The Ryan and Murphy reports have exposed the extent of the abuse carried out against children by Catholic priests in the Dublin Diocese between 1975 and 2004. It is also clear that such abuses have occurred in practically all parishes of the Roman Catholic Church in the whole island.
Physical and sexual abuses also occurred in industrial schools, orphanages, and the “Magdalene laundries run by orders of nuns. It is not our intention to dwell on the detail of the investigations, but we feel that it is important to look at the political and social ramifications of the reports.
No one would deny that the Catholic Church in Ireland holds a central position in the culture and politics of the state. It is true that over the past few decades that role has tended to wane. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the industrialisation of the country which has broken down some of the old rural communities and has reduced the influence of the Bishops and Priests. Ireland is more exposed to different cultures and influences.
But there was a time when the local priest was untouchable, when the Church’s word was gospel; when unmarried mothers were shipped off to England or the Magdalene laundries and orphaned kids were put into industrial schools. Under these conditions it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to realise that the whole system left thousands of children in a position of terrible vulnerability.
The truth is that the combination of genuine faith in the Catholic Church among Irish people and the opportunities that this permitted means that terrible wrongs were visited on thousands of children. This situation arose, and worse, was able to continue because of the unfettered power of the Church and the utter complacency and collusion of the Church Hierarchy and so it appears An Garda Siochana.
James Connolly wrote that religious belief was a private matter; he understood that many workers have genuinely held religious views. But in an allegedly “advanced” society, which was apparently up until recently one of the “best” places to live in the whole world, it is outrageous that so much abuse was allowed to continue for so long. The evidence points to a deeply hypocritical and rotten culture within the Church to which the Vatican was apparently prepared to turn a blind eye.
Child protection, defence of the vulnerable and the exposure of wrong doing and the abuse of power are a sign of a healthy society. The evidence in the reports reveals a sick and unhealthy side to Ireland. Throughout the whole world the “old established institutions” of the ruling class are in crisis. The Catholic Church has managed to side with the winners; in other words the various ruling classes for millennia. As the champions of the god given rights of kings and landlords in feudal times to offering support to their respective ruling classes in all the “just wars” in history. The huge material power of the church in Ireland comes from the time of British domination. The British handed state functions such as education and health to the Church because they were not concerned with "civilizing" Ireland. The Church has been protected and has been allowed to police itself, but at what a cost.
The clergy has acted as a secret society, but it has been its material power and collusion with the state and the Vatican that has allowed sections of the clergy to commit the moral and physical abuses on this massive scale with impunity. Institutionalised Catholicism has acted as a reactionary force throughout the world, particularly when allied with right-wing and fascist dictatorships in Europe and in Latin America. On every single occasion the hierarchy of the Church has taken the side of the oligarchs and the repressive and reactionary regimes. And, when there has been progressive movement within the Church such as Liberation Theology siding with the peasants, the workers and the poor, the hierarchy have gone out of their way to repress heresy. However, the Theology of Liberation was much closer to the message of the gospel, and what primitive Christianity represented.
The revelations of these reports will shake the conviction of many workers who genuinely hold religious beliefs. There will be demands from workers and even the middle classes for the Church to put its house in order, for Auxiliary Bishops and others to be thoroughly investigated and for those who are implicated to be thrown out. We believe that no stone should be left unturned and that there should be no “deals” done behind closed doors.
- The Trade Unions and Labour must demand no immunity from prosecution for the Clergy at all levels and officers of the Gardai at all ranks who colluded with the abuse.
- The whole system of child protection and safeguarding in Ireland must be completely overhauled and strengthened to ensure that the best possible protection is guaranteed to all children.
- That all Church appointments are made subject to independent external scrutiny and that a process of positive vetting is put into place.
- That Church accounts are opened to public scrutiny and accountability and that punitive compensation is paid to all victims of clerical abuse.
- That the Churches, given their historical failure to protect children, give up their control of the schools.