Holy Catholic Ireland

A few days ago I sat next to a fundamentalist Christian at dinner. She asked me at one point what my religion was. I replied that, having been brought up in Ireland, I had been thoroughly inoculated against that kind of nonsense.

Yesterday, the report of the Murphy Commission into child sex abuse by priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin was published. The report shows, in graphic detail, that what lies at the heart of the Catholic Church in Ireland is a profound and widespread corruption, perpetrated by liars, child sex abusers and those senior clerics at the very top — including at least one cardinal — who covered up their crimes. The full text of the report is on the Web, and I’ve only read Part One (and I’m not sure I have the stomach to tackle Part Two), but for a quick and insightful commentary you could do worse than read Mary Raftery’s column in today’s Irish Times. This is how it begins:

THERE IS one searing, indelible image to be found in the pages of the Dublin diocesan report on clerical child abuse. It is of Fr Noel Reynolds, who admitted sexually abusing dozens of children, towering over a small girl as he brutally inserts an object into her vagina and then her back passage.

That object is his crucifix.

Nobody who grew up in 1950s Ireland will be surprised by the Murphy report — or by the earlier Ryan Report into abuse of children by Catholic religious orders throughout Ireland. To say that the Ireland of my youth was a priest-ridden society is the grossest of understatements. The deference shown by the State to the Catholic church was total. But the interesting thing about the new report is that it has been investigating a much more recent period in Irish history from the 1970s onwards — when the country was supposedly beginning its long march towards Celtic tigerhood. Now we find that the power of the church to protect its interests and to ignore its duty of care to the children of its credulous flock was as untramelled in that period as it had been in the 1950s.

What’s becoming clear is that the entire history of post-independence Ireland needs to be rewritten. The child abuse inquiries have revealed how corrupt was the religious institution that purported to provide moral guidance to the citizens of the fledgling state. And the various tribunals that have inquired into political corruption, together with what the banking meltdown has revealed about the pervasive corruption and criminality in Irish government, banking and construction, suggest that all the propaganda about a modern European democracy was just so much hooey. In truth, post-Imperial Ireland was more like Sicily with heavy rainfall than a modern secular state.