Public hostility to the church may lead to selective blame
Few can have missed the dramatic contrast between the Taoiseach’s weak response to the McAleese report in the Dáil last Tuesday and his momentous attack on the Vatican in July 2011.
On that previous occasion, he colourfully accused the Vatican of “elitism, dysfunction, disconnection and narcissism” and alleged that the rape and torture of children had been “downplayed or managed” by the Catholic Church, to uphold “the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation”.
He also, interestingly, said that the historic relationship between church and State in Ireland could never be the same again, the revelations in the Cloyne report having brought the government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to “an unprecedented juncture”.
It is tempting to reprise that speech in its entirety today, with ironies highlighted to draw attention to certain evasions and anomalies in the Taoiseach’s rather less confident performance last Tuesday. But there is a more glaring aspect.
“After the Ryan and Murphy reports”, said the Taoiseach in one passage of his 2011 speech, “Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic …”
Did you see what he did there? By lumping Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne together, the Taoiseach insinuated that the matters described in those reports reflected poorly on the church alone. But whereas the other two reports looked at the horrific legacy of clerical sex abuse in, respectively, Cloyne and Dublin, the Ryan report of 2009 falls into a different category, being concerned with abuse within church institutions which the State availed of as part of its system for dealing with troublesome children.
Delayed and frustrated
The first chairwoman of the investigating committee into the running of orphanages and reformatories, Judge Mary Laffoy, appeared to set about her work with considerable zeal.
But, from the moment that investigation began in 2001, the Department of Education did everything in its power to delay and frustrate matters, leading eventually to Judge Laffoy withdrawing from her own investigation.
Her successor, Judge Seán Ryan, appeared to interpret his brief rather more narrowly. Bruce Arnold, author of The Irish Gulag, wrote in an online commentary on the published Ryan report that it had let the State off the hook: “The real culprit was and is the State, which is still floundering over child protection. The State approved, backed and used, intemperately and without consideration of the lives of victims, our legal system to incarcerate vast numbers of children.