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Archive for December, 2009

A Visitor

Until a few years ago I never saw squirrels in Belfast. Then they started to appear in small numbers in the Ormeau Park. Now they are proliferating and this one has become a regular visitor to our garden.

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The disclosure by Gerry Adams that his father was a paedophile and a thug has come against the background of a countrywide sense of shock at abuse within the Catholic church.

Now the hierarchies of two historic institutions within the same community are under suspicion. The Catholic church and the IRA have a long history of antipathy but they have seemed at times almost mirror images of each other in their value systems, their reverence for martyrs, for instance. Now, as bishops come under pressure to resign because they failed to deal directly with child-abusing priests, the most revered republican in Ireland is having his own acquaintance with abuse scrutinised. It started last week when Áine Tyrell gave an interview to Ulster Television claiming that her father, Liam Adams, brother of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, had sexually abused her for years, from the ages of four to 12.

She revealed how she had reported this to the police and to Gerry Adams himself and how, over many years, Gerry had tried to bring Liam and his daughter together “to bring closure to Áine”. Gerry Adams has called on his brother to give himself up to the police. This in itself is indicative of the change in republican culture. In the past, those who were found to be sex abusers were shot dead by the IRA.

And a republican such as Liam Adams would have been prime pickings for blackmail and recruitment as an informer. It was in a second media interview about this that Gerry Adams dropped the bombshell news that his own father, Gerry Sr, who had been an IRA gunman in the 1940s, had also abused his children. Gerry said he had no personal memory of having been abused himself and that, though he lived in a family with 10 children in a small house, he had not been aware of this abuse until he was almost 50. The story that unfolds now is of a Gerry Adams who, through all the protracted negotiations to resolve the peace process in the past decade, had other burdens to carry, the revelation that his father had been a paedophile and the suggestion that a pattern of abuse had extended into his own generation.

Gerry Adams is now faced with exactly the same kind of questions that bishops are confronted with. In the case of the bishops these have become the test questions by which they can survive in their posts or must resign.

If Gerry Adams were a bishop he would be gone now. He has accepted that he handled things badly. When he brought his niece face to face with her allegedly abusive father, he acknowledged on BBC Radio Ulster that he should have done this within a therapeutic context. He acknowledges that he was slow to act when he discovered that Liam Adams was working with children, and that when he did act it was to approach Liam rather than those who employed him. And he says that he had Liam drummed out of Sinn Féin without explaining to the party why he believed he had to go.

The big question is whether any of this can damage Gerry Adams politically. One likely response is sympathy for a man who had borne a great family secret when he had political work of national importance to deal with at the same time. Another may be to pick at the details of his mismanagement for evidence of collusion or incompetence. But questions such as that can only damage him if they come from within his party. And he is still held in reverence by many there. But for many there is now a sense that Gerry Adams is not the man they thought they knew. He is more complex and more vulnerable. They always understood that he was a man with secrets from an IRA past he still denies. But such secrets as these?

Gerry has a problem in that he is expected not to tell the straightforward truth. He denies that he was in the IRA and most people understand that he has to do that. He doesn’t do candour.
Now he wants to be understood as speaking from the heart about his family problems and people are just looking for the political motivation or the hint of another game.
There are many reasons why he would have wanted to conceal the allegations of abuse made against his brother. Let me list some of them:
1. Those who had had members of their family shot by the IRA after being accused of sex abuse or other crimes would have charged Gerry with absolving his brother for no other reason than that he was a family member. They would have said that the IRA operated one law for ordinary Catholics and another for its insiders.
2. Many would have asked whether he was able to advance the peace process with these other family problems to deal with. The argument that he step aside would have been strong.
3. The allegations against his brother and the revelations about his father would have reflected badly on the republican movement. People would ask, as they do, if it is abuse and trauma that drives republican anger rather than British imperialism.
4. People would have asked if Gerry was capable of choosing reliable people. His chief administrator and head of security would be outed as British agents. A brother being investigated by the police for paedophilia would have compounded the impression that Gerry’s whole team was flaky.
5. The news that Liam Adams had been reported to the police for alleged child rape but not charged would have raised suspicion in republican circles that he was an informer and some would have wanted him interrogated on the basis of those suspicions.

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Unto Us a Child ….

My excuse is that there was no rehearsal and I was working with children.

Rev Chris Hudson roped me into his Nativity Play at All Souls Belfast and this is how it went.

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The Launch

This is me flanked by a couple of bright lights, Fiona and Sheila, from my memoir class at the launch of Under His Roof last week.

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Who Needs Bishops?

The Catholic church is in disgrace.
We do not know how many priests have molested children but we know that hundreds did. The old argument put up in defence of the church, that a child was in no greater danger from a priest than from any other type of person, is now invalidated. Children were in danger at the altar rails, in the sacristy and in schools.
Still, it is likely that more priests – many more – did not offend than did.
There is no excuse for some of the craven whinging from priests who tell us that they suffer now for sins they did not commit, drawn low in general esteem by the behaviour of others.
That behaviour suggests that they want to cash in on what victimhood is going and preserve the old relationship with the people and their children. They just don’t grasp the fact that it is the whole church that is tainted.
For, if there are many innocent priests, there are not so many innocent bishops.
Aside from Bishop Diarmuid Martin’s heroic breach with the institutional secrecy of the church, which made the Murphy report possible, there may not be a single other bishop above suspicion of criminal cover up and collusion.
We have now had two diocesan reports, in Ferns and in Dublin. The pattern of abuse and secrecy is the same in both. It may be presumed that the same pattern covers the whole island, and perhaps the whole Catholic world.
So, this is about a collapse of moral authority.
For many ordinary Catholics it must feel a bit like the fall of communism did in Russia. Archbishop Martin’s contribution was Glasnost, candour. It was timely and it was called for, but nothing that follows from it is reversible.
This is at least like the moment when Kruschev disclosed the sins of Stalin to a shocked populace, and made them nervous about how to reconcile their conditioned reverence for the Great Leader with the newly comprehended reality.
The question facing Ireland now is, who needs bishops?
The management of child abuse by the Vatican and the refusal to co operate with the Murphy commission, remind us that Rome is a foreign state exercising power in other countries. Indeed, the excuse for not co operating was precisely that it would only accept communications on a diplomatic, state to state basis.
It sees the relationship with Ireland as political.
There is only, however, a theological basis for an arrangement whereby appointed emissaries of Rome should excercise power in Ireland, govern schools and hospitals and direct the expenditure of government money. That basis is that the Catholic hierarchy is legitimate legatee of Christ’s apostles, dispensing divine authority.
If people don’t believe that, why would they concede any authority to a bishop?
The irony is that ireland has been preoccupied in the last century with the fear that it was being treated like a colony by Britain while Rome had its unanswerable consuls and footsoldiers in every parish and school.
And they took their orders from the top, even orders to contravene state law, as when in 2001 the Pope demanded that all complaints against priests be first referred to him, and that even this order should be kept secret.
Bishops are an unecessary stratum of authority. That they be removed is all the more urgent given that they have abused that authroity and conspired against the people. But who is to remove them?
The Taoiseach says that the sacking of bishops is for the church to decide on, even though his government shovels money towards the church for the administration of services which are government responsibility.
The Catholics of Ireland wouldn’t know how to ditch their bishops, even after they have lost all respect for them.
The priests have pledged obedience to the bishops, and when they have been at odds with them, they have cowered docilely away. This happened when the Conference of Priests of Ireland disbanded,two years ago, demoralised by a sense that the bishops were paying no attention to them.
And anyway, the dispute there was that the priests were angry about the main measure the bishops had put in place to assert their concern for abused children. They had ruled that any priest accused of abuse would be immediately suspended. Priests, who depend on the church for a roof over their heads, wanted this rule reversed.
Anyway, usurp the bishops and Ireland becomes protestant.
But the rapid fall off in the numbers of priests will change the character of Catholic Ireland soon, and shift the centre of influence to the laity. Some then will see the Bishops as the enduring link to a global church; some others may see them as a superfluous burden.
The behaviour of Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, cited in the Murphy report for ‘inexcusable’ handling of a paedophile priest during his time as an auxiliary bishop in Dublin, is an illustration of how reluctantly these men are slouching towards full realisation of their responsibility and shows us what pathetic moral champions they make.
Bishop Willie Walsh has been defending Murray on the grounds that somone who had read the report had explained to him that Murray’s offence was slight. Walsh conceded he had not read the report himself.
So his immediate instinct in the face of a moral challenge was to close ranks and patronise the rest of us. It was ok for him not to have read the report but the rest of us should lay off poor Donal Murray until we had.
In no other walk of life would such disemblers and bumblers be deferred to as figures of authority, and what Ireland is contemplating now is the possibility that those who covered up for paedophiles, on secret instructions from their master in Rome, should continue to wield power, run services, administer schools and hospitals and appoint the clergy and exact total obedience from those clergy.
This would be an almost inconceivably inappropriate and unjust outcome from the disclosures that they conducted themselves like a criminal mafia against the people from whom they exacted reverence.
But who will step forward and take responsibility and power away from these disgraced men?
Anybody?

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