This weekend the “New York Times Magazine” will lead with a hard hitting article outlining the clerical abuse crisis in Ireland, and the fall-off in religious belief as a result.
It quotes Father Mark Patrick Hederman, the abbot of Glenstal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Co. Limerick, as saying the church is indeed in deep trouble.
Hederman said, “Ireland is a prime example of what the church is facing, because they made this island into a concentration camp where they could control everything. And the control was really all about sex. They told you if you masturbated, it meant you were impure and had allowed the devil to work on you. Generations of people were crucified with guilt complexes. Now the game is up.”
Between 1974 and 2008 Mass attendance in Ireland was cut in half. The Irish, says the “Times,” are turning their back on the church which was once the foundation of their country, its special place enshrined in the constitution.
The article looks at the abuse victims and also the country’s reaction to wave after wave of abuse scandals which emerged within the Irish Catholic Church.
The piece reports that Ireland is the country with the most reported cases of sexual abuse within the church. In second place comes the United States. However, Ireland has approximately one-hundredth of the population of the U.S.
Ireland published two reports, the Murphy and the Ryan reports, which investigated the systematic sexual abuse of children by members of the church. The reports revealed thousands of cases of rape, sexual molestation and lurid beatings throughout Ireland's independence.
In the past two months Chapter 19 of the Murphy Report detailed the crimes of “Father Filth,” former priest Tony Walsh. He was shielded by the church as he continued to abuse.
Also, a letter has been unearthed from the papal nuncio. He told the Irish bishops that the Vatican had "serious reservations" about reporting clerical sexual abuse.
Grainne O'Sullivan, a 32-year-old graphic designer, was one of the many people in their twenties and thirties who have grown up in a mostly secular Ireland, and outraged by the revelations. That is why she, along with a web developer named Cormac Flynn and a civil servant in Cork named Paul Dunbar, set up a website called CountMeOut.ie in 2009.
She told the “Times,” "When I saw the reports, I thought, ‘I can’t even pretend to be part of this club anymore.’”
They established the website as “a way of protesting, using their own process against them.”
Over several months 12,000 downloaded the “Defectio ab Ecclesia Catholica Actu Formali” from the site.
Last August the Catholic Church changed the Canon Law. It is now impossible for Catholics to leave the church. Since then the website has suspended its service but is still active in the debate on Irish identity.
Nonetheless, Ireland and the church remain intrinsically linked. Ivana Bacik, a senator for the Labor Party, is a leader in the effort to extricate the church from the state. She said, “In no other European nation — with the obvious exception of Vatican City — does the church have this depth of doctrinal involvement in the affairs of state.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Irish school system. Novelist Colm Toibin attended a Christian Brothers school until he was 15.
He told the “Times,” “At times it didn’t feel like there was a line between sexual abuse and corporal punishment. Every Friday one of the brothers would take a boy in front of the class, and whichever way he hit you he’d always put his hand on your testicles. We would laugh, but in fact you were in a permanent state of fear.
“I would vomit in the morning before going out to school. They would hit you across the face if you got a sum wrong. I suppose they did teach me to read and write and for that I should be grateful, but I’m not.”
Clerical sex-abuse scandals have been uncovered in the United States, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy and many other countries, but in Ireland the “stakes for the Vatican are tangible.”
Ninety percent of schools in Ireland are under church patronage. Also, all public hospitals are run by the church which means procedures such as abortions and vasectomies are either illegal or problematic.
The Vatican is now trying to implement damage control in Ireland by sending the Apostolic Visitation, a group of top clergymen from outside of Ireland, to investigate the abuse scandal, the training of priests and the running of parishes.
Fr. Sean McDonagh, a leader of the Association of Irish Priests, has suggested that the Vatican “should begin by scrutinizing Rome’s own handling of sex-abuse allegations.”
Rev. Donald Cozzens, an American priest and respected moderate voice on Catholic issues told the “Times,” “I’m not aware of any major diocese in the world that has not had a sexual abuse scandal, and I believe part of the problem lies with the very structures of the church. I don’t want to say change would require a different pope or even a different culture, but it will require radical openness.
“We have to take an honest look at all the things that are in play. Is mandatory celibacy wise or even theologically sound?”
The two reports on abuse published in Ireland run to over 2,500 pages. The Ryan report examined the abuse which took place in institutions, while the Murphy report focused on the abuse that took place in the Diocese of Dublin. The details are graphic, violent and gruesome. T
The Times article describes that parts of the reports “read like a cross between Charles Dickens and Dan Brown: ‘I was beaten and hospitalized by the head brother and not allowed to go to my father’s funeral in case my bruises were seen’ and ‘I was tied to a cross and raped while others masturbated at the side.””
Pope Benedict’s plan for rebuilding the Catholic Church in Ireland as well as the visitation from outside Ireland includes prayer, fasting and engaging in “Eucharistic adoration.” The “Times” article asks, “Do the church authorities get it?”
They illustrate this point through Marie Collins’ case. Collins was abused, during the 1960s, when she was 13-years-old while in hospital.
She said, “I had no idea what he was doing, but I knew it was wrong. He might abuse me one night, then give me communion in the morning.”
Now 64, she spent years dealing with depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. When she finally spoke out about the abuse in her late thirties she was told that “she may have tempted the other priest.”
She eventually wrote to the then Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell. She was told not to “ruin his life.”
With help from the police her abuser, a Father McGennis, was imprisoned. The publication of the Murphy Report proved that the church knew about McGennis’ behavior over the years. Collins wanted the church to be held accountable.
Last year it was revealed that Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish church, participated in the 1975 cover-up of the notorious Fr. Brendan Smyth. He was not forced to resign. Collins said, “That means the church here in Ireland is being led by a man who will not be accountable.”
Referring to Pope Benedict’s Pastoral letter and rebuilding the church she said, “Prayer and adoration of the eucharist is fine…but we have had the Pope on a number of occasions saying how shocked he is by revelations of abuse around the world. It’s hard to take that seriously when we know that as Cardinal Ratzinger, in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he saw the abuse reports.”
She continued, “I don’t practice as a Catholic anymore. It’s so hard to reconcile what the men at the top do with what Jesus preached.”