The Pope is patronising us.
The BBC reported his letter as an apology butit was nothing of the
kind, for he takes no responsibility at all for abuse or cover-up. He
is sorry in the way he might be sorry for the Haitian earthquake,
sorry it happened.
The most distinctive feature of his pastoral letter is his confidence
in his superior wisdom and in Rome’s detachment from the problem of
child abuse in Ireland.
His contribution to putting things right is to urge the church to pray,
and to rebuke bishops for having failed to understand canon law when
they protected abusers from the police.
He speaks of ‘information that has come to light’, as if it was news
to him that some priests had been raping children here for decades and
that his own bishops had been swearing traumatised children to
He refers repeatedly to the Irish bishops coming to him and reporting
the problem. He has listened to what they had to say, like a parent
who has summoned children to explain how a window had come to be
He has provided Irish Catholics with a prayer to say and he has urged
a special Mission to reflect on the sins of the past; he even promises
us an ‘Apostolic Visitation’. By this he means, I presume, that he’ll
be checking up on how well the local church is responding to his
advice and guidance.
Expect a lot of breast beating by bishops and clergy as they indulge
their remorse and come to feel better about themselves.
The letter addresses all the faithful of Ireland and sets out hopes
for the future, which are simply that the people will pray more
ardently and recover their respect for their clergy and their bishops
and that the tsunami of horror raised by the scandals will not reach
The Pope’s entire approach is as a wise teacher who has had nothing to
do with the creation or perpetuation of the problem of child abuse by
priests in Ireland, or the cover up, and who can put it right if we
follow his advice; which is to pray.
And Cardinal Sean Brady, who got into trouble by being a company man
at the start is loyal still and has welcomed the letter, expressed his
gratitude for it, as if the Pope had gone to some great trouble for us
all by writing it.
I wonder who did write it.Clearly somebody with a knowledge of Irish
history and an expectation that Catholics today will mellow in the
face of appeals to remember the history of the Irish Catholic
martyrs, ‘the rock from which [they] were hewn’.
The letter reflects on the history of Catholic persecution and the
rapid expansion of the church in Ireland after Catholic emancipation.
The writer occasionally loses the run of himself: ‘In almost every
family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an
aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church.’ This
overstates the enveloping scale of Irish Catholicism to the extent of
failing to notice that there are Irish Protestants too.
The pitch is to Irish Catholics to feel good about themselves; to
remember their proud history and not to be disheartened by the
scandal; it is an appeal to them to indulge instead the old fantasies
about the land of saints and scholars.
Much of the letter reflects on the creation of the problem of abuse.
None of the blame attaches to Rome. There were poor selection
procedures for priests and bad training in the seminaries, a culture
of deference in our society and ‘a misplaced concern for the
reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in
failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the
dignity of every person.’
The Pope accuses the bishops of failures of leadership and a
misapplication of canon law and tells them to ‘continue’ co operating
with the civil authorities, as if there was never any impediment to
them reporting abusers to the police, other than in their own failure
to grasp Rome’s intentions.
In other words, when Sean Brady was imposing oaths of silence on abused
children, it was out of a misreading of canon law, not a judicious
application of it.
The cardinal may be grateful for these Papal insights, as he says, but the
Pope has just washed his hands of him.
The letter says, ‘In particular, there was a well-intentioned but
misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular
The tragedy is that abuse has ‘obscured the light of the Gospel to a
degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing’.
So the letter concedes nothing to those who blame the cover up on
systemic failures within the Catholic church. There is no suggestion
anywhere that Rome was part of the cover up or that those priests and
bishops who protected abusers from the law had any endorsement for
their measures from the Vatican.
The Pope believes the Catholic church in Ireland can be restored to
former glory and that the scandals of abuse and cover up can be put
behind us. This is good news for anyone who feared for a moment that
the church was going to change rules on celibacy or obedience or
seriously consider that there was anything systemically wrong with it.
The only problem, after all, was the bishops and their recruitment and training
procedures and a weakening of the faith.The Pope trusts that all that
can be put right and that things will be back to normal before long.
The Pope says, blame the bishops, keep me out of it.
March 25, 2010 by Malachi
The Pope is patronising us.