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The fallout of all the abuse in the Catholic Church has cast a dark shadow on Irish life.

The Irish people should help choose Catholic bishops

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The fallout of all the abuse in the Catholic Church has cast a dark shadow on Irish life.

Given the scale of what is happening in the Irish Catholic Church, the only meaningful departure would be that of the Pope himself.

As Cardinal Ratzinger he was probably the best informed man in the Vatican, being both Prefect of the powerful Congregation of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals. These offices mean that he was privy to the ever swelling tide of reports on clerical sex abuse which poured into the Vatican during his tenure in office from every diocese in the world.  

Even non-Catholics are free to access the vast accounts of clerical abuse, available on the web, like a vast open sewer.

But apparently the Pontiff has no intention of resigning. Instead, he intends to send Ireland a letter. Presumably it will be prepared by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as were Pope John Paul II’s Irish speeches prepared by the then Bishop Daly.

If that letter ever does get sent, it will be the most unpopular, and ineffective, Papal missive to arrive in Ireland since the Papal Rescript of 1888 which the British-inspired Pope Leo X111 issued condemning the Plan of Campaign, which was a plan to help tenant farmers. 

Instead of arguments over whether or not a handful of bishops should be hung out to dry, the Irish public should be discussing how they, the people, who in the end pick up the tab for all that is happening in both Church and State, should be concentrating on developing a mechanism whereby the laity would henceforth have a say in the selection of future bishops.

I would strongly urge that our Government tell Rome that henceforth a small, but experienced, lay panel be appointed to vet any short list prepared to fill Episcopal vacancies. Ideally the panel should include a mother, preferably with some knowledge of psychiatry.

Secondly, as a direct  response to the arrogance and tardiness of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland dealing with the Murphy Inquiry,  that we close down our embassy to the Holy See and henceforth deal with the Vatican through our  embassy in Rome.

These are not matters of faith. The question of clerical sex abuse is one which has serious  financial, educational and emotional implications for an Irish society struggling to find a new economic and psychological identity for itself in the midst of chaos.

The money from the sale of the beautiful, but costly, Vatican embassy could go to restoring the Budget cuts in facilities available to blind persons for example. 

Let us consider the present situation. Bishops are appointed to a diocese whose inhabitants are expected to shoulder 100% of their Lordships upkeep and that of their retinue. They are also expected to give 100% of obedience to his pronouncements, but they are not even given one per cent of input into his selection.

While from time to time the Vatican may have a particular candidate of its own for a vacant See it is normally the Papal Nuncio who has the major say in the appointment of bishops. He tells Rome which of the shortlisted replacements for any vacant see is likely to be the most reliable in implementing the Vatican’s policies. His view totally outweighs the wishes of the priests of the diocese, and as for those of the laity…? Forget it.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, who played an inglorious role at the helm in Drumcondra while the gathering storm that led to the Murphy reports was building up, was appointed because he was a friend of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, not because of any reputation for his knowledge and involvement with the lives of the plain people of Dublin.                         

Similarly, the appointment of John Magee as Bishop of Cloyne, a post from which he has had to step aside, clearly owed more to his years as a papal secretary than to his services in Ireland.

We don’t know yet what the ongoing examination of the affairs of the diocese of Cloyne is going to throw up, but, to put it mildly, there is very little evidence  that the Cloyne Report is going to make better reading than the Murphy Report.  

The plain fact is that the present crisis has arisen because bishops, appointed solely by Rome, were formed, and operated in a culture in which the Vatican policy worldwide was: Pass the Parcel.

Under infectious diseases legislation, there are severe penalties for failing to report certain serious illnesses to the authorities. But at under the Pass the Parcel policy, what most of us would call an appalling disease, that of pedophilia, was covered up and the infectious one deliberately sent off to another parish to abuse trust and children in a manner which had, and has, lifelong consequences.

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.”

Henceforth the truth of that statement will have to be demonstrated. If Bishops are to be accorded a place of authority in Irish society then Irish society must demand the right to check on their credentials before they are given that authority. 

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