Cult of loyal obedience at heart of lies and cover-up


ANALYSIS:NOTHING QUITE as perfectly illustrates the moral rot at the core of institutional Catholicism in Ireland as the concept of “mental reservation”.

Exposed in the Dublin diocesan report, “it permits a churchman knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying”.

A concept “developed and much discussed over the centuries”, it was explained to the commission by no less a person than Cardinal Desmond Connell.

A homely example of what it involves was given by the commission in its report.

“John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates. The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not.”

The commission continued “this is clearly untrue but in the Church’s view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved the words ‘. . . to you’. Thus the term “mental reservation”.

So the Archdiocese of Dublin and Cardinal Connell were not lying when in a 1997 statement it said it had co-operated with gardaí where Marie Collins’s complaint of abuse was concerned.

She knew this was untrue and had the statement checked out.

A spokesman for the archdiocese put it like this “we never said we co-operated fully”, placing emphasis on the word “fully”, the report commented.

Cardinal Connell himself explained to Andrew Madden that he had not been misleading journalists when he denied that compensation for victims came from diocesan funds.

The report said Cardinal Connell told journalists “that diocesan funds ARE (report’s emphasis) not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds WERE not used for such a purpose.

“By using the present tense he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past”.

The cardinal “considered that there was an enormous difference between the two”, Madden told the commission.

And that has been the problem with the Catholic Church where this awful issue is concerned. Using concepts which are morally dubious, it has, in reality, lied, obfuscated, struck an occasional repentant pose, and gone on as before.

You don’t believe me?

Well, how about this?

In September 2006, the commission wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (of which Pope Benedict had been head until April 2005) asking for information on the document Crimen Solicitationis, which deals with clerical sex abuse.

It also asked for information on reports of clerical child sexual abuse conveyed to it by the Dublin archdiocese.

There was no reply.

Instead, the Vatican contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs to say the commission had not gone through appropriate diplomatic channels.

Just one month after that letter was sent by the commission to Rome, Ireland’s Catholic bishops visited Pope Benedict at the Vatican on their ad limina visit. Such visits occur usually every five years and involve a report by a bishops’ conference on church affairs in their country.

In his address to the Irish bishops that October, Pope Benedict said that “in your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.”

As he spoke thus, the Vatican did not deign to even acknowledge a letter from an Irish statutory authority set up by a government of the Irish people “to establish the truth of what happened in the past” where such abuse was concerned in the largest Catholic diocese on the island.

Protocol, you see.

Similar commitment to protocol over truth prevented the papal nuncio to Ireland replying to letters from the commission in 2007 and again earlier this year.

It seems that not even courtesy takes precedence over protocol where the Vatican or its diplomatic representative in Ireland are concerned.

It is not difficult then to accept the commission’s finding that, where clerical child sex abuse was concerned, the focus in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese “was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests”.

It was a case of the institution über alles.

That this should be the emphasis of senior prelates in the archdiocese was bad enough but that the commission also found that where Dublin’s priests were aware of instances of abuse “the vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye” will come as a particular disappointment to many ordinary Catholics.

The root of such behaviour, whether of senior prelates or priests, comes down to blind loyalty to the institution.

It has been proposed that a major reason for clerical child sex abuse is the church teaching on mandatory celibacy for its priests. It may be so, but the root of this enormous scandal of cover-up, arrogance and lies is a cult of loyal obedience. This has been shown,again and again, to supersede morality and conscience – with some few exceptions – where churchmen are concerned. Or should that be “WERE” concerned?

It is hard to know what the future is for such an institution in Ireland. It is less hard to know whether such an institution should have a future in Ireland.