The Ryan and Murphy
reports have exposed the extent of the abuse carried out against children by
Catholic priests in the Dublin Diocese between 1975 and 2004. It is also clear
that such abuses have occurred in practically all parishes of the Roman
Catholic Church in the whole island. Physical and sexual abuses also occurred
in industrial schools, orphanages, and the “Magdalene laundries run by orders
of nuns. It’s not our intention to
dwell on the detail of the investigations, but we feel that it is important to
look at the political and social ramifications of the reports.
No one would deny
that the Catholic Church in Ireland holds a central position in the culture and
politics of the state. It is true that over the past few decades that role has
tended to wane. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the
industrialisation of the country. This has broken down some of the old rural
communities and has reduced the influence of the bishops and priests. Ireland
is more exposed to different cultures and influences.
But there was a time
when the local priest was untouchable, when the Church’s word was undisputed,
when unmarried mothers were shipped off to England or the Magdalene laundries
and orphaned kids were put into industrial schools. Under these conditions it
doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to realise that the whole system left
thousands of children in a position of terrible vulnerability.
The truth is that the
combination of genuine faith in the Catholic Church among Irish people and the
opportunities that this permitted means that terrible wrongs were visited on
thousands of children. This situation arose and, worse, was able to continue
because of the unfettered power of the Church and the utter complacency and
collusion of the Church hierarchy. It also appears An Garda Siochana was just
James Connolly wrote
that religious belief was a private matter. He understood that many workers
have genuinely held religious views. But in an allegedly ‘advanced’ society,
which was apparently up until recently one of the ‘best’ places to live in the
whole world. It is outrageous that so much abuse was allowed to continue for so
long. The evidence points to a deeply hypocritical and rotten culture within
the Church, to which the Vatican was apparently prepared to turn a blind eye.
defence of the vulnerable and the exposure of wrongdoing and the abuse of power
are a sign of a healthy society. The evidence in the reports reveals a sick and
unhealthy side to Ireland. Throughout the whole world the ‘old established
institutions’ of the ruling class are in crisis. The Catholic Church has
managed to side with the winners, in other words the various ruling classes,
for millennia. They were the champions of the ‘god-given’ rights of kings and
landlords in feudal times and offered support to their respective ruling
classes in all the ‘just wars’ in history. The huge
material power of the Church in Ireland comes from the time of British
domination. The British handed state functions such as education and health to
the church because they were not concerned with ‘civilising"’ Ireland. The
Church has been protected and has been allowed to police itself, but at what a
has acted as a secret society. It has been its material power and collusion
with the state and the Vatican that has allowed sections of the clergy to
commit the moral and physical abuses on this massive scale and with impunity.
Institutionalised Catholicism has acted as a reactionary force throughout the
world particularly when allied with right wing and fascist dictatorships in
Europe and in Latin America. On every single occasion the hierarchy of the
church has taken the side of the oligarchs and the repressive and reactionary
regimes. And, when there has been progressive movement within the church such
as ‘liberation theology’ siding with the peasants, the workers and the poor,
the hierarchy have gone out of their way to repress ‘heresy’. However, liberation
theology seems to be much closer to the message of the gospel, and what
primitive Christianity represented.
No deals behind closed doors!
The revelations of
these reports will shake the conviction of many workers who genuinely hold
religious beliefs. There will be demands from workers and even the middle
classes for the Church to put its house in order, for auxiliary Bishops and
others to be thoroughly investigated and for those who are implicated to be
thrown out. We believe that no stone should be left unturned and that there should
be no ‘deals’ done behind closed doors.
The Trade Unions and
Labour Party must demand no immunity from prosecution for the clergy at all
levels, and officers of the Gardai at all ranks, who colluded with the abuse.
The whole system of
child protection and safeguarding in Ireland must be completely overhauled and
strengthened to ensure that the best possible protection is guaranteed to all
appointments should be made subject to independent external scrutiny and that a
process of positive vetting is put into place.
should be opened to public scrutiny and accountability and that punitive
compensation is paid to all victims of clerical abuse.
Church, given its historical failure to protect children, should give up its
control of the schools.