There was an extraordinary moment last week when the hardened lead presenter on an Irish television current affairs show almost broke down when reciting the abuse of a four-year-old boy placed in an institution in Ireland after his mother died.
It showed that the report from the judicial commission into clergy child abuse in Ireland is horrible, and has truly affected everybody.
The report is a stain on the country far greater than the recent economic collapse.
The sex abusers in the clergy had powerful helpers -- enablers, they call them in Alcoholics Anonymous. The enablers were the state itself.
The Irish Department of Education is roundly criticized in the report. They stood idly by even when reports of child abuse were flooding their system. It is a disgraceful reality that should haunt all who hail from the Emerald Isle or love the land we sprang from.
That enabling continues to the present day. The first judge assigned to the issue resigned in protest against the stonewalling of the church authorities and the government.
Only after a new judge took over did the stonewalling stop. Who knows how many stories of victims are left forlorn and unknown in the wake of their obstructions?
It is not enough for the bishops to apologize. This simply must never happen again -- the tears and screams of the raped, the abused and the beaten cry down the years to us, and this report at least gives them a small voice.
That was what they were, little kids, small children, remorselessly and savagely sexually abused and beaten by the very people society looked up to most. It is a rotten and disgusting reality to try and grasp.
It is incredible to think how rampant that abuse was. At every level, among nuns, priests and brothers, it was a huge feature of Irish life for decades, beginning in the thirties. It blighted a generation who never got the chance to know a normal childhood.
Apologists for the church will claim that only a few bad apples were responsible for the abuse. It was not. The entire barrel was corrupt, as were the institutions of state set up to guard and safeguard the children.
It is heartening to see the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin call on the religious orders who carried out this abuse to do more to give compensation to the victims. Cardinal Sean Brady has also made the same call. Amazingly, the Irish government has stayed quiet.
The religious orders have obstructed and prevented full settlement in many cases. That is simply not allowable in the horrific circumstances.
Even more worrisome is that some of these same institutions are still in charge in many of the country’s orphanages and institutions where vulnerable children are placed. Let us hope there is much greater oversight these days.
In his extraordinary memoir, the late writer John McGahern related how his mother, dying of cancer, was forced to cycle several miles to the local priest’s house in order to resign her job as a teacher and allow a replacement to take over. It was unheard of for a priest to come to the house and bring the forms necessary.
Such was the exaggerated esteem the church was held in back in those days. The untrammeled power meant that their worst excesses were never reined in by a government that essentially abdicated its responsibility to the most vulnerable in society.
It is those children we must feel so sorry for today, but also to acknowledge that the silence has been broken, the truth has been told and Ireland will never be the same again.
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