The Irish people should help choose Catholic bishops


The difference between this awful mental disease and that of a physical affliction like AIDS, is that people involved in the implementation of the Pass the Parcel policy got up in pulpits and with monumental hypocrisy, in their self-appointed role as moral arbiters, instructed people as to how they should lead their lives by spouting rubbish such as contraception being wrong even in marriage, and that sex should only be employed for the procreation of children.

Condoms make the AIDS crisis worse, says the present Pope and, to give but one example, the courageous Fr. Kevin Hegarty suffered at the hands of the Pope’s loyal Irish bishops for daring to say otherwise. Father Gerry McGinty was the Senior Dean at Maynooth when students came to him voicing their concerns about sexual abuse in the College. But he was speedily transferred to an obscure parish in Louth when he raised the issue with the Church authorities

The Church’s strange attitude towards sex came about for two reasons. One, a view that if married priests had sex it meant that they approached the altar with “soiled hands.” Secondly, but more importantly, to save money. Priests’ dependents could have a claim on church property.

In Ireland, clerical preoccupation with sex and contraception veered from the ludicrous to the horrible. On behalf of the hierarchy, Archbishop McQuaid once informed the government that tampons should be banned because they might stimulate young girls to sexual activity and thus lead to contraception.

Later, in collusion with the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr. Alex Spain, McQuaid, to help combat contraception, oversaw the spread of the symphysiotomy operation to hospitals throughout the country. 

This mutilating form of dark ages midwifery, which involved sawing through the pelvis so that it remained permanently open,  left women in lifelong pain and remained in use until the 1970s.

Many of the Irish bishops now in the eye of the storm would have received their clerical formation at a time when the shadow of McQuaid and Spain still lay across medical ethics in Ireland.  Meanwhile in Rome, in the same era, Vatican thinking was heavily influenced by a document produced by the powerful Cardinal Otaviani, which stated that to make public any reference to clerical sex abuse was a grave sin meriting expulsion from the church.

In the circumstances, now that worldwide public opinion has forced Rome to change its line, it is not surprising that some bishops are currently receiving a belt of the crozier, unfair though this may well be in some cases.

The truth is that the  Church’s de facto  policy on abuse has until recently been a combination of  denial, obfuscation, delay and a grudging admission of as little liability as possible - vide the compensation deal which it first foisted on the Irish tax-payer through its negotiations with Dr. Michael Woods. That package included payments for specialist, church-provided counseling services for abuse victims. So having been responsible for buggering young people, the Church then proceeded to charge for rehabilitating them.

And so, as it became patently obvious that this policy was becoming counter-productive, McQuaid and Otaviani were said goodbye to. New guide lines were drawn up.  Diarmuid Martin was ordered to Dublin whether he liked it or not. In many ways his arrival reminded me of that of  Paul Cullen in the mid 19th Century. Cullen’s mission was to assert Rome’s hardline view on the Irish church. He was an extraordinarily able, ruthless man, an architect of papal infallibility who might well have become Pope himself had he not been sent to Ireland.

He succeed brilliantly, getting control of the Irish educational system and establishing a devout, mindless type of  Catholic obedience which provided an endless supply of nuns and priests and only began to be seriously challenged with the coming of free secondary education and of television.

Martin is, a skilled Vatican diplomat, just as intelligent, just as determined in doing Rome’s bidding, and, as a number of his rather bruised Episcopal colleagues will tell you, just as ruthless as Cullen.

Insofar as internal church working and the eradication of clerical sex abuse is concerned, I wish him well. The evil the abusers did lives after them, and the good done by a myriad of Irish nuns and priests obscured by their crimes. But insofar as I, citizen of a democratic Irish Republic, am concerned, the era of telling a brainwashed people “do as we say, not as we do” is long dead.  It’s mortuary card bears a picture of Bishop Eamon Casey and Father Mick Cleary prancing around the stage in Galway in 1979 as they warmed up the crowd for the Pope’ to deliver his famous line: “Young People of Ireland I love you.”