Elliott lets the facts speak for themselves
RADIO REVIEW:AS ANYONE WHO has endured the phrase “going forward” will know, meaningless jargon is an unavoidable irritation of modern life, with portentousness of terminology rising in direct proportion to vapidity of substance. Fans of such linguistic transgressions – or masochists, as they are sometimes known – must have been in raptures tuning into The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) last Wednesday.
The air on Matt Cooper’s show was so thick with buzzwords – “identifying deficits”, “current practice” and, most excitingly, “objective standards-based monitoring” – that it made the most opaque corporate memo seem like a first-form reader. But Ian Elliott, the guest uttering these phrases, was not using them as a smokescreen. As the man responsible for last week’s audits on clerical child sexual abuse, the chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church was a model of openness.
Interviewed by Cooper after the publication of reports that uncovered hundreds of abuse cases in four dioceses and three religious orders, Elliott’s businesslike demeanour was almost refreshing, given the naturally charged emotions that usually dominate discussion on this matter. He calmly laid out the contents of the reports, letting the findings speak for themselves.
If Elliott avoided a judgmental tone, his host did not, asking if his guest had encountered “appropriate shame and contrition” among the church authorities. “Yes, in relation to some more than others,” replied Elliott, adding that most clergy were decent people tarnished by a minority. When the presenter asked what was to be done with those who had turned a blind eye, Elliott was unhesitating. “I believe very strongly those who have allowed harm to have occurred should be held accountable,” he said, though he noted the “infinitesimally small” number of convictions so far.
Only once did Elliott give a real hint of his personal convictions. Cooper replayed a clip from an interview given by Bishop John Kirby to The Keith Finnegan Show (Galway Bay FM, weekdays), in which he said “very little was known at the time about the insidiousness and compulsiveness of child sexual abuse” both in the church and in wider society. Kirby, who had moved child-abusing priests around parishes in his Clonfert diocese, also made the jaw-dropping assertion that he had seen paedophilia as “a friendship that crossed a boundary line”.
A shocked Elliott said he had encountered clerics who pleaded such ignorance in their defence – the same clerics who for years obsessed and promulgated on the sexual behaviour of the rest of the population – or used the excuse that no policies were in place on the matter. “I started in social work in 1972,” said Elliott, “and I didn’t need the existence of policies and procedures to be abhorred by child abuse.” For all his procedural lingo, Elliott proved a straight talker.