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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 27, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    A Sin Against the Holy Ghost

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton said. The Catholic Church in this country had virtually absolute power (no, remove the word “virtually”) and the results can be seen in the grim pages of the Murphy Report and its predecessors.

    More disturbing still is the likelihood that there are instances of child abuse, ranging perhaps into thousands and thousands, that we will never know about because they were successfully hushed-up or never even reported for whatever reason.

    The notion that the welfare of little children in all their innocence and trust would come second or third or worse to the institutional interests of the Church is, in any good Catholic’s book, a mortal sin. An  old-style Catholic would call it a Sin Against the Holy Ghost.

    The Church has now lost a massive amount of  moral authority. In many ways this is a good thing. In others,  not so good. There is no alternative centre of moral authority in the State – can you really include Leinster House?

    The consequences can be seen in a whole range of areas from gangland  murders to corruption. There is what one can only describe as a gradual rise of  moral anarchy  in our society.

    I gather that in the US, ordinary, that is to say, lay Church members have started a democratic movement to restore the Faith to its original foundations. We have seen no sign of this here yet. Men of the cloth are still calling the shots. How about it? 

    • Liam says:

      Deaglán-”The consequences can be seen in a whole range of areas from gangland murders to corruption. There is what one can only describe as a gradual rise of moral anarchy in our society.”

      I would take issue with that statement as it keeps the eye of the state as an actor in all this. I’d argue that morality is going south because the state has taken upon itself to create right and wrongs where it can be argued there are no criminal activities. Anti drugs laws echo prohibition in the US and the only reason we have armed gangs in this country is that they are the natural off shoot of nanny state laws.
      Also the correlation is more likely to be related to the growth in the welfare state as opposed to the decline in religion as self reliance has been decimated in this country where large numbers of people can live a semi permanent teenager existence fully funded by others.
      Is it any wonder in an age where one doesn’t have to save for education or healthcare that people’s time preferences are about as short as their next credit card statement.

    • robespierre says:

      In Seán Ó’Mórdha’s wonderful 7 ages documentary series there is a telling vignette with the late Todd Andrews. What a gritty, craggy character he was too… oozing a sense of public and civic duty and very unfairly pilloried for closing the Harcourt St. line.
      In it, he tells of when RTE was initially set-up in a climate where Sean Lemass, a family friend, had talked of it as an instrument of the state rather than independent.
      Andrews demurred however. He received (as Head of the RTE Authority) a call from the then Dublin Archbishop, JC McQuaid, demanding to see the schedule for the station as it was in his diocese and therefore needed his moral oversight (i.e. censorship). Andrews on camera states that he told his eminence to hump off although he clearly intimates that crisp if blunt language may have been deployed.
      There were too few of the likes of Andrews in the system and too many willing to supplicate their office to the will of an ascetic elite who allowed themselves to become thoroughly corrupt and corrupting.
      I was educated by the order that McQuaid belonged to. The Spiritan fathers are wonderful and inspiring men but mostly missionary priests. Here, there were too many wolves among the sheep and too few Sheppards willing to use the symbolic crook with which they alone had been bestowed.

    • Aidan says:

      Deaglán,
      The moral authority of the church is contrived and highly dubious to begin with, and a lay revolution will not change that. The foundations on which to claim moral authority are quite false, even without the abuse of children. With the history of abuse of children I don’t know how anyone can still take “faith” as a source of goodness seriously.

      You have a report which details true moral anarchy in our society, where certain people acted, and were let act, above the law. You even have stories of a priest being ostracised and threatened by other priests for speaking out about the abuse he suffered. What chance did lay people have?

      Is Limerick gangland activity really a “rise” in moral anarchy? Those guys are just thugs to the Catholic Church’s dons. There is no evidence that the gangland criminals are in collusion with the authorities, or have such widespread respect that they could effectively sweep heinous crimes under the carpet, is there?

      The Church has lost moral authority, true, but it was all just smoke and mirrors anyway. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country, and hundreds of millions in the world, who don’t subscribe to any church or God and those people aren’t disproportionately involved in crime (I wonder how many Limerick gangland criminals are atheists – would you like to guess?) and their kids aren’t roaming the streets in little atheist gangs devoid of a moral compass because they lack “faith”, so one must conclude that people do just fine without this “authority”.

      All that being said, the church isn’t going away, so if lay people can act on the church to make it more democractic and progressive that would be welcome.

    • There’s nothing new about the church hiding behind its doors. What’s (possibly) unique is the senior Guards colluding and the younger ones pushing for change.
      When the case involving a certain high-profile medical practitioner unfolds a similar pattern will be revealed when it’s shown that the first official complaints started in the 1960′s and continued to his retirement. Guards colluded, files went missing, even during the original investigation he was free to wander in and out of wards (late at night) AND file access

    • paul m says:

      How about what Deaglán?

      We take evolution of the species for granted yet nature can be a cruel harsh beast when it comes to deciding whom or what will survive. so in this evolutionary tale the Catholic Church is a dinosaur, a relic of an age where women were deemed secondary to men, children should be seen and not heard and masochistic lunatics were admitted to the most privileged of stations (and I’m not talking about the Gardai or Dail Eireann here).

      The Catholic Church is dead. if people want to restore their faith in anything it is that of man’s humanity to man, woman and child – the origins of the term ‘church’.

      We dont need a bunch of supposedly celibate, cossetted, arrogant and detatched clergy to tell us how to live lives they’ve never experienced. This Catholic Church will not change and that message is very clear from the Pope. They have lost generations of people already yet the effects won’t be felt until the passing of a generation who grew up with these abuses in their midst. Let them count their flock then.

      I lost faith in the Church a long time ago and re-invested it in friends and family and that has given me more belief in anything than a book of vague generalisations or a stranger in a collar could never provide.

      I do feel genuinely sorry for those honest to goodness people who have dedicated their lives to a belief that is now in ruins and I hope they do find something better to believe in.

    • shane says:

      In the last decade, media reports on the Catholic Church have centred on child abuse. In the next decade, the 2010s,, much of the media focus will be on church closures, chiefly because of a massive clergy shortfall. The peak class for ordination in Maynooth was 1964, and as that generation is now retiring and/or dying out, it is not being replaced. That reaction of people, especially in small communities, to having their local church closed (given that they often include graveyards etc and as such family history) will be more than interesting.

      I am 19, so I never experienced the era when the Catholic Church had huge influence. When I went to secondary school, the priests had almost all left, and the 2 that were there did not teach anything but a watered down religion, often substituted for talking about wholly unrelated social topics (incidentalLy they were the kindest teachers I ever had). From speaking with the older generation I get a sense of perspective on the ancien regime, by which I mean before the mid-60s.

      A lot of recent media commentary has focused on the ‘oppressive’ nature of Irish Catholicism. My impression, it may be wrong, is that lay people were often not ‘oppressed’ by their priests, in some sort of involuntary and burdensome tyranny, but actually were quite enthuasiastic about following their directives, and very often, independently and individually, solicited advice from clergy on matters even when they were of a purely temporal nature (eg contracts and wills). The parish priest was a sort of minor king, who also fufilled secular roles, for example he was often ex officio the patron of the local school, the patron of the local GAA club, he had to attend the sick, and often took charge of charitable associations, such as the St Vincent de Paul, for the relief of the distressed.

      Parish halls were often the nodal point for the community, and organized local community events, such as raffles, music lessons, or Irish dancing. As such the Church was the focus of the community. A lot of commentary has focused on the sex stringent demands of Catholicism, but as far as I can assess, most priests were quite circumspect with regard to preaching about anything to do with sex from the pulpit. This frequently happened at ‘missions’ – which took place at least biannually – often they were led by the ‘fire and brimestone’ Redemptorists. But people I talk to emphasize that these missions were enjoyed as a social occasion and were often accompanied by stalls, and such facilitated a kind of communal interaction.

      It’s not too hard to see how all this faciliated a kind of ‘Father knows best’ and a belief that priests were, or should be seen as, impeccable, which is a huge factor in so many cover-ups IMO.

      It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about the ‘liberal’ Protestant churches nowadays, but I see very little liberal about the Protestant churches in Ireland as they existed in the old days. Indeed many Protestants could be quite scandalized at what they saw as the laxity of Catholics, especially which their more puritanical approach to Sunday Rest – Protestants here [You mean in N. Ireland? Deaglán] would not even milk cows on Sunday or let children ride on Swings – the casual use of religious language in daily speech or lottery/gambling/raffling, for which a lot of Catholic priests were fined in the North.

      The social glue which held Ireland together since the establishment of Maynooth or perhaps Council of Thurles began to fizzle in the mid-60s, and progressively declined since then to the early 1990s, when abuse revelations destroyed the reputation of the Church as an institution and led to a huge fall-off in Mass attendance.

      We are living in very historic times and it will be fascinating to see how Ireland develops in the next decades.

    • free willie says:

      It was rumoured in my family that my father was abused by the Christian Brothers to the point where he ran off to the 1st world war faking his age to join up.
      So this is not a modern phenomenon. Abuse in the Catholic Church is endemic & ancient.
      It stems from the unnatural practice of celibacy & male dominance in the Catholic Church. As a result it has either perverted good men or attracted perverts.
      “By their works you shall know them” is a good principle to work by. I am afraid this abuse is a massive indictment of not just the institution of the Catholic Church but also the entire Christian faith. What kind of faith is it that breeds or attracts such behaviour of abuse of children & widespread protection of the abusers? You cannot divorce beliefs from daily actions.
      As a first step no representative of the Catholic Church should be allowed to come into contact with children or young people nor to have any influence over education.

    • kynos says:

      Why was it called a sin against the Holy Ghost (and no, haven’t a clue nor looked it up yet)? Was it because it was unforgiveable like as in how Jesus said those who mocked him would be forgiven (sorry Him) but those who mocked the Holy Ghost would not? Just a guess now will go see if it’s right.

    • kynos says:

      Yep was.

    • patrick says:

      All thoes that commit the crime of abuse as well as all that cover up these crimes of abuse must face Irish courts as well be fully known to the public not only by the court but the Irish media. Then the persons that were abused can fully sue all those that did the abuse against them as well as their employer if on duty at the time as well as any that cover up o the crime in any way.Do not agree on low amount of damages but a full correct amount. Just note what they received in the USA for such damages. The entire nation must be investagated on any abuse crimes. Do not listen to any bishop or priest that wants to stop these investigations nation wide. The media of Ireland must always inform the public to the best of their ablity.NO PERSON OR GROUP ARE ABOVE ANY LAW OF IRELAND PERIOD.

    • kynos says:

      Some hold it to be the utterance of blasphemy directly against the Holy Ghost. Some the taking of pleasure in malice. Some, the continuance in a state of mortal sin until death, the final blasphemy being unrepentance. So it seems a Sin Against The Holy Ghost is open to much legal interpretation. Murder is murder. Manslaughter manslaughter. Rape rape. Torture torture. They do not, (given repentance before the last breath) appear to be Sins Against The Holy Ghost. Maybe we should be grateful Minister Ahern seeks to protect us from such appalling and finally damning indictments with his wall of corpses blasphemy law.

    • kynos says:

      Would say the Bodies in the Barrels murders in Australia, culminating in the sentencing of two killer sadists, who raped and tortured and murdered a large number of victims whom they suspected of being paedophiles or homosexuals and both. Horrific acts of bestial coldness and hate perpetrated upon innocent people. Would that be a Sin Against The Holy Ghost? What if they somehow one day repent before their deaths, which will be in prison however long they take in coming to rid the world of infection. What of the sins of those who apparently abused those two amoral animals as children? Were their sins Sins Against The Holy Ghost?

    • kynos says:

      The moral authority of anything stems from its integrity. Commissioner Staines was a clever man to say the GS would serve Irish society not by force of arms but by force of moral authority. Aspirational as Ireland’s committment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and international law’s observance as I note at times perhaps, but still to have an unarmed uniformed police force in this day and age is impressive still and all.

    • Briefcase says:

      Deaglan…Like the opening quotation…! Haven’t got the energy to get into this save to say I hope your’e not putting yourself at risk of prosecution under the ‘Blasphemy Law’…!

    • barbera O'Shcokenzy says:

      I thought it was God on today’s Irish Times front-page and then I realised it was Darwin. Great photograph.

    • kynos says:

      It may be that false repentance is the sin against the Holy Ghost. Lev 10.


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