Public hostility to the church may lead to selective blame
“It was done for largely trivial, superficial and unresearched reasons and on the entirely meretricious excuse that it was for the good of the children.”
But the public discussion that followed focused almost exclusively on the church. The issue of how children came to be committed to the institutions under examination had been excluded from the remit of the Ryan investigation, on rather dubious “constitutional” grounds.
Hence, although we heard much about the deeds of priests and nuns, we heard almost nothing about the roles of civil servants, judges, social workers, probation officers and gardaí who were responsible for delivering children to their fates.
Failures of politicians
There was minimal scrutiny of the failures of politicians, even though, over the previous 75 years, several key opportunities to bring the nature of these institutions into the light had been elided by those with political responsibility at those times.
The Ryan report amounted, in effect, to a controlled explosion of the truth, drawing scrutiny towards the church and its personnel while carefully directing the public’s eyeline away from the State’s role in the same evils.
The brief of the McAleese group specifically related to State involvement in the Magdalene laundries, and its report provides a subtle and clear indictment of the State’s culpability, demonstrating that church and State were, in effect, the same. But the overall tenor is such as to suggest a rather less stark picture than we had been conditioned to expect. So, once again perhaps, the public’s attention has been briefly directed towards our historically dysfunctional state, and then, persuaded that things in the Magdalenes were not as bad as they might have been, directed away.
Power becomes accountable only when it’s waning. Did the ventilation of the abuses in various institutions dealing with children and women became a possibility only when public hostility towards Catholicism rendered the church a legitimate target for politicians, including “conservative” ones like Enda Kenny? Has growing public disfavour towards the Catholic Church been used to provide a shield for the State to deflect responsibility from itself for involvement in some of the most glaring outrages and abuses witnessed since Irish independence?
And if so – if our outrage at past wrongs is predicated on placing blame only selectively – can it be a genuine and useful outrage at all?