“When this is all over, ordinary priests and regular RTÉ journalists will have something in common?”

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…

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  • Cynic2

    Once fundamental difference is that, in most cases, on the Protestant side there wasnt a systemaic cover up by the institution with threats to the families and victims etc.

    Thats not to say it was blameless – I have no doubt it wasnt and that there are more stories to come about state institutions. But perhaps the defining meme of the ‘Catholic Abuse’story is a cover up that compounded the pain – a cover up that appears to have been co-ordinated across difefrent countries by Rome?

  • Nunoftheabove

    I don’t like where this bogus need for balance or sinister insistence on impartiality takes us to in terms of its potential to result in the effective soft-soaping of particular power strucutures or of powerful individuals within the state or beyond it. The duty of the journalistc profession is not to provide balance but to tell the truth at all costs and all hazards irrespective of the consequences.

  • Mick Fealty


    The main committment should be towards truth telling… otherwise the news is rendered meaningless…


    Then there’s the failure of state institutions, either side of the border…

  • Taoiseach

    cynic – you have confirmed that the media has created the image you’ve presented, of a systemmatic cover up coordinated by Rome. And there’s no evidence for this. We have a small number of priests who abused and a number of victims and families who, instead of going to the police, went to bishop/senior priest and who then expressed surprise that that “nothing was done”. It would called it societal and systemmic rather than systemmatic.

    As for Protestants, they have very different organisational structure so much harder to know the extent as they don’t have well developed reporting mechanisms. But people of a ccertain age, when they hear child abuse, think Kinkora.

    For all the talk about the Cloyne Report – we’re talking about one convicted abusive priest – with a sixteen year old boy and we’re not even talking statutory rape. If the priest was a poet or friend of a senator it would be described differently.

    As for the suggestion that there’s nothing wrong with a soft left bias in the media because it questions the ancien regime – well when the establishment is itself soft left then who’s doing the questioning. Listen to RTE talking about American politics. The assumption that Democrats are good and Republicans bad could not be clearer.

  • As I have indicated before, most if not all Catholics have had bad experiences of individual priests. And also extremely positive experiences.
    Most Catholics who have for example been altar boys can tell a story of a rude and unpleasant priest.
    And most can tell a story of kindness beyond the call of Christian duty.
    Which makes for interesting conversations…..
    “Ah that Father Murphy was ignorant to me when I was an altar boy…..”
    “Ah now hold on there, he was brilliant when my father was dying”.
    Thats how it goes.

    And it was always thus:
    In Seán O’Caseys “Juno and the Paycock” the Captain expresses conflicting opinions about priests in two different scenes……how they failed the people in the Famine….and Soggort Aroon leading the people onwards.

    Modern Ireland is a strange place. I read some years ago that middle aged Catholics were the unhappiest people in the country. That older people (the generation of my mothers age…….she would have been 99 yesterday) have/had a set of certainties. As indeed do younger people of my sons ages. Different certainties.
    But those in the middle years are riddled with uncertainty………rather like the generation running RTE.

    To some extent I find older people remarkably more tolerant and forgiving than my generation. Despite my own inability to understand “yoof”, I find them tolerant and forgiving.
    My generation….the middle aged seems very judgemental. It is perhaps one of my few real pleasures.
    And I wonder if that is in some way caused by our own experiences…..a fault line of the Summer of Love 1967….running accross our education…..where we had a foot in the “old ways” and “new ways”.
    Child is indeed Father and Mother to the Man and Woman.

    And the clue to anti-Church bias, not necessarily manifesting itself as anti-Religious bias (far more insidious) lies in our individual and collective pasts.

  • Cynic2

    “And there’s no evidence for this.”

    I think there is. Around 9 months ago when the scandal broke (again) in Germany there was a very interetsting programme on Radio 4. They interviewed victims from Germanay and the USA and there were some startling common factors and looked at the Church’s approach internationally to abuse by priests.

    There were some startling common features:

    1 all of the victims were offered compensation from the church in return for signing a non-disclsoure contract

    2 the wording of the contract was almost identical in
    Germany to Ireland etc

    3 the going rate was around €30,000 in Germany and Irleand

    4 victims came under huge pressure not to publicise wht had hapepend to them. Again the whole thrust of the pressure was the damage that would happen to the church, how local people wouldnt forgive them for damaging the church etc.

    One or tow of tehse common features might arise by chance. But all of them? Even the wording of the ‘contracts’ seemed very similar

    Now perhaps it was divine intervention that persuaded Bishops in Germany, the USA and Ireland to all adopt the same apporach, offer the same ‘contracts’ with very similar wording, roughly the same level of compensation and apply the same social pressures on victims who were in a very fragile state. If you believe that they have an invisble friend in the sky who looks after them then that’s perfectly possible.

    I fear though that I am more rational and secular in outlook. I suspect that a close investigation might firm this up and identify some clear evidence of (how shall we say) centralsied co-ordintaion on these matters?

    Dont forget too that some of the culprits were spirited out of the country and sent abroad where they were sometimes able to reoffend and create new victims. My understanding of the Church’s structures is that Rome would have had to be involved in this.

  • Cynic2

    “Then there’s the failure of state institutions, either side of the border…”

    I agree compleletely. I fear we will find that for years because of the Troubles, other things slipped under the radar here

  • Cynic2

    “people of a ccertain age, when they hear child abuse, think Kinkora”

    Agreed. See comments to Mick above. This should be an issue that unites us all in our determination to out what has happened and deal with the past – and not along point scoring or sectarian lines.

    To be clear – I am not accusing you of that – just making the point!!!!

  • Munsterview

    Mick : “….The main commitment should be towards truth telling… otherwise the news is rendered meaningless…”

    Indeed ?

    The function of RTE from the outset was to fully support and back the State. I know that the late Billy Flynn bombarded RTE with facts about the Donegall Garda Corruption scandal, only to have his submissions ignored.

    I can recall several marches in Dublin during the seventies that I not alone stewarded but where I was also one of the steward coordinators. The RTE reported numbers attending these marches were always one third to half of the actual numbers attending. On two separate occasions I can also recall agreeing the estimated numbers with senior gardai present, yet the ‘Official Garda Figures’ quoted on RTE were absolute nonsense.

    The bias and malise in RTE against the Catholic Church went back to the infiltration and control of certain Departments in RTE by Official Sinn Fein through the covert Ned Stapelton Cumann. There is plenty material now in the public forum regarding the internal bullying and oppression that went on where Harris infamous ‘hush puppy provo’ was enough to stymie a career.

    I can also recall one occasion in the seventies when I met a parliamentary secretary ( now Junior Ministers) in Leinster house and we were joined by two other Ministers who happened to be passing, I got an invite to something else later that afternoon but said that I was going out to RTE. One of the Ministers then said ‘ Damm, forgot, I am due out in ‘Stickie Land’ myself!

    This was the common slang name in Leinster House for RTE across all parties back then There was a Mexican stand off, as long as RTE ‘investigations’ or more properly witch hunts confined their activities to The Provos, The Catholic Church ( Protestant Churches could do no wrong ) then they Leinster House gave them a free hand.

    One has only to look at the ex-Workers Party people with RTE connections in the current Labor party to see the role and mutual relationship between RTE / ‘New Politics’ This as can be seen from DeRossas defense of the Irish Appointment of the Senior Official of Finance and his attempt to silence Nessa Chiders, is very much old politics in the mould of Bertie and Padraig,’three homes’ Flynn.

    Those who had any contact with RTE on an ongoing basis know all too well where the rot set in from and why it prospered to date!.

  • Cynic2


    Are you suggesting collusion by a state body in Ireland with a terrorist group?

  • Taoiseach

    cynic – I think the commonality of non-disclosure agreements is simply the law – the same legal language used in all these sorts of things, not some diktat from Rome. Would that the Church was organised enough to organise a conspiracy.

  • Addressing the original post here…….in the case of RTE and recent libel damages ……I wonder if there might not have been a sense of “wanting” a particular narrative.
    I thought about this today during Nick Davies evidence to the Leveson Inquiry…… a class act and a master class in journalistic ethics.

    At one point Mr Davies mentioned the Jersey Childrens Home story of a couple of years back…….and seemed to suggest that journalists were much too quick to see something there that wasnt…..a series of mundane things…..a dark cellar, a bath bolted to the floor that made perfect sense in themselves but were put together to make something that just wasnt true.

    Circumstances arent exactly the same of course but the very words “childrens home” (in the Jersey case state run, I believe) was enough to create an image.

  • Harry Flashman

    “There is nothing wrong with a soft left bias in the media.”

    Good heavens, Mick what an extraordinary statement!

    Does this acceptable bias only apply to the Irish media or all media?

    Even in the Irish context what evidence is there of a valiant struggle by left wing idealists against a conservative establishment? It’s 2011 not 1950, the Irish establishment like most establishments across western Europe is thoroughly soft left, perhaps not in blunt economic terms, though that’s changing, but most certainly in cultural and social attitudes.

    RTE, the Irish Times, the universities, quangos, unions, the presidency, public sector and most government departments are dominated by the soft left. Right wing conservatives are the rare exception and invariably howled down by the media, academia, NGOcracies and witless phone in programs.

    Who represents establishment thinking and received wisdom in Ireland better, Fintan O’Toole or Kevin Myers? To merely pose the question is to show up the absurdity that a soft-left RTE is somehow speaking truth to power, a heroic left-leaning David taking on a mighty reactionary Goliath in the Irish establishment.

    RTE is part and parcel of the Irish establishment and has been for decades. It is the poor wee put upon rural Catholic priest who is now the, almost, defenceless victim.

  • I have to agree with the above comment.

    Ireland is pretty mainstream by European standards. This is the Ireland of U2 not Dana.
    This is the Ireland of Fair City not the Riordans.
    This is the Ireland of The Republic of Telly not Halls Pictorial Weekly.
    And dont get me started on the Gaelic language drama Ros na Rún……

    As a bit of a lefty myself, I dont necessarily think its a bad thing.
    As an aul lad, I think its all crap.
    I dont mind modernity……but theres a helluvalot of yuppy metropolitan smart assery that I dont care for very much.

    And the Dublin media….none impress me at all.

  • Harry Flashman

    “As a bit of a lefty myself, I dont necessarily think its a bad thing.”

    Because you have the honesty to admit your political leanings FJH but you ask the Irish establishment whether in the media, academia or administration and they’d deny that they were anything other than beacons of sea green incorruptible impartiality.

    However let’s pose a few random sentences;

    -I believe that history will judge George W Bush in a better light than currently
    -I believe that overall society is better served by children being brought up with two married parents rather than by cohabiting couples, gay civic partnerships or single mothers
    -I believe that there is too much immigration into this country
    -I believe that while society needs a safety net for the poor there is a huge proportion of workshy people abusing the welfare system
    -I believe that militant Islam poses a real threat in the world today
    -I believe that the government should tax and spend less
    -I believe, and always have done, that Barrack Obama is an overrated windbag
    -I believe that Travellers in many ways bring social problems upon themselves
    -I believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died for my sins

    Now these opinions are not particularly extreme and indeed within my lifetime would have been regarded almost as mainstream.

    However at a guess I would say 95% of people in the editorial boards of RTE and the Irish Times, in the senior common rooms of most universities, in most school staff rooms, on the boardrooms of most government departments, NGO’s and health boards would utterly reject those opinions.

    Indeed if you were to express some of those opinions in some places you could face disciplinary procedures and even dismissal from your job. Therefore we don’t merely have a soft left-leaning ethos we have an institutionalised, solid left wing bias in the establishment today.

    If what Mick says is correct that the media should act, in the hackneyed phrase of speaking truth to power, then RTE should in fact be promoting such opinions and recruiting conservative-minded editors, producers and journalists.

    I won’t be holding my breath.

  • I believe the rich should be taxed to they bleed…….I just want to add that to the check list. And I dont take the point about immigration as Ireland is full of descendents of Scottish and Englsh settlers. I have no problem with them or modern Poles, Czechs or Nigerians.

    In a check list like yours there is bound to be some where boxes get ticked more than others. Although I choose to live my life in a certain way, I make absolutely no judgement that my way is better than anyone elses way.
    On balance I would prefer that RTE be run by faux lefties of Workers Party persuasion……as long as I get to call it as I see it.
    I would happily pay Kevin Myers expenses if he chooses to emigrate.

    The Faux Left is really a soft option of a bag of nonsense rather like a combination of northern “lets get alongerism” (a rejection of nationalism) and northern “overclass” who think they are too intelligent to be ordinary folks….the recent Presidential election with a media darling NOT standing was a classic example.

    The Faux Left …..whether in England or anywhere else…is a nonsense. Islington, Dublin 4 or Belfasts Cathedral Quarter. A lot of the “old” Left was defined by broadly Christian outlooks……whether south Lancashire Catholicism in Manchester or west of Scotland….or indeed Methodist or other Chapel input……or even Eric Heffer, a devout Church of England man and REAL Lefty.
    There was a time when a Christian outlook was compatible with being of the Left……..and vice versa. It still is.
    But there is a high level of intolerance within Christian churches largely because as in Ireland, there is an unrepresentative rump representing Christianity and an unrepresentative intolerant anti clerical element in the Faux Left at for example RTE.

    Necessarily this post must close as I am off to bring down the capitalist system by standing on a picket line. Today I get to be a flying picket of sorts and get to shout abuse at faux left Sinn Féin people supporting the strike……and have a wee dig at stewards who only joined the Workers Party because it made them look “non threatening” and maximise the vote.
    And I also get to shout at friends of Jesus who are too religious to go on strike on the basis that Jesus wouldnt love them anymore…….but they will happily pocket any benefit.
    So one last rendition of “The Red Flag” on You Tube to warm me up.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Harry Flasman

    Interestingly positioned line. Whether it can actually be described as Leftism per se (whatever about its self-identification as Leftism) though is a bigger question and one certainly worth grappling with and at least attempting to answer. To that extent, I’m not certain that what passes for official Leftism is other than fairly… conservative… in its own right. There’s a sickly relativist intolerance aboutsome of it, certainly.

    I would argue that even if the above is all or mainly true,as much as anything it speaks volumes for the redundancy of what we used to call the Left. In general terms though I would accept the thrust i.e. that there’s an orthodoxy in place within RTE just as there is in the mainstream media in the UK and in a great many other places and it’s nothing much to do with any liberal and/or lefty conspiracy per se.

    A lot of what you say has been commented upon in and about the UK in a not altogether dissimilar fashion by Peter Hitchens….and I don’t say that only/just/even to annoy you. It immediately reminded me of some of what he’s said in recent years about the BBC in particular.

  • Harry Flashman

    Hitchens certainly nails it in the sense that he points out how ideas that were once thought wholly mainstream very rapidly slide into what is regarded as dangerous reactionary thought and invariably those who have those opinions are branded as psychologically disturbed. He saw it all up close when it was done in the Soviet Union and he says that the same processes operate today in western societies.

    What is good about Hitchens is that he names the names. The new left (FJH is entirely correct that the new left would be unrecognizable to people in the early part of the last century who regarded themselves as socialist) always maintains that they are merely responding to changes that have already happened in society and are only trying to make things “fairer”. Hitchens, using chapter and verse exposes that these changes were all planned and worked on over generations to create the results we now see.