The Blanket

Suffer Little Children
It makes no sense that an institution which can be severe - brutal even - to dissenters is simultaneously so blind to the destruction of young lives by some of its priests. And to the gross betrayal of trust this "blindness" allows. - Patsy McGarry

Anthony McIntyre • 4.11.02

'Where privileged men had access to powerless children' is one of those insightful little phrases woven almost seamlessly into the fabric of a piece of writing. Only when the eye involuntarily breaks its stride passing over it and the mind is enlivened by what has punctured the insipid content of endless texts does the full potency of the word craft stake its claim in the memory banks. Such phrases caress the intellect to the point of providing it with a seemingly instant clarity about a particular circumstance. The author of this specific gem was Nuala O'Faolain and she endowed it with the necessary clarity in which to describe the power relationship that exists between certain clergy - backed up by a powerful institutional network - and young children.

O'Faolain was commenting on the arch diocese of Boston which had refused to halt one of its flesh loving fathers in his pursuit of lust attacks against young children - 130 in all were molested by the predator. The arch diocese later had to furbish the police with the names of 90 priests who had abused children in the previous 50 years. No doubt those who bombed Omagh will be hoping that the public follow this example and show similar latitude to them, in the certain knowledge that they shall be long dead of natural causes before their names are handed in.

O'Faolain's article was set in the context of controversy raging over the behaviour of the priestly pervert Sean Fortune. The Catholic hierarchy throughout the 1970s and 1980s placed him on a paedophile’s travelling circus. Bishop Comiskey, more than anyone else acted as ringmaster for the corrupting clown, declining to respond to four separate allegations of abuse against young people from 1984. A number of Fortune's victims allegedly have committed suicide.

Since the Fortune disclosures church credibility has plummeted in inverse proportion to the rocketing of public ridicule as the vesper’s nest is prodded. Yet there is a measure of public self-denial in all of this; as if it were a subject which, while there, should be accepted silently rather than face a voluble discourse about its existence. Only recently I was travelling in a taxi when a friend, Aine, asked about the music that seems to blare out from the back of my home when she calls. I live right on the back of a local chapel. I dislike the music because it invariably happens on a Saturday evening when the child has just gone over for the night. The noise wakes her and makes her cranky. But we all must live and some noise pollution in our cramped housing estates is unavoidable. But in response to Aine I said, facetiously, that ‘the priest gets himself a bottle of wine, an altar boy and then parties all night.’ Being as irreverent as myself Aine laughed but the taxi driver seemed as if he was about to swerve off the road. While I have never heard the faintest suggestion of any wrongdoing involving the clergy where I live and the comment was a joke, it was clear that the driver would have felt much more comfortable had the topic been avoided altogether. I was tempted to wind him up by divulging that in my more intolerant moments I am tempted to say that the abusers should be taken out and whipped but it always dawns on me that many of them would love it, shouting ‘yes, yes’ at the very suggestion. That he resiled from my earlier comment dissuaded me. Enough discomfort caused for one day.

Thankfully, such self-denial is no longer as pervasive as it once was given that there are other matters not related to the clergy and child abuse about which to drift into self-denial. People can even be heard openly criticising the cardinal during mass. The Papal Knights have so far been unable to lance what they regard as the boil of increasing dissent.

But as Fintan O’Toole intimates such inability has come only lately. Arguing that sexual molestation of children by Irish priests stretches back at least decades he claims ‘these crimes were indeed very well understood but the knowledge was deliberately suppressed.’ No where has this been more evident than with the smothering of the Carrigan report of 1931. O’Toole writes:

It pointed to ‘an alarming amount of sexual crime, increasing yearly, a feature of which was the large number of cases of criminal interference with girls and children from 16 years downwards, including many cases of children under 10 years.’ It also suggested that less than 15 per cent of these cases were brought to court. ‘The frequency of assaults on young children is to some degree attributable to the impunity on which culprits may reckon.’

He goes on to make the point that this situation prevailed every bit as much in the dark days of the 1990s as it did in the 1930s:

There are still parents who have been ostracised in local communities because they made complaints about abusive priests. There is still a deep reservoir of wilful ignorance that will not go away unless others as well as the bishops take responsibility.

Although a non-believer, I was honoured to address the Maranatha Christian community this morning. During our exchange I went the full distance in accepting their view that punishment beatings were a terrible wrong although I dissented from their position that the rationale behind such beatings can always be traced to the need of the few to maintain control over the many. Nevertheless, it is the type of activity that has allowed republicanism to assume an image described by one critic as that of 'a baseball bat smeared with blood.' Also, it has in part lay behind calls for the disbandment of the IRA. Such attitudes if prompted by a concern for youth are hardly disreputable. But to keep faith with consistency I suggested to the assembled Christains that as our young people are currently under greater threat from Catholic priests than IRA volunteers why not disband the Catholic Church? Would society be any the poorer if we did? Children would certainly be much safer.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

10 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Managing the Strategy
Breandán ó Muirthile


Remembrance Day
Billy Mitchell


Going Back To The Start
Eamonn McCann


Suffer Little Children

Anthony McIntyre


Exposing Adams' Secrets To The Light Of Day
Jim Cusack


Pinnocchio, Oh, Oh!

Brian Mór


98th Death on Hunger Strike in Turkish Prisons


The Letters page has been updated.


7 November 2002


Our Community
Liam O Ruairc


Billy Mitchell


To The Beat of a Different Drum
Anthony McIntyre


Bring Back Stormont and Political Status

Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Pinnocchio Redux

Brian Mór




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