Hard to deny Jude Collins’ observation that there is a “not-too-obvious-but-still-there anti-Catholic Church strand in the Irish media”.
It’s not just in the Irish media. There is a wider assumption that the Catholic church and only the Catholic church has questions to answer in relation to child sex abuse. An accurate assay of the extent of the problem is hard to make since it is a necessarily hidden practice.
One of my freer primary school teachers (a devote Catholic himself) once told us that the Catholic Church had been described as both a lion and a lamb: ie that where it found itself in the ascendent, a lion, elsewhere it behaved like a lamb.
Other churches have also had their abusers. In Northern Ireland, the total numbers of those convicted beyond the RC Church are not dissimilar. But a lot of post Catholic anger over focuses on that church over others, not least out of a feeling of betrayal by an institution they were brought to love and fear, if not always in equal measure.
Cormac Lucey, has this penetrating analysis on his blog. In answer to his own rhetorical question “Is there an RTÉ bias against the Catholic Church?” he notes:
The Germans have an answer to questions which they don’t want to answer with a simple “Ja” or “Nein”. They use the word “Jain” to answer “yes and no”. I would use the same answer to the question of whether there is an RTÉ bias against the Church.
At a formal level there is no bias and RTÉ strives hard to be correct and balanced in its broadcasting. But, at an informal level, there is a subconscious bias against the Church on the part of journalists who are generally younger, more metropolitan and more likely to have a soft-left political disposition than average.
This subconscious bias against the Church applies not just in RTÉ but across the media. This bias is not evidence of a conspiracy. By their nature, it is a simple fact that different organisations have different subconscious biases. Thus members of the Guards, Army and clergy generally have a somewhat more conservative outlook than average.
All this doesn’t mean that some supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, bruised by the spate of revelations of child sex abuse in recent decades, won’t want to push back against RTÉ. For they now see RTÉ, an organisation which done much to expose Church wrongdoing in this area, on the ropes. And they argue, with most child abuse taking place within the family, that priests are victims of an historic wrong.
But it’s not just the errors of individual priests which made the problem of clerical child sex abuse so explosive. It was also the cack-handed and bureaucratic reaction to the problem by the Church authorities. At least when this is all over, ordinary priests and regular RTÉ journalists will have something in common: the inadequate reaction of their senior management to unfolding scandal.
There is nothing wrong with a soft left bias in the media. You want people who are predisposed towards disaffection from the ancien regime to feel the need to call it to account. RTE has been reminding people recently just why Prime Time is a quality product that a nation struggling to find the means to speak truth unto power cannot easily replace.
If Lucey is right, then it is the support mechanism, the checks and balances that needs overhaul… If that includes beefing up the RTE Authority, let it not be in order to muzzle good journalism…
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