Power dressing should be discarded by Church


If Jesus were alive today he would probably wear jeans or track-suits. He would not dress in clothes such as those worn by the cardinals who gathered in Rome after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and during the process to select the new Pope.

The long dresses, red caps and fancy shoes are designed to impress observers and let them know where the power lies. This style of clothing shows a Church clinging to the trappings of power despite the power abuses and criminality exposed over the past few decades.

Irish media coverage of events at the Vatican in recent weeks has been unbelievably deferential. Viewers and listeners have been subjected to hours of news coverage and commentators’ opinions, with little or no reference by anyone to individuals in the Church’s criminal history.

Have people forgotten about the crimes perpetrated against children about which Benedict XVI and other Popes did nothing useful? The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse ( The Ryan Report ) 2009 devoted nine chapters to the abuses and crimes committed in Irish institutions.

“The harshness of the regime was inculcated into the culture . . . by successive generations of Brothers, priests and nuns. It was systemic and not the result of individual breaches . . .”

Sexual abuse, ranging from molestation and masturbation, to rape, “was endemic . . . and was managed in a way that protected the perpetrator”. Although the recidivist nature of sexual abuse was known to religious authorities, “the danger to children was not taken into account”.

The Commission of Investiga tion ( The Murphy Report ) 2009 devoted almost 500 pages to the way allegations of abuse by priests were dealt with by the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The report concluded that “child sexual abuse was widespread throughout the period under review” 1975-2004 .

Covered up

The Commission had no doubt

clerical sex abuse was covered up and did not accept the Church authorities’ claims that they were on a “learning curve” or were ignorant about the effects of child abuse.

“There is a 2,000-year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse.” The Church’s preoccupations in dealing with cases of child abuse were “the maintenance of secrecy . . . the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets”.

The 2010 report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne examined allegations of abuse by priests between 1996 and 2009, after the Church put in place procedures, known as The Framework Document, to deal with allegations of child abuse. “The principal feature of this report can be simply expressed . . . The Diocese of Cloyne did not implement these procedures for over 12 years.” The Vatican’s response to The Framework Document was “unsupportive”, particularly in relation to reporting to the civil authorities.

Many people think the Catholic Church is now dealing appropriately with child abuse. This is partly true.

New procedures
However, the new procedures, Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland (2009) , make no recommendations as to how the power imbalance, which is the root of the problem, within and between nuns and clergy, and men, women and children might be addressed. Standard 3: Prevention, does not say how to bring about a power-sharing culture.

Physical and sexual abuses of all kinds happen because of abuse of power and for no other reason. Anywhere there is an imbalance of power, there is abuse. When people accept this simple fact there can be no surprises about any organisation that facilitates and covers up these crimes.

The massive abuse of power that occurred at every level within the Catholic Church is no different to other power abuses such as the case of Jimmy Savile and the BBC. Children will never be safe from physical and sexual abuse until power is shared equally. This can be demonstrated by symbols of power such as a dress code. When cardinals and bishops start wearing ordinary clothes I will believe the Catholic Church has changed.

Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion