A Society That Failed to Protect Its Children
By Anthony McIntyre
The Blanket [Ireland]
February 28, 2006
A global phenomenon, they are read about everyday and everywhere. Like the fictional world from the Charlton Heston movie, Omega Man, our planet seems to be in the grip of a human pestilence; on this occasion far removed from the comfort of the cinema, by a plague of priests chanting 'boys, boys.' The prevalence of clerical abuse is such that it is tempting to visualise a plethora of paedophile orchards where priests are hanging from every tree - not by the neck, regrettably.
Despite living in the era of the enlightenment, where superstition ought to have been replaced by reason, human society remains scourged by priestcraft and those who practice it. We are the citizens of a world in which the dementia of religion knows no boundaries, impervious to both time and location. Immunization from its effects has proven successful only in a minority of cases. Like a social syphilis intent on destroying the societal intellect, it exploits primordial fears and furtively creeps inside the citadel of reason where, absurdly, it occupies a privileged position and expects, even demands, that the sacred, in the form of canon law, trump the secular and allow it to become the judge in its own cause - in stark violation of the long established Madisonion principle of judicial detachment. And for too long the secular connived in its own usurpation.
In the North we continue to elect religious maniacs rather than ban them. Just days ago, to the eternal disgrace of the electorate, Maurice Mills, an elected councillor from the DUP (where else?) and throwback to mediaeval times, regaled television viewers with his cruel and bizarre take on the Asian tsunami and the more recent Hurricane Katrina. Yes, it was all the work of big Yahweh; in the first instance taking out his displeasure on residents and holidaymakers alike because some pretender to big Yahweh's throne going under the name Allah was spreading Islam. The introduction of compulsory identity cards should help take care of that impostor for Maurice. The second strike, Katrina the Holy Hurricane, was launched from Heaven and using the latest Lazarus tornado guidance system was propelled earthwards to smite the sinners of 'Gay Orleans.' The spreading of tsunamis would seem a worse crime in most people's eyes than the spreading of Islam, but not in Maurice's. Then again, God works in mysterious ways and only picks special fools to interpret strange events. Who are we to reason why? Maybe next time, if big Yahweh is as just as he is mysterious, Ferns may find itself hit by a meteorite - and hopefully not when the diocesan men of cloth are touring orphanages in Thailand.
People who subscribe to various forms of this bunkum have nevertheless benefited from it to the point that they have for long being easily able to pass themselves off as leading moral guardians in supposedly secular societies, where the executive, legislature and judiciary behaved like the three wise monkeys, neither seeing, hearing nor speaking of the enormous phallic moral guardian that stalked our children. The priest class with its knowledge of Latin, must have thought it had hit the jackpot and won a boys bonanza, when few stopped to ask the all important question 'quis custodiet custodies?' Like the frightened worshippers of some Aztec God, Ireland licentiously offered its children to the most lecherous of men. Can the country really claim to need the Ferns Report to serve as a wake up call? For long, many of its citizens seemed prepared to die peacefully in bed rather than get up and confront what was going on their midst.
For all its undoubted ability to magnetise the media, Judge Frank Murphy's 271-page report is hardly any more shocking than what has passed before. Learning that priests are abusing children is as commonplace as being told there is a violent conflict in the Middle East. It has figured in our daily reading activity for so long, it is now hard to recall a time when newspapers did not feature stories about priests abusing children. If an Irish Times headline that 'More details emerge of sexual abuse cases involving priests' is supposed to shock us, the paper's management may hope shock stories and sales are not correlated. Irish society and its children will be fortunate if the Ferns Report does not become the gatherer of the dust it helped raise, once matters settle down. Time alone will tell if the point has been reached for what one columnist described as 'a landmark in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland.'
While cardinals may have been forced to resign in places as far apart as Austria and America, it remains true that clerics are responsible for only a minority of crimes visited on abuse victims - according to the Ferns Report, a lowly 3.2 % of the whole. And even here it is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. The comedian George Carlin is reported to have quipped that Protestant preachers wrote an impressive new book, called, Ministers Do More Than Lay People. Norman Ruddock has pointed to the existence of the phenomenon within Protestant clerical circles, while Tariq Ali showed that mullahs too liked their boys. However, few of the secular perpetrators have been afforded the protection of an institution as powerful as the Church of Rome. That shield in itself became a weapon of coercion and intimidation that dissuaded people from coming forward with their concerns. As Martin Mansergh observed 'the whistleblower, as always everywhere, was the one to be punished.'
The Ferns Report tackled the role of the Vatican directly and expressed concern 'that the church authorities either in this country or in Rome did not properly alert their priests to the danger of child sexual abuse at a time when they did or should have known of this danger which had been clearly identified by church authorities elsewhere.' According to Colm Mr O'Gorman of the One in Four group the Vatican operated an international policy that bound anyone with knowledge of clerical sexual abuse to absolute secrecy. The penalty for breaking Vatican omerta was excommunication.
To help combat this, the report recommended a new criminal offence targeting those who recklessly endanger children. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Vatican shall extradite any of its key figures to Ireland to stand trial. It is even more unlikely that the Dublin Government will request the Vatican to do so. Where has the voice of Pope Ratzinger been in all this? It has bellowed loudly throughout the world - but only to fuel the persecution of gay people.
Society cannot afford to wait until the Vatican decides that the genuine sanctity of children is more precious than the pious cant of the institution. Those within the church who abused or covered for abuse it at whatever level, should be relentlessly pursued today, hauled from their palaces and banged up until they cease to pose a threat. A society that fails to protect its own children must bear a large measure of culpability for the abuse those children endure.
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