August 28, 2018
By Polly Toynbee
Ireland’s confrontation with its dark past shines a searchlight on Catholicism. But all religions can be havens for abusers
The pope has flown home after a roughing-up in Ireland. Just a few years ago it was unimaginable that a gay taoiseach would dare berate a visiting pontiff face-to-face about the “dark aspects” of Ireland’s history and “brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic church”.
Leo Varadkar’s magnificent assault eviscerated his country’s past cultural capture by the church. “The failures of both church and state and wider society created a bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering,” he said. “It is a history of sorrow and shame.” The sorrow is not just for victims of monstrous priestly abuse, but the abuse of an entire society in thrall to clerical oppression: lives crimped, warped and blighted, no escape from the church’s domination of everything. The best Irish literature breathes that pernicious incense.
Pope Francis’s visit to Ireland had the opposite effect of the healing intended: it set a seal on the liberation of a nation broken free with its votes on same-sex marriage and abortion. Varadkar’s government plans to loosen the grip of the Catholic church over primary education, ripping out indoctrination by the roots.
The pope apologised for the “grave scandal”, for the failure “adequately to address these repellent crimes” that “remain a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community”. But the Irish horrors are beyond apology, the women enslaved in Magdalene laundries, babies snatched into forced adoption, and 800 children’s bodies dumped into a cesspit at a convent in Tuam. For thousands revealed to have been abused by Catholic priests around the world, whose crimes were covered up by bishops and the Vatican, no mere apology will do.
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