`States Of Fear' Series


Sir, - Like the rest of us, Mr Fintan O'Toole has been deeply shocked by the harrowing stories of mistreatment of children in Irish orphanages and industrial schools in the latter half of this century. In his article (May 14th) he analysed what he believed to be the "attitudes that led to abuse (that were) entrenched in the system". Giving examples of exponents of such attitudes, he speaks of myself and Dr William Coulson among others.

Mr O'Toole referred to an article in The Irish Times in February, 1994, in which I spoke of a fundamental moral principle: "We have stewardship over our bodies but, like everything in the world, they belong to God. We render an account to him for what we do with our bodies." Mr O'Toole dubs this moral principle as "conservative Catholic".

It is in fact a mainstream Catholic position, a subordinate clause, as it were, to the integrity of the human person. This position runs through, for example, Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (cf 18, 25, 25-53, 27 and 56), The Catholic Catechism (373, 377 and elsewhere), as well as a wide range of contemporary moral theological opinion. It is shared by many philosophers and theologians across the Christian traditions. It underlies the morality of the development of the human person in relation to health, hygiene and the protection of life as well as sexual ethics. Coupled with established values of social justice and universal charity, it justifies ethical norms on care of the earth, social justice and global development.

I was astonished at Mr O'Toole's logic in claiming that this principle influenced the brutal treatment of a number of children in orphanages and industrial schools run by religious in Ireland in the second half of this century. In point of fact, what underlies such behaviour by those who carried out acts of brutality, those who knowingly remained silent and those in authority who failed to stop the aggressors, flouts this very norm.

Mr O'Toole also referred to Dr William Coulson. I spoke to Dr Coulson and he was pleased to hear that The Irish Times columnist had finally come to agree with me that he is not, as Mr O'Toole alleged (January 12th, 1994), Charles Colson of Born Again fame but in fact the distinguished ethno-psychologist, William Coulson, PhD, former colleague of Carl Rogers, and co-editor with him of 17 works on education. In recent years, he has become a severe critic of Rogerianism in education.

As regards the remarks attributed by Mr O'Toole to Dr Coulson during a lecture in Cork in 1993, his researchers have let him down again. If he refers to his speech given to the Education Forum of Ireland in UCC on February 13th, 1993, chaired by Dr Des McHale, the alleged statement is not in the recorded text.

With regard to Mr O'Toole's broad thesis that institutional and doctrinal Catholicism underlies the gross maltreatment of numbers of children in care, I wonder how he might explain the position regarding children in care in the UK? The Guardian referred to children's homes in the UK as being run by "a bureaucracy of paedophiles", while the Labour Welsh Affairs spokesman, Rhodri Morgan, spoke in the House of Commons of children's homes providing a "diet of sadism by day and sodomy by night".

Richard Webster, in his book, The Great Children's Home Panic, observes that "slowly but surely our prisons are filling up with care workers who have been convicted . . . by the end of 1996 at least 100 care workers had been arrested in one county alone". Webster claims that one-third of the English police force is engaged in retrospective investigations into care homes with similar investigations in progress in Wales and Scotland.

All of this occurs in a secular liberal democracy, built on the ideology of which Mr O'Toole is our local prophet. Is it not time, perhaps, he began to look into the impact of his own ideology on child care.

Finally, as regards his misuse of my name and opinions in the context of an aggressive discourse on the mistreatment of children in orphanages and industrial schools, this is an old tabloid journalist's smear trick: guilt by verbal association. I like to think this is unworthy of someone who has made a significant contribution to public debate in this country. - Yours, etc., Brian Gogan, CSSp,

Booterstown Avenue, Co Dublin.

Fintan O'Toole replies: Father Grogan leaves out an important sentence which I quoted from his Irish Times article of February 1994. Before the passage which he does quote, he states: "The claim that a child owns its own body is at odds with the Christian tradition." His reluctance to recall this statement speaks for itself.

Father Grogan also implies that I invented a quotation from William Coulson. Dr Coulson's description of advice to children that they should tell their teacher if they are being abused as "a direct attack on parental responsibility" is contained in the Cork Examiner's report of the event to which Father Grogan refers. Again, the reluctance to acknowledge that such a statement was made is unsurprising.