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The broadcaster RTÉ has apologised for falsely accusing a priest of abuse. It’s not the first time for Irish media, sadly

Let us hope they will be more careful in future

By on Monday, 10 October 2011

Nora Wall, left, leaves Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal in 2005 after being declared the victim of a miscarriage of justice (Photo: PA)

Nora Wall, left, leaves Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal in 2005 after being declared the victim of a miscarriage of justice (Photo: PA)

Some time ago I blogged about an RTÉ programme which made serious allegations about the conduct of certain Irish missionaries in Africa. While in some cases the facts were not in dispute, one of the priests accused of misconduct did protest his innocence. The allegations made against him were very specific, and of their nature disprovable; well, the priest in question has given absolutely convincing proof that he is innocent, and RTÉ has apologised, I am glad to say. One can read about the apology here on the RTÉ website and the reaction of the defamed priest himself on the same site.

I am glad that RTÉ has apologised fully for the damage they have done to an innocent man’s reputation, as well as for the severe disruption they have brought to his life. It would have been far better, of course, if they had checked their facts before the broadcast, or if they had researched matters a bit better. The uncomfortable fact remains that once an accusation of this nature is made, the following retraction does not always do its job, let alone get the same level of publicity. Let us hope RTÉ and other broadcasters will be more careful in future.

In fact the Irish media have form on this matter. Some may have heard of the case of Nora Wall, a former nun sentenced to life imprisonment for rape. Yet the real scandal of the Nora Wall case concerns the way a totally innocent woman was the subject of a hysterical witch-hunt. Miss Wall’s conviction was quashed, and she has been found to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice. You can read a summary of the case here. While the charges against Miss Wall aroused huge ire, the fact that an innocent woman was pilloried has not aroused similar passion. But a passion for justice ought to cut both ways.

While we are on the subject, one might call to mind the way the Irish journalist Hermann Kelly comprehensively investigated the allegations made in a best-selling misery memoir by one Kathy O’Beirne, and found that they were in fact based on fantasy; but O’Beirne was debunked only after the damage her accusations caused had been done. This included the defamation of a completely innocent priest who was physically quite incapable of committing the sort of act that she alleged against him.

When people make false accusations, who is to blame? The perpetrators, in the first place, but we must also blame, I think, those who whip up the sort of atmosphere that lends credibility to accusations which in the cold light of day are pretty incredible. The processes of justice are meant to be neutral in their workings. Which leaves me metaphorically stroking my chin at the thought of Enda Kenny, who has made an accusation against the Vatican which sounds very specific, but which has no known basis in fact. This has been dealt with in great detail by The Thirsty Gargoyle, and you can read his authoritative analysis here.

It is worth remembering that old wartime admonition: “Careless talk costs lives.”

  • John

    Well written. Let us Pray for the falsely accused whose lives are tarnished.

  • chiaramonti

    I trust RTE are going to pay for their defamation of this innocent priest. It is as gross a libel as can be imagined.  The damages should be enormous!

  • Anonymous

    RTE did release a very fulsome apology on the air-waves and hopefully it will go some way to repairing the character assassination that resulted from the unfounded accusations that they aired against the missionary priest.  The general atmosphere in media and broadcast circles in Ireland is one that is very much anti-Church where stories which accuse members of the priesthood of wrong-doing are very often taken at face-value and the agreed judicial standard of “innocent until proven guilty” is conveniently cast aside.  It seems to me that the opinion-formers and celebrity commentators who comprise the bulk of the left-leaning, secular establishment in Irish society, are ideologically driven in their pursuit of the Catholic Church and will use any weapon that is convenient to reduce their influence to the furthest margins of society.  This is not to diminish in any way the justifiable outrage and criticism leveled at members of the Church hierarchy who indulged in covering up the terrible deeds of priests in their dioceses, but rather to separate out the differing motivations influencing the attitudes of public figures on this harrowing topic.

  • Anonymous

    “When people make false accusations, who is to blame? The perpetrators, in the first place, but we must also blame, I think, those who whip up the sort of atmosphere that lends credibility to accusations which in the cold light of day are pretty incredible. The processes of justice are meant to be neutral in their workings. Which leaves me metaphorically stroking my chin at the thought of Enda Kenny, who has made an accusation against the Vatican which sounds very specific, but which has no known basis in fact. This has been dealt with in great detail by The Thirsty Gargoyle, and you can read his authoritative analysis here.”

    The Holy See has itself whipped up the sort of atmosphere that lends credibility to accusations which in the cold light of day might seem pretty incredible. One would expect an institution which claims to provide moral leadership to immediately be open. If, instead, it shows unmistakeable signs of obfuscation and evasion, then what should people infer? The processes of justice quite rightly take into account any obvious lack of forthright honesty.

    Enda Kenny made a number of accusations against the Vatican which have much basis in fact. The Thirsty Gargoyle steers around these facts, much as the Holy See did in its response to the Irish Government. (‘Steers’ is not quite the right word as it implies conscious evasion, and The Thirsty Gargoyle may be simply not facing up to those facts.) You claim The Thirsty Gargoyle to be an authority, but have you read this disclaimer? I would not put it past The Thirsty Gargoyle to use a technique like citing two cases of injustice in order to prepare the reader for a completely unbiased appraisal of whether a third case was just.

  • Honeybadger

    Oh, you just can’t bear it when an injustice has been done to an innocent priest!

    Bad, bad loser!

  • Honeybadger

    It is high time RTE were taken to task about their disgraceful disregard for good journalism as far as reporting the Roman Catholic Church is concerned.

    What has happened here is another example in which the journalistic nous of a berserker has been used and, thankfully, been brought to book. I sincerely hope that the BBC should also take note of what has happened at RTE.

    Unfortunately, mud sticks and it will take more than a generous pay-out to restore the good name and character of those wrongly accused.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you persist in blaming the Vatican for the local crimes of Priests and Bishops who defiantly refused to obey Vatican directives made clear since 1962!!!!???

    The rules were there in crimen sollicitationis – read it for yourself.

    Facts help validate arguments you know.

  • Anonymous

    I do not directly blame the Vatican for the child abuse, which contravenes Canon Law, but for the response to such crimes (and the lack of deterrence in that response). Don’t you agree that it is at odds with what the Republic of Ireland wants?

  • Anonymous

    I very much concur with your thoughts on this.  It seems that both RTE and the BBC are peas which emanated from the same ideological pod.  They apply a  much lower threshold in relation to the Catholic Church than to other public bodies, in regard to the application of fair play and natural justice.  The scandalous treatment of the priest by a so called national broadcaster is a case in point. 

  • Anonymous

    A priest’s character has been grossly defamed and you predictably decide to bring up the usual charges against the Vatican regarding sex abuse.  While never excusing the terrible nature of recent revelations, we have to make sure that priests or bishops who have been accused of such crimes are treated with impartiality and fairness from a juridical point of view and not “presumed guilty until proven innocent”.

  • Recusant

    What the Republic of Ireland wants should be decided in the Republic of Ireland, not the Vatican. Ireland was happy to dump all its problems in Industrial schools for years, no questions asked. Yes the Church in Ireland got puffed up on the flattery, obsequiousness and adulation it received from the Irish people, but the problems lie at the feet of the useless Irish bishops and the proportion of priests that joined for the status. The Vatican is smaller than Dublin Corporation, it is an irrelevance here.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with your comments about the priest. That does not make the devious penultimate paragraph of Lucie-Smith’s article immune from criticism.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    If you look at the RTE programme, the reaction to the abuse claims and the admitted abuse by the superior of the men concerned, Fr Anthony Chantry, general of the Mill Hill Missionaries, seemed to me to be very open and a model of what a superior’s reaction should be. I recall him saying something along the lines that the more transparency the better. He was the one handling the matter, not the Vatican, please note.

  • Anonymous

    It is not the size of the Vatican, but its influence, that matters here. The Holy See may protest that it has no control over bishops. It has tremendous control, not only over bishops but over Roman Catholics and, to some extent, over other Christians. Children are indoctrinated with the idea that what flows from the Vatican originates from God and is consistent with goodness. Believers are also voters, which gives the Pope much political influence. Flattery, obsequiousness, and adulation are part of the Catholic system, not peculiar to Ireland alone. It is a system that the Holy See is keen to maintain. Its influence in childhood education around the world is key. The Vatican is metaphorically raping countries via the orifice of Catholic schools. I support Enda Kenny’s protests.

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

    I’d not read too much into the disclaimer, if I were you. It was written four years ago, when I was resuming blogging after having had my old blog misquoted and misrepresented at huge length in an almost-successful attempt by someone to destroy my career and my good name. And yes, I know that sounds melodramatic, but I only wish I were exaggerating. If you were to work through the blog as written in fits and starts over the years, you’d see that it’s pretty clear that I’ve never been dishonest or disingenuous on it, and that it’s developed in an organic way far from how it began.

    September 2007 should be understood as a relaunch; posts before that date are adapted versions of ones on my old blog.

    That said, and putting aside all generalisations, would you like to state clearly which of Enda Kenny’s allegations you believe to have had much basis in fact, and which of those you believe I have steered around or refrained from facing? I don’t think I’ve missed anything, but if I have, I’d like the opportunity to correct it.

    Thanks.

    TG.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder why you still link to the disclaimer, as from the page that Lucie-Smith links to?

    Whatever Enda Kenny’s motives might have been for making his speech, and whatever his record of mendacity might be, and whatever he might have been particularly referring to when he complained of an attempt by The Holy See to frustrate an enquiry in a sovereign democratic republic, the attitude of the Holy See throughout the child abuse scandal has been one of causing frustration, not only in connection with the Cloyne Report. This is touched on in the Irish Examiner article that you link to. You refer to it under question 24 and only allude to the criticism of Lombardi under question 1. What is your response to the criticisms raised in the Irish Examiner article? This is the sort of thing that I refer to by “not facing up to facts”. To read Lombardi’s statement, as to read your piece, or to read the Holy See’s response to Kenny’s speech, one might conclude that the Holy See is all innocence. (The Holy See’s response is one more frustrator.)

    How has Canon Law been changed to give precedence to local law? (You might think that it should not give precedence in some countries, but one cannot have two conflicting laws operating in one place.) Whereas it is true that, if Canon Law had been followed, the crimes of abuse would not have been committed, Canon Law is an impediment when abuse is discovered.

  • Anonymous

    Then you really are quite mad to think the Vatican ever had ANYTHING to do with the way the Irish Church was being run. The State dumped its problems on the Church and the Church filled the vaccuum – and if any Irish person tells me they didn’t know that the Christian Brothers were violent fist-flinging bullies I’ll call them a liar – the Irish seem to have been overcome by a collective amnesia – parishioners KNEW which priests were tyrants and which ones weren’t keeping their vows inside or outside their parishes – but there was always a collective silence among the ‘faithful’ – and if some kids were raped and abused by the priest why did the families keep silent KNOWING there were possibly other victims or potential future victims.

    I won’t deny these priests were monsters; and the Bishops who covered up their crimes should be rounded up and locked away and the key broken and cast to the four corners of the earth ; but neither will I deny that the collective national homophobia drove most gays and lesbians into the priesthood or religious life out of fear and social embarrassment and systemic denial – little wonder that so many without vocation or any religious feelings became twisted in the life and chose that instead of a life of sacrifice and service they were going to get anything they wanted. And the priesthood and religious life also drew in those psychologically disturbed individuals who saw a chance to seize power over people – to manipulate and social engineer and play people off against one another – sure some became sex abusers but how many more merely engaged in petty politics or ruining parishioners’ lives or just tyrannising committees or schoolboards or whatever they could.

    There’s also the plain and simple fact that bullying parents and bullying schoolmasters and bullying priests were never stood up to – everyone always fell silent – or equivocated or denied it was happening – incredible that the nation so renowned for being able to fight about anything at the drop of a hat refused to actually fight about the things which were truly important – you just curled up and accepted – and so generation upon generation fed on this structural institutionalised bullying and psycho-manipulation – they were able to do it – so they continued to do it without opposition…

    And don’t come it with the downright lie that ireland was some medieval backwater when it came to the Church – since the late sixties modernism became rife – every new Church idea – be it architecture or policy or new fad or new progressive issue – the Church wallowed in it especially in the vast halls of academia – for every old-fashioned traditionalist cleric you had half a dozen trendy hippies who’d believe and instigate anything if it was progressive and ‘relevant’ – look to all the tabletista types who want the Church to change on every moral or ecclesial issue – you’ll find they have a strong base in Ireland – the middle class ‘professional’ laity have been in on the whole Church structure for decades – I know – I was in it with them.

    The Irish need to take a long look in the mirror – this is a national scandal they and their predecessors fomented it through submission and silence and collective denial – you ask social workers about the physical and sexual abuse in families and the teen suicide risk-rates and the clinical depression among the middle-aged and the still prevailing denial that any of it’s happening – even in the media – ironic that RTE will  go out of their way to produce documentaries on clerical abuse but they censor their court-reporting of the awkward cases of child abuse – like the 30% committed by women; the 60% of it committed by the under-25s. You try to tell the average member of the Irish public that babysitters or teachers or extended family members or their child’s siblings commit more child abuse than priests ever did – and that when it comes to direct family members the comparative rates of abuse are of geometric proportions.

    But no: Irish kids abused by the Irish whilke Ireland stayed silent: So Enda Kenny blames the Vatican!

    Who else can he blame? The Irish certainly aren’t going to admit any culpability [even via collective cogniscent silence] in any of this….they’re just going to blame this tyrannical non-existent bogeyman the Church and allocate the blame on the single guiltless man in the whole of this – a man who’s spent 23 years trying to resolve the issue and prevent its continuance and to stop the cover-ups – His Holiness the Pope.

    May God forgive the lot of you !

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

    Hang on, so when you say I don’t face up to aspects of Enda Kenny’s speech, you actually mean that I don’t face up to allegations in a newspaper article? Okay…

    Still, what are the allegations in that article you think I should be addressing?

    1. That the Congregation for Clergy’s 1997 advice to the Irish bishops was an unhelpful intervention that undermined the Irish Church’s child protection guidelines by saying that they could be contrary to canon law?
    I’ve addressed this in more than one post, pointing out that Murphy claims this, but never demonstrates it. You’ll see me addressing this on 16 July and 20 July, for instance, and in point 18 of the post linked to Father Lucie-Smith’s article. It’s best not to act as though I’ve only ever written about Cloyne once. I’d suggest in particular that you look at the original post and the series of posts between 6-10 September.

    2. That the Cloyne Report said that the Vatican told Irish bishops that the the adoption of framework document could be highly embarrassing for them?
    The Vatican didn’t say this, and the Cloyne Report didn’t say it did. It’s clear from the document that were the the guidelines to be applied in a noncanonical way, priests who had been found guilty could get off the hook on technical grounds, which would indeed by embarrassing and undesirable.

    3. That the director of One in Four claims that the culture of secrecy in the Irish Church was supported by official Vatican policy?
    I’ve refuted this general idea several times on my blog, starting with my very first post on Cloyne, way back on 16 July, when I argued that one of the purposes of the 1997 letter — the contents of which have been public knowledge since it was quoted in the first Murphy Report — was to ensure that guilty priests wouldn’t be able to get off on procedural grounds.

    I general I’d particularly point you to the 6 September post, but all told I’d recommend that you look at all my Cloyne pieces. I think I’ve addressed every issue I’ve seen raised.

    As for your question on Canon Law and its relationship to Civil Law, I’d suggest you read section 4.26 of the Cloyne Report, as referred to in my very first post on Cloyne, way back on 16 July. The passage explicitly says that a 2010 letter didn’t change anything but restated the situation in clear layman’s language, unambiguously stating the need for civil law to be followed. I’m intrigued about why you think Canon Law was an obstacle to justice in the Irish Church, given how the Murphy Report repeatedly says the Cloyne Report repeatedly shows that the problem was not the existence of Canon Law but the failure to apply it.

    I continue to link to the disclaimer page for a number of reasons: I like the photograph and have always loved that mosaic; I had indeed planned on doing whimsical pieces and based on brutal experience I didn’t want anyone mistaking those for serious pieces; I wanted to let people know that I was very much open to correction on any points of fact; and I wanted to give people a heads-up that I had a vague policy regarding whether or not comments would be published. Does any of that sound unreasonable to you?

  • Anonymous

    The Vatican according to you is “metaphorically raping countries via the orifice of Catholic schools”.  Yeah, teachers in these schools are figuratively violating the minds and souls of the children who attend these schools, by emphasizing the integrity and worth of each pupil,regardless of their religious or ethnic background and providing them with a well-rounded education at the same time.  
    Kenny’s words were overblown rhetoric mixed with a poor regard for the truth.  Certainly he captured some of the outrage which quite rightly people have expressed concerning the scandals but at the expense of honesty and fair play.

  • Anonymous

    “Hang on, so when you say I don’t face up to aspects of Enda Kenny’s speech, you actually mean that I don’t face up to allegations in a newspaper article?”

    I wrote that Enda Kenny made a number of accusations against the Vatican which have much basis in fact. Errors in the expression of an accusation do not change the basic facts. However wordy and erudite the condemnation of those errors, the basic facts remain. Much propaganda value can be gained by highlighting the errors, being able to proclaim that a specific accusation is false, and discrediting the perpetrator, while at the same time giving the impression that the basic facts are of no real concern. I chose an example to illustrate this (not having time to deal with all aspects of Kenny’s speech, but hoping that one example would be sufficient) – namely one relating to the Holy See’s attempts to frustrate. I chose the particular newspaper article because it was one that you had referenced. There are plenty more allegations elsewhere.

    “Still, what are the allegations in that article you think I should be addressing?”

    Let’s take the bit of Maeve Lewis’ reaction to Fr Lombardi’s response in which he says “It is further evidence, if it were needed, that the Vatican’s claim to prioritise the safety of children is completely lacking in credibility”. It is not good enough for Lombardi to say “the document Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response lent itself to objections, because it contained aspects that were problematic from the point of view of compatibility with universal Canon Law” and then claim that Canon Law was not an obstacle. But whether or not it was an obstacle, the the complacent tone of Lombardi’s statement justified the accusation regarding the priority given to the safety of children. (As I said, even when the official reaction by the Holy See promised by Lombardi at “the most appropriate time” was released, it constituted a further attempt at frustrating progress.)

    You might claim to have dealt with the above in what you say about the relevance of Canon Law to the Cloyne Report. I am concerned about the relevance of Canon Law to dealing with cases of child abuse in general. Historically, the time taken for cases to be dealt with (if dealt with at all) has sometimes been years. Although this is not acceptable, it is not a demonstration of the type frustration (‘heel dragging’) that I have referred to earlier. I do not dispute that there are mechanisms in Canon Law for dealing with abuse, but the hierarchy it enforces in combination with the lack of policing (let alone the seal of confession) means that it is too trusting of clergy to enforce it. This is a general problem, but was demonstrated in the Cloyne diocese.

    “I’m intrigued about why you think Canon Law was an obstacle to justice in the Irish Church, given how the Murphy Report repeatedly says the Cloyne Report repeatedly shows that the problem was not the existence of Canon Law but the failure to apply it.

    I am tempted to say “exactly”. What is the mechanism for ensuring that it is applied?

  • Recusant

    If only the Vatican had influence. If only people read Humanae Vitae and obeyed it. If only Maynooth taught faithfully Vatican doctrine. If only Ireland had listened to Pope John Paul II when he stood in the Phoenix Park and begged for peace. No, Ireland’s problems are all homegrown, in fact Catholicism was the best thing that ever happened to it, and I think a bit of gratitude from you would be appropriate, especially for the Catholic schools that educated the Irish state towards prosperity.

    Unfortunately, Ireland is a dreary little provence, full of bums and hypocrites looking for someone else to blame their problems on, a desire Kenny is only too happy to indulge. Once it was the British, and now it’s the Vatican. He ho.

  • Anonymous
  • Honeybadger

    Absolutely.

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

    I’m sorry, but I’m having real trouble in seeing what your point is.

    I’m not clear on what you think the basic facts are on the Holy See supposedly having attempted to frustrate anything.

    Rome expressed concerns about the framework document’s guidelines being implemented in a non-canonical way, such that guilty priests could successfully appeal on procedural grounds, something it didn’t think would be good. It had doubts about the wisdom of mandatory reporting, contrary to the wishes of victims, and though you might consider those doubts misplaced they were shared by the Irish state at the time. It told the Irish bishops not to hinder civil justice in any way. It stated that the law of the land must always be followed. It required Irish dioceses, which had all relevant documents for all Irish abuse cases, to cooperate fully with Irish national enquiries.

    Please tell me in what ways you think it sought to frustrate things?

    I hope you don’t think there’s no need for canon law. Do you think accused priests should be suspended from ministry while matters are being investigated? Do you think guilty ones should be permanently suspended? Do you think such priests should be barred from any dealings with children? Do you think there’s ever a case that priests tried by the state but found innocent solely on technical grounds should ever be restrained from dealing with children? Do you think there might be situations where priests against whom the state refuses to take any action should likewise be restrained from children? Do you think abusive priests should be laicised altogether? And do you think any such decisions should be made in a fair and consistent way, respecting the good name of the accused priest while primarily acting to protect the laity? Because if you do, you should be singing the praises of canon law.

    What mechanism is there to ensure canon law is applied? There’s a level at which all mechanisms are themselves instruments of canon law, which sounds self-defeating, but try thinking about that another way: what mechanism is there to ensure the civil law is applied? The answer is, of course, the police and judiciary, but these are themselves instruments of the civil law.

    The concept is a tricky one. Contrary to the collective imagination, the Catholic Church is not a neat pyramidal organisation. It’s a broad, flattish, messy family of clusters, with countless overlapping and interlinked entities: dioceses, orders, movements, parishes, families, charities, and so forth. Rome doesn’t really run things, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has an idea of how small its budget is. The dioceses, for instance, are almost wholly autonomous; bishops are appointed, and then they’re basically left to their own devices, save in matters of doctrine and certain things they’re meant to pass up to Rome.

    And therein lies the problem. Bishops are meant to apply canon law, but given how even the bishops’ archbishops have very limited control over them, there’s no real mechanism to make sure they’re doing so. If you were to suggest that Rome monitor the process on a regular basis, people would go ballistic, seeing this as intrusive and heavy-handed, as well as possibly being ecclesiologically iffy.

    For what it’s worth, in England the standard practice on receipt of a complaint is basically as follows: the accused priest is suspended while the civil authorities do their job, unfair though this may seem, and after the state has reached a decision the canonical process begins, which may result in a permanent barring from ministry and presentation as a priest or even in laicisation.

  • Anonymous

    “If you were to suggest that Rome monitor the process on a regular basis, people would go ballistic, seeing this as intrusive and heavy-handed, as well as possibly being ecclesiologically iffy”

    Let people go ballistic if they will not tolerate reasoned argument. (I would suggest the provision of the opportunity to provide reasoned feedback.) Intrusive? The intrusion is not into their private lives, nor into any consenting relationship (and I don’t mean pretentious consent), but into a sphere where there is not only every right to intrude, but a duty to do so. Heavy-handed? Ideally the heaviness of the hand should be proportional to the need. Ecclesiologically iffy? That is a non-argument.

    Messy structure? Deal with it. Obviously Rome cannot be expected to micro-manage, but it is responsible for the appointment of those who are sufficiently capable of dealing with local issues. Personally, I think that the Church is too involved with children, but if it seeks that role then it must be prepared to accept the accompanying responsibility. In making appointments, this consideration must be given priority over a candidates eagerness to promote the Church (or, rather, the two aims should be concomitant).

    The promotion of Cardinal Brady demonstrates a woefull lack of consideration for the safety of children in making appointments. The Pope seems to have no interest whatsoever in the sort of monitoring that might make the relevant canons more than wishful thinking. So what does the Holy See do? It tinkers (or at least tries to give the impression that it is doing something). It apologizes and makes admissions of shame. It arranges meetings with selected victims. This goes on for years. What is worse, it approves measures that are deliberately misleading (I gave the example of the Holy See’s response to the Irish government) in an apparent attempt to protect the reputation of the Church – measures that actually further damage its reputation from the point of view of many outside the Church or leaving it. This process is frustrating progress, if not preventing it.

    That is the big picture that you seem to fail to face up to. No amount of nit-picking and befuddling will change the basic facts.

    After centuries of priestly child abuse, the 1995 document Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response appears that claims to be a framework for a Church response (recommended to individual diocese and congregations), but isn’t; rather, it is a study document that should never have been presented as anything more. This fact cannot be altered by describing the document instead as guidelines sent to Rome in the hope of getting official approval. That seems to be representative of the spin that I perceive in your blog.

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

    You might perceive that spin, but I’m afraid that says more about your bias than my agenda. And I’d be very careful about trying to argue that I have one, for what it’s worth, as I’ve made clear time and time again how abhorrent abuse is, how desperately Ireland needs to deal with it, and how the current Irish government’s posturing on the matter is little more than rhetoric.

    After all our discussion, I’m still left wondering what you were talking about when you said:
    ‘Enda Kenny made a number of accusations against the Vatican which have much basis in fact.’
    I reckon Enda made four accusations — one in the general motion and three in the content of his speech — against the Vatican. I’ve dealt with them all, as has Rome.

    Please try to think about what you’re saying. Enda Kenny’s speech, which you have so championed, condemned the Vatican for interference in the Irish Church; you’re saying that it should interfere more, and should do so in a heavy-handed and intrusive way?

    I’m far from convinced that you have any understanding of what you’re talking about, as is showm by your dismissal of my recognistion that such intervention might be ecclesiologically iffy. The Church must act in accord with its nature, and there are many who would argue that Rome lacks the authority to intervene in the way you seem to think it should. Indeed, perceptions of Roman overstretch underlie the divisions with the Orthodox and some of the older Protestant communions.

    It’s certainly true that Rome’s responsible for the appointment of many of those — bishops, at any rate — who deal with local issues. But that’s not to say that Rome can sack them, as the relationship of the Pope to the other bishops is not like that of a CEO to his employees. Rather, it’s a lot closer to being one of first among equals. There is a primacy of authority there, just as there’s a primacy of honour, but it’s not such that people can be dismissed with ease. The Pope’s job, following Peter, is to strengthen his brethren, not to chastise them.

    How did the promotion of Cardinal Brady to the cardinalate in 2007 demonstrate any lack of consideration for the safety of children? I presume — perhaps unfairly — that you’re alluding to his having recorded the details of allegations from two victims of Father Brendan Smyth in the mid-1970s? It is true that that story came to light in 1997, but nobody in Ireland cared at the time and the story didn’t catch on until it was relaunched to great attention in March 2010. Do you think it likely that the Pope even knew the story in 2007?  Nobody in Ireland seems to have complained about Brady before last year, after all.

    Your last paragraph is absurd, I’m afraid. The whole ‘after centuries of priestly abuse’ thing is nonsense. Do you have real figures for that, or just the odd anecdote from here and there, of no historical — let alone legal — value? After all, if the American figures are applicable, it seems that abuse probably always has existed in the Church, as it has everywhere, but that in the Church it was at an incredibly low level until the 1960s, at which point it started to rise, peaking around the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then tailing off again, such that it’s now at a very low level again. Still unacceptable, of course, but the data we have suggests that it was only prevalent for a short period, and certainly not ‘centuries’.

    That takes us to the Framework document, which I’d misunderstood when I wrote my original post, and which you still seem to misunderstand now.

    Firstly, the Framework document was a study document, in that it was a work in progress, and was something that needed to be field-tested. It was as such that it was passed on to Rome, but wasn’t submitted in the hope of getting formal approval through being incorporated into canon law.

    Secondly, it was a framework for the Irish Church’s response, in that each bishop had committed himself to implementing it fully in his own diocese. It may not have been official policy for the Irish Church, since there’s a very real sense in which there’s no such thing, but it was official policy in each diocese.

    This isn’t spin. It’s simply how the Church works. Each diocese is largely autonomous. You’re delusional as to the extent of the influence the Vatican has. Look at the Austrian Church nowadays, or Irish clergy publicly sneering at the new Mass translations. Rome has shockingly little influence.

  • Anonymous

    If I could “like” that post 10 times, I would. There is no proportion between the vile behaviour of the Church authorities and the failings of RTE,  even with the need for this apology by RTE.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your reply. I will respond when I have found my source for the “centuries” claim.

  • Anonymous

    “You might perceive that as spin, but I’m afraid that says more about your bias than my agenda. And I’d be very careful about trying to argue that I have an apologetic one, for what it’s worth, as I’ve made clear time and time again how abhorrent abuse is, how desperately Ireland needs to deal with it, and how the current Irish government’s posturing on the matter is little more than rhetoric.”

    So you agree with the Vatican regarding the abhorrence of abuse, the Irishness of Ireland’s problem, and the attitude of the Irish Government. In what way does this mark you out as non-apologetic?

    “After all our discussion, I’m still left wondering what you were talking about when you said:
    ‘Enda Kenny made a number of accusations against the Vatican which have much basis in fact.’
    I reckon Enda made four accusations — one in the general motion and three in the content of his speech — against the Vatican. I’ve dealt with them all, as has Rome.”

    And you dealt with them in a way similar to the Holy See’s – much detail about something that is not quite the issue.

    “Please try to think about what you’re saying. Enda Kenny’s speech, which you have so championed, condemned the Vatican for interference in the Irish Church; you’re saying that it should interfere more, and should do so in a heavy-handed and intrusive way? So you’re cheering him on and saying he’s fundamentally wrong?”

    Cheering on the criticism of negative interference while proposing positive interference.

    “I’m far from convinced that you have any understanding of what you’re talking about, as is showm by your dismissal of my recognistion that such intervention might be ecclesiologically iffy. The Church must act in accord with its nature, and there are many who would argue that Rome lacks the authority to intervene in the way you seem to think it should. Indeed, perceptions of Roman overstretch underlie the divisions with the Orthodox and some of the older Protestant communions.”

    Saying that the Church must act according to its nature is almost as vacuous. If it is not in the nature of the church to act responsibly, this does not excuse it.

    “It’s certainly true that Rome’s responsible for the appointment of many of those — bishops, at any rate — who deal with local issues. But that’s not to say that Rome can sack them, as the relationship of the Pope to the other bishops is not like that of a CEO to his employees. Rather, it’s a lot closer to being one of first among equals. There is a primacy of authority there, just as there’s a primacy of honour, but it’s not such that people can be dismissed with ease. The Pope’s job, following Peter, is to strengthen his brethren, not to chastise them.”

    This is how you see things are at present, not how they could be. I think some barriers to dismissal would be removed if the Church was less ambitious. Ambition is not an excuse for wrong-doing.

    “How did the promotion of Cardinal Brady to the cardinalate in 2007 demonstrate any lack of consideration for the safety of children? I presume — perhaps unfairly — that you’re alluding to his having recorded the details of allegations from two victims of Father Brendan Smyth in the mid-1970s? It is true that that story came to light in 1997, but nobody in Ireland cared at the time and the story didn’t catch on until it was relaunched to great attention in March 2010. Do you think it likely that the Pope even knew the story in 2007?  Nobody in Ireland seems to have complained about Brady before last year, after all.”

    Given Ratzinger’s previous position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and given his obligation to know who he is elevating, I think there is every chance that the Pope did know. Lack of complaints make no difference.

    “Your last paragraph is absurd, I’m afraid. The whole ‘after centuries of priestly abuse’ thing is nonsense. Do you have real figures for that, or just the odd anecdote from here and there, of no historical — let alone legal — value? After all, if the American figures are applicable, it seems that abuse probably always has existed in the Church, as it has everywhere, but that in the Church it was at an incredibly low level until the 1960s, at which point it started to rise, peaking around the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then tailing off again, such that it’s now at a very low level again. Still unacceptable, of course, but the data we have suggests that it was only prevalent for a short period, and certainly not ‘centuries’.”

    The article that I wanted to link to (but have not located) may have been derived from the book Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse which I came across while searching. I did not make any claim about the extent of priestly sexual abuse in the past other than implying that it was sufficient to concern the Church, but it would be surprising if it suddenly appeared in the sixties. If your data are based on the recent Jay Report then they are not credible.

    “That takes us to the Framework document, which I’d misunderstood when I wrote my original post, and which you still seem to misunderstand now.

    Firstly, the Framework document was a study document, in that it was a work in progress, and was something that needed to be field-tested. It was as such that it was passed on to Rome, but wasn’t submitted in the hope of getting formal approval through being incorporated into canon law.

    Secondly, it was a framework for the Irish Church’s response, in that each bishop had committed himself to implementing it fully in his own diocese. It may not have been official policy for the Irish Church, since there’s a very real sense in which there’s no such thing, but it was official policy in each diocese.”

    So, more than just guidelines sent to Rome in the hope of getting official approval then. The ‘spin’ is in the omission, but if you misunderstood when you wrote your original comment, then I cannot claim that it is deliberate spin.

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

    I’m confused. You say:
    So you agree with the Vatican regarding the abhorrence of abuse, the Irishness of Ireland’s problem, and the attitude of the Irish Government. In what way does this mark you out as non-apologetic?
    You don’t think that abuse is abhorrent? You don’t think that 27% of Irish adults have been abused, or that almost all abuse in Ireland nowadays is committed within the family circle? And you think that that Helen Buckley is wrong when she says: ‘This Government doesn’t understand what child protection is. Their version of child protection is strengthening legislation which affects about 5pc of children. What they are actually doing is cutting back on child protection. That’s the reality of what the Government is doing’?

    I dealt with every single one of Enda’s allegations. If they weren’t issues, they why did he make such allegations? Indeed, if they weren’t issues, then why are you trying to defend him having claimed that they were?

    Do you really think Enda proposed positive interference by Rome in Ireland in order to force Irish bishops to enforce compliance with civil or canon law? I’d suggest you reread his speech. He specifically condemned the use of due process by canon lawyers – though in what context I can’t tell, because the only Cloyne case passed on to Rome was one that was handled properly. Simple question, then, based on the speech: where does Enda propose positive interference by Rome in the conduct of the Irish Church?

    You’re missing the point on Church structure again. It’s more like a community of families than it is a corporation. Each diocese is largely autonomous. Each diocese is also expected to act responsibly. How could Rome make the dioceses be more compliant? Any ideas? It seems strange too that you think the Church should be less ambitious. How you square that with the idea of Rome being more intrusive, I do not know.

    On Brady, that’s just supposition on your part. Lack of complaints do make a difference: the Pope is more likely to have more knowledge of a problem if it’s something that’s in the news. The fact is that people didn’t perceive any scandal about Brady, so it was hardly something that’d have been on the Pope’s radar. And given that Brady’s promotion to the cardinalate didn’t in any way affect his position in Ireland, I still don’t see what this says about child protection.

    I hope that book’s not what you based your claim on. It has merits, but an understanding of historical methodology is not among them. It barely covers the topic of historical abuse, touching on it just twice, It provides no evidence for historical instances of abuse, and it conflates all legislation on clerical sexuality in such a way as to create the impression that the use of minors was a common and recurring problem. Take a look at the canons, such as we have them, of the Synod of Elvira, which is linked with clerical abuse despite never addressing the topic. This historical incomperence is particularly misleading in the ancient and medieval periods, when laws were often designed to cover eventualities that might happen, rather than things which were being dealt with. The lack of any corroborative evidence is telling.

    I’m not saying that abuse began in the sixties, and neither of the Jay Reports make such a claim. On the contrary: the evidence, such as we have it, suggests that there has always been abuse in the Church, but that it was on a very low level until the sixties. It also seems to have varied from country to country: it seems that in England and Wales, for instance, leaving aside their truth or otherwise, abuse allegations have been made against fewer than 1% of priests, as opposed to the 4% or so which we see in Ireland and America.

    Why don’t you believe the Jay Report is credible? Its findings seem to tally with research carried out by others. Do you have better data from elsewhere?

    On my final point, the bishops’ guidelines seem to have been both more and less than guidelines sent to Rome in the hope of official approval.

    They were less than that in that they were never sent in the hope of approval; Murphy got it wrong in her reports, as the bishops had never sought approval. They were sent to Rome just before Christmas 1996, with an explanation that the guidelines were going to the printers in early January and that if Rome really wanted input it’d have to move sharp.

    But they were more than that in that they didn’t need Roman approval. As each diocese is basically autonomous, so each bishop was free to implement the guidelines as official policy in his own diocese, and that’s exactly what happened. Magee clearly didn’t give a toss about them, really, but he did formally agree with the other bishops that he’d apply them in Cloyne.

  • Anonymous

    “I’m confused. You say:
    So you agree with the Vatican regarding the abhorrence of abuse, the Irishness of Ireland’s problem, and the attitude of the Irish Government. In what way does this mark you out as non-apologetic?
    You don’t think that abuse is abhorrent? You don’t think that 27% of Irish adults have been abused, or that almost all abuse in Ireland nowadays is committed within the family circle? And you think that that Helen Buckley is wrong when she says: ‘This Government doesn’t understand what child protection is. Their version of child protection is strengthening legislation which affects about 5pc of children. What they are actually doing is cutting back on child protection. That’s the reality of what the Government is doing’?”

    You claimed not to have an apologetic agendum (which, by the way, I was not saying you did have). I took this to refer to apologism in defence of the Holy See, so I was surprised that the examples that you gave (abhorrence etc.), apparently to demonstrate your variance from Rome’s position, actually matched Holy See pronouncements. I’m guessing now that I misunderstood you, but I do not know what you really meant. (For the record, I do think that abuse is abhorrent. I do not know how much abuse takes place within families, nor the effectiveness of measures to combat it, and am no so interested in that aspect.)

    “I dealt with every single one of Enda’s allegations. If they weren’t issues, they why did he make such allegations? Indeed, if they weren’t issues, then why are you trying to defend him having claimed that they were?”

    The issues I referred to are the basic problems (such as the Church’s continuing frustration of progress that I mentioned). If Enda’s allegations were flawed, though have much basis in fact, then the way to progress would be to deal with that basis, not to jump on the flaws as a means of drawing attention away from that basis.

    “Do you really think Enda proposed positive interference by Rome in Ireland in order to force Irish bishops to enforce compliance with civil or canon law? I’d suggest you reread his speech. He specifically condemned the use of due process by canon lawyers – though in what context I can’t tell, because the only Cloyne case passed on to Rome was one that was handled properly. Simple question, then, based on the speech: where does Enda propose positive interference by Rome in the conduct of the Irish Church?”

    Enda does not propose the sort of positive interference that I was suggesting, though I do not think that you can infer that he would reject it if it was proposed. He said “the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic”, but surely he was not meaning to reject good Roman practices (providing that they were compatible with democracy and civil society)?

    “You’re missing the point on Church structure again. It’s more like a community of families than it is a corporation. Each diocese is largely autonomous. Each diocese is also expected to act responsibly. How could Rome make the dioceses be more compliant? Any ideas? It seems strange too that you think the Church should be less ambitious. How you square that with the idea of Rome being more intrusive, I do not know.”

    The ambition that I alluded to was the dream of expansion. I have no objection to ambitions that I consider to be benign or beneficial. I realise that the structural reform that might provide adequate safety is ambitious in a sense, but not in the sense that it might be unachievable. A key lever is the ‘brand name’ of Roman Catholicism – any divisions that refused to implement the reforms would no longer be able to identify themselves as belonging to that brand (and would also seem to be opposing the safety of children).

    “On Brady, that’s just supposition on your part. Lack of complaints do make a difference: the Pope is more likely to have more knowledge of a problem if it’s something that’s in the news. The fact is that people didn’t perceive any scandal about Brady, so it was hardly something that’d have been on the Pope’s radar. And given that Brady’s promotion to the cardinalate didn’t in any way affect his position in Ireland, I still don’t see what this says about child protection.”

    The point was that Rome must delegate some child protection measures to persons who can be trusted to ensure the measures are implemented, not to persons inclined to hide abuse.

    “I hope that book’s not what you based your claim on. It has merits, but an understanding of historical methodology is not among them. It barely covers the topic of historical abuse, touching on it just twice, It provides no evidence for historical instances of abuse, and it conflates all legislation on clerical sexuality in such a way as to create the impression that the use of minors was a common and recurring problem. Take a look at the canons, such as we have them, of the Synod of Elvira, which is linked with clerical abuse despite never addressing the topic. This historical incomperence is particularly misleading in the ancient and medieval periods, when laws were often designed to cover eventualities that might happen, rather than things which were being dealt with. The lack of any corroborative evidence is telling.”

    Even if the laws were designed to cover eventualities that might happen (amidst an amazing low level of abuse), then it still demonstrates that the problem has been considered over centuries, which was my point.

    “Why don’t you believe the Jay Report is credible? Its findings seem to tally with research carried out by others. Do you have better data from elsewhere?”

    “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010″ has been debunked by Miranda Celeste.