely related, in fact, as one of the reasons for the state’s failure was the refusal of some bishops (and police) to act effectively on claims of abuse. In the cases of some bishops this cover-up amounted to outright deception and the perversion of justice. Such crimes should be revealed, proven and punished.

Yet likewise, the Irish state should not be allowed to make apparently false accusations against the Vatican to distract from its own failings. The Taoiseach should not be allowed to get away with piling further untruths upon decades of deception and cover up. In the alternative, if what he said is true – and he has evidence for it – the Vatican should not get away with any alleged interference in 2008.

In all likelihood, it appears that the Taoiseach or his speechwriters made an error and Kenny is now too proud to admit it. Additionally, he feels under no political or media pressure to clarify his accusation, as everyone is happy to leave the blame rest with the foreigners in the Vatican. Kenny’s apparent error should be admitted, as truth-telling is precisely the objective of these inquiries into child abuse – with the ultimate aim of making sure similar crimes never happen again on such a scale.

Concern for the truth should be paramount. Out of all of this, surely one lesson has been learned: lies, half-truths and emotionally satisfactory versions of the truth are the cause of decades of cover-up – they will not be the solution to it.

  • http://twitter.com/thirstygargoyle Thirsty Gargoyle

    The current line — see here: http://thethirstygargoyle.blogspot.com/2011/09/shattered-hope.html — is that Enda was referring to the Nuncio’s 2009 response to a request to provide data for the Murphy Commission’s investigation at Cloyne.

    Aside from the fact that the detail of this explanation makes no sense, it contradicts the previous line: in July the Taoiseach’s people said he wasn’t talking about anything in particular, and now they claim that he was indeed talking about a specific incident.

  • James

    Ireland was the land where Christ and Caesar walked hand in glove. The state effectively handed over responsibility to the Church to run the schools and orphanages.

    If there was a cover-up, successive Irish governments were up to their necks in it too.

  • Parasum

    “Either way, the Irish people – and Catholics worldwide – deserve
    straight answers, and not the sort of disregard for fact and truth that
    enabled widespread abuse to go undiscovered for so long in the first
    place.”

    Vatican, take note. So Kenny was responsible for all those cover-ups – everything is now so much clearer.  Shouldn’t someone tell Abp. Martin ? For some reason, he seems to be under the impression – obviously quite unfounded, as we now know – that the Church has something to answer for. He must be one of those relativists we’ve been warned against.

    “Concern for the truth should be paramount. Out of all of this, surely
    one lesson has been learned: lies, half-truths and emotionally
    satisfactory versions of the truth are the cause of decades of cover-up –
    they will not be the solution to it.”

    The Vatican really should take note of that.

  • Anonymous

    What a question.  Of course the Taoiseach, like all politicians, tells nothing but the truth.  I’m sure politicians everywhere admit when they err, are only interested in the welfare of the people they serve and are totally honest.  Of course I also believe that the moon is made from blue cheese.

  • ms catholic state

    I agree.  Secularists and even some Catholics seem brainwashed into thinking that their secular political masters are totally dedicated to their citizens while remaining completely uninterested in power, self interest, wealth or forcing their hidden agendas upon us….while the Pope and the Vatican….well they are complete power crazed money grabbers with no interest in the welfare of individuals at all.

    So much for rationality.

  • http://twitter.com/Donum_Vitae Life is Good

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Nat_ons

    To his fellow elected members, he owes a duty of honesty in forthright truth – publicly apologising for any wilful misleading of them or their trust. To his electorate, his has a requirement of diligent honesty in humble service – publicly apologising for any unintended offence, misleading stance or covering up of truth .. even if such honesty is harmful to his career. To God, the Catholic Church, and all mankind, as an elected leader he has the most fundamental of all Christian virtues in governance: humility before God and man in truth; neither statistics, reported facts, let alone politicly satisfying emotions can excuse falsehood; and it is the falsehood of his diatribe that remains inexcusable – apologising to his elected peers, to his befuddled electorate, and to the world and its Creator for diatribe over truth, it would seem, is very low on his prime ministerial priorities.

    That there was a woeful neglect of foresight in a Vatican Office in regard to its advice cannot justly be denied, at least in so far as it could be used as a pretext for those who were looking for a way to ignore sound advice. However, this human frailty in avoiding foreseeable misuse of advice (if one has all the relevant data) can only be a pretext for what the misuser had already decided upon, and thus a mere pretext for those who would use it against the advisor. In the Cloyne Report the minimal concern of unhelpfulness in advice given, being perhaps used a pretext to ignore rules .. but not demonstrably so, was turned into a grandstand, politically expedient, self-satisfying rant (welcomed by a great number of Irish men and women, clearly without the least regard for Rome’s Catholicism or their own, if they have any catholic feeling left at all rather than my-own-belief relativism).

    The Irish have toyed with and employed victimhood for so long many find it a comfort blanket behind which to hide when they are threatened, here with some mightily painful truths about themselves. Not that the peoples of Ireland have not had a history of being abused, misused and simply used, they have, both by hostile foreigners and more treacherously by their leaders (even in Christ, and those from whom they might rightly expect protection nor perversion). But the ideas of genuinely being a victim and condemning an official ignoring of this, in sexual abuse, misused corporal punishment, or long-held unjust penal codes, and that of using victimhood, as a comfort from truth, are not compatible in big, grown up, morally responsible men and women; so too the notion of anti-clericalism, for it is not new among the Irish – as some like to image, for at least among the fashionably fey literary elite (and those who fashion themselves on it) it has, in fact, a sturdy tradition; again, having a love-hate relationship with the discipline of Rome’s Catholicism, especially as this has found expression among Irish clerics, did not arise yesterday.

    There you have Mr Kenny and the popular reaction to him among the Irish, he has hugged the comfort blanket of me-I’m-a-victim of the world to them so that they can all ignore their own national shame that this abusive system of politics was their chosen, supported and imposed rule. For it was elected political choice that lumbered the all too eager Catholic Church with decaying British education, penal institutions and civil service codes of secrecy .. and did this without adequate state supervision of state provision for decade after decade (long after these had been antiquated ways had been superseded in Britain). And this is true, in large part, for both states on the island of Ireland – not merely those run by the Catholic Church, as Kincora Boy’s Home indicates, three members of staff at the small care home were charged with a number of offences relating to the systematic abuse of children in their care over a number of years..

    Any careful scrutiny of adoption, mental health institutions, and borstal-style penal reform would exhibit a catalogue of horrifying abuses .. in truth, if it were possible, the ordinary schooling system had to contend with sick, abusive and perverted souls. Too often they were simply ignored, covered for or shipped off to be someone else’s problem. Sadly, many (if not most) of the institutional records cannot now be accessed, other than through the passing witness of its genuine victims (and many of them were wholly incapable of expressing their dismay other than by self-destruction, being incarcerated under almost penal conditions in asylums as a matter of course).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_(film)

  • Anonymous

    ms catholic state:

    We are mostly in agreement I think.  I’m not sure how the pope, Vatican, Catholic Church et al can be seen as money grabbers when they have been on the pay out side of all these scandals and when the Catholic Church is one of the top 10 charities on the planet.  On the other side these priest scandals show that the Church must do a better job in screening candidates for the priesthood, be vigilent and take quick action when a priest is confused to clear the priest or remove him from ministry.  Fr. Corapi was a huge disappointment.  He may be the best example of a money grabbing, power seeking cleric. Keep the warnings of our Lady of Akita when thinking about priests.  We need to pray for, help and defend innocent priests from unjustified attacks from organizations whose agenda is to destroy the Church e.g. SNAP.  Remember….no priests…..no Eucharist…..no Church.

  • Recusant

    Why do you expect the Vatican to intervene when Irish people turned a blind eye to it for years? People knew what was going on in places like Artane and did nothing. ThIs was an evil made in Ireland and making the Vatican take the blame is the biggest untruth of all. The Vatican is not a head office, it is a Supreme Court, and Irish people’s rage at the Vatican is just a way of not looking at themselves.

  • Harper

    Hitler’s lies about the Jews also reflected public anger. Kenny’s romper-suited and ignorant Kulturkampf is equally unjustifiable.

  • Bob Hayes

    The 1916 Proclamation of the Provisional Government declared that the Republic had a responsibility for ‘cherishing all the children of the nation’. For generations Irish governments farmed-out schools, orphanages and reformatories to the Church on an ‘ask no questions basis’. Well, there are many questions to be asked and answered – and not just by the Church. Vatican-bashing is a useful tool to deflect questioning away from the State’s neglecting rather than cherishing its children. When the wicked crimes against children were being perpetrated where was the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Justice, an Garda Síochána,
    local councillors and – Mr Kenny – where were Teactaí Dála and Taoisigh? 

  • Anonymous

    The Government statement expresses “great concern” about the Archbishop’s letter …
     
    This begs a very obvious and serious question, one the Irish Government needs to answer. Is it a matter of “great concern” to the Irish Government that in 1996 the Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, and the Fine-Gael Labour Coalition Government of the day, and subsequent Governments since, have failed to introduce mandatory reporting thereby facilitating the freedom of large numbers of abusers in Irish society and indeed throughout the world?
     
    Lacking the killer instinct I will leave it to another to demand the obvious! 

  • Anonymous

    SELECTIVE MATTERS OF GREAT CONCERN: THE GOVERNMENT’S MOST RECENT STATEMENT RAISES AT LEAST ONE VERY SERIOUS QUESTION The somewhat sober Government statement opens by thanking the Holy See for its response, followed by an acknowledgement of the Holy See’s expression of sorrow and shame, and concludes with an expectation of the “fullest cooperation from the Holy See, the Catholic Church in Ireland and all other relevant bodies …” Have we forgotten that thanks to Ian Elliott and his team the Irish Government got just that in Cloyne.Thereafter the Statement contains two short paragraphs. Firstly, the Government maintains the view that the Nuncio’s letter “provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities” and concludes “this is a matter of great concern to the Irish Government.” May I be permitted to ask a question without being told I’m missing the point? Is it a matter of grave concern to the Irish Government that the failure of Mr. Noonan in 1996 and the then Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government, together with the failure of subsequent Governments since, to introduce mandatory reporting, has facilitated very large numbers of abusers remaining free in Irish society and throughout the world?Lacking the killer instinct I’ll leave it to another to make the obvious demands!Secondly, the Government Statement points out that the various statements of political leaders “accurately reflect the public anger of the overwhelming majority of Irish people …” I am increasingly of the view that the only redeeming factor in Enda’s speech in the Dail is that it reflected a nation’s anger, including my anger. However, I believe, in time, Ireland will discover that the “appalling past failures” of the Catholic Church are in fact a mirror image of an appalling problem throughout Irish society.We’ve been straining out the 10%, lets continue that good work, but it’s now time to tackle the other 90% too! We already know what it’s going to look like – far too much like the bishops and the Catholic Church for our collective comfort – but do we have the stomach to face it?

  • Anonymous

    Precisely. What better way for him to deflect attention from the Irish state’s culpability in the abuse?  After all, who has primary responsibility for the welfare of the children – the state or the Church?  Clearly, the Church has made grave errors, but the Irish state has no moral right whatsoever to hide behind vitriolic statements, as they are primarily responsible for their own citizens. 

  • Anonymous

    Thirsty Gargoyle – the analysis you have done on the child abuse crisis is in my opinion unparalleled. It is rigorous and fair with a concern for the truth not often evident elsewhere. Thank you for this great service.

    To anyone interested in considered analysis; go and have a look at his blog.

  • Jameshughes

    And no salvation!!!

  • Jameshughes

    what did this guy Kenny do for a living before he got into politics? Perhaps the Irish people should look for a whole new leadership because they seem to be being led by clowns who make wildly inaccurate statements which cant be substantiated.

  • Jameshughes

    Nor are they looking at their politicians . Just look at the mess of the Irish economy and it is obvious why these guys run off at the mouth.