Fintan O’Toole puts his finger on the problem underlying the sex abuse cases that have been so spectacularly mishandled by the Catholic Church… It is not as its many secular/liberal critics like to suggest, the Church itself, but the reaction of a powerful elite trying desparately to hang on to the very power that allowed such institutional transgressions against its own moral code.
The church leadership has now adopted a three-fold strategy: blame the victims; invoke anti-Catholic persecution; and identify modernity as the root of the problem. Benedict himself began the process of blaming the victims in his Palm Sunday sermon when he spoke of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion. The next step of painting the church leadership, not as powerful people with questions to answer, but as innocent victims of persecution, was taken by the preacher to the papal household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa.
Showing that no strategy is too tasteless to be deployed, he cited a letter from a Jewish friend, comparing attacks on the churchs record on child abuse to the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. Cantalamessa himself linked demands for accountability in the church to the herd psychology and the search for a scapegoat through which the weakest element, the different one is victimised. The ironies in this exercise in self-pity are almost beyond satire.
As for those liberal critics, Fintan believes they are looking in the wrong place. Religion per se is not the common factor here:
They may blame Catholicism itself, as if other belief systems did not end up justifying vile crimes. They may blame celibacy, as if the vast majority of attacks on children were not perpetrated by non-celibates often, indeed, by the childs own parents. The truth is that child abuse and cover-up are not primarily about religion or sex. They are about power. The bleak lessons of human history are that those who have too much power will abuse it. And that organisations will put their own interests above those of the victims.
Indeed. Anyone thinking this is a uniquely Catholic thing needs to cast their mind back a few decades, when they may recall the profoundly unsatisfactory way in which the Kincora inquiry ended: literally in secrecy. And there are other homes, not all of them by any means Catholic run that have fallen under the long shadow of suspicion.
A paper by Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health, Michael McGimpsey, that is thought to call for some form of historic is currently awaiting approval from the Executive.
It remains to be seen whether it is any kind of answer to Bernadette McAliskey’s plea for realistic action…
As for Benedict he, according to O’Toole, is taking precisely the wrong road:
The churchs combination of temporal authority, spiritual control and a closed, internal hierarchy created the power that corrupted it. The backlash of the past few weeks has merely confirmed what was already overwhelmingly likely: that Benedict is entirely incapable of grasping this reality, let alone altering it.
He has spent much of his career crushing dissent and rolling back the anti-hierarchical spirit of Vatican 2. His solution, as he suggested in his pastoral letter, is more of the same more obedience, more authority, more resistance to secular modernity. Those who looked to the Pope to respond to one of the most profound crises in the history of the church now know they will have to look elsewhere.
That is not something we need to replicate in Northern Ireland.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty