Fleeing from old Ireland – where to now?

Yesterday Cardinal Sean Brady resolutely defended himself in a searching interview by Cathal MacCoille on RTE’s Morning Ireland news programme. The most senior cleric in the Irish Catholic Church is the latest leader to be drawn into the awful, dark morass of the child sex abuse within the institution.

William Crawley astutely notes that the upcoming Pastoral Letter from the Pope to the Irish Church will likely have a wider remit as Irish events appear to be causing reverberations around Europe, including the Pope’s homeland of Germany. [this excellent picture is from his blog]

Gladys Ganiel wonders if we have lost our capactity to be shocked.

In Cardinal Brady’s case, events 35 years ago have surfaced that will make his continuing tenure extremely difficult. Then a full-time secondary school teacher, Brady acted as occasional secretary to the late Bishop Francis McKiernan. At McKiernan’s request Brady gathered evidence from two children (10 and 14) that they had been one of Father Brendan Smyth’s numerous victims. This evidence was used to remove Smyth from ministerial duties. But crucially, the children were made to swear to an oath of secrecy about what had happened, obviously in order to protect the church.  ‘Good job done’ seems to have been the relieved conclusion of the investigation – Smyth ‘dealt with’ and damage limitation achieved.

But if you are familiar with recent Irish political history, the horrendous legacy of Smyth was that possibly hundreds of children were abused by him, many after 1975. Smyth even sparked the collapse of the Reynolds-Spring coalition government in 1994 but that is another story. He died in 1997.

Events like these are like little windows into the past. A past where it seemed OK for immensely powerful men to ‘ask’ young children who had been horribly betrayed to stay silent. A past where, if other cases like that of Father Bill Carney that was aired on the BBC last night are anything to go by, if Smyth had been reported to the Gardai, little or nothing would have been done.

The recent Irish past continues to get darker by the week.

I read this quote in quite a polemical book called Ireland and the New Irish Psyche by sociologist Michael O’Connell some years ago. At the time it seems a bit over the top – even though let’s remember there is nothing new about the last few months. The Brendan Smyth case was well known along with that of Sean Fortune and others when O’Connell was writing it seemed that things could not get that much worse for the Irish Catholic Church. In March 2010 it seemed more and more apt – especially the last line.

One is tempted to say that almost any change must be good. Regardless of perspective – historical, sociological and social psychological – the image of old Ireland is a grim one … there is a fair degree of consensus this was a bleak, economically feeble, intellectually closed, begrudging, priest ridden, sexually repressed but also hypocritical and smug land. And since it couldn’t have got a lot worse, then things, as the song goes, could only get better. Does that seem unfair? Was there maybe a closeness of community or a neighbourliness, even a kindness, as well as naivete or innocence, that have been lost? Perhaps, but few seem to have noted it then or to miss it now. And it’s hard to square kindness with paedophile priests, corrupt politicians and routine mass emigration … And maybe the worst legacy of the past was the way it shaped the future. Perhaps given its awfulness, we have been racing from what we were towards what we are now without much reflection or planning in between – a change based on panic and self-disgust.’

So, where to now?


One thought on “Fleeing from old Ireland – where to now?

  1. Nah, I’m still shocked by Brady’s circumlocution and sophistry.

    Perhaps he should meditate on Luke 10:30/7 and Matthew 22:21.

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