20 July 2011

360,000 New Irish Criminals?

I couldn't help but think yesterday that it's a very weird week when you find yourself agreeing with both Daniel Hannan and Kevin Myers. I don't think I've ever agreed with Hannan before, and I'm never happy about standing on the same side of any issue with Myers, but I think they've both been, broadly, right in the last week or so. 

Hannan tries to slap down those who have been trying to maintain that the phone-hacking scandal is a Guardian plot, which, of course, it isn't; it's a real story, and if it came to the fore at a curiously fortuitous time for those who oppose the vitiating influence Rupert Murdoch has had on British public life since at least the early 1980s, well, that's purely down to the fact of the trial of Milly Dowler's murderer having ended only a few weeks ago.

As for the odious Mr Myers, well, he reckons the official reaction to the Cloyne Report in Ireland is such that:
'The Government is now effectively handing a legal charter to every hysteric, every troublemaker, every malcontent and every evil-doer, with its insane proposals effectively to make it a criminal offence for anyone not to disclose "information" that a child is being sexually or physically abused.'
I'm afraid he's not wrong on this. We have problems in Ireland, as should be very clear to anybody who's read the SAVI, Ferns, Ryan, Murphy, and Cloyne reports, but the Government's solutions aren't going to do any good, will probably come to nothing, and may well do an enormous amount of harm.

Enda Kenny in the Dáil
Look at Enda's speech today, with all its portentous ellipses, hanging heavily as though he's saying something profound. He opens as follows:
'The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture. It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic…as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.'
And onward he ploughs in a full-blown attack on what the Vatican did three years ago, despite the fact that you can trawl through the Cloyne Report until the Papal bulls come home, and nowhere will you find any evidence to support any argument of Rome having sought to frustrate an Inquiry in Ireland in the last three years. Seriously, don't trust me on this. Look at the document and do some electronic searches. It's easy to do. You don't have to read it all first, like I did. Just do a few searches. Look up 'Vatican', 'Rome', 'Nuncio', and 'Congregation for', and you'll quickly see that there's not one reference there to Rome having frustrated any kind of inquiry.

Now, granted, there is a reference to the Nuncio in, I presume, 2009 having been asked to pass on any information it might have about matters under investigation (C2.11), to which the Nuncio replied saying that the Nunciature:
'[...] does not determine the handling of cases of sexual abuse in Ireland and therefore is unable to assist you in this matter. In fact, such cases are managed according to the responsibility of local ecclesiastical authorities, in this instance the Diocese of Cloyne. Like all ecclesiastical entities in Ireland, the Diocese of Cloyne is bound to act in accordance with canon law and with all civil laws and regulations of Ireland as may be applicable.'
Could this be what Enda's talking about? Surely not. After all, it's true that the Nuncio doesn't determine how sexual abuse cases are handled. And yes, Rome would have been in possession of documents, but it wouldn't have held any documents that weren't also held by Cloyne itself, and the Nuncio was quite clear that Cloyne had a legal obligation to comply, not merely with canon law, but with the law of the land. And, and this should settle this, the Report explicitly recognises that Cloyne passed on all the relevant documentation (C2.12), whether it was privileged or not! In no way does this suggest that Rome sought to frustrate the Inquiry.

So much for the Taoiseach -- the Tánaiste's no better
But of course, there's been lots of similar nonsense talked in the last few days. Listen to Eamon Gilmore, blustering last week:
'I want to know why this State, with which we have diplomatic relations, issued a communication, the effect of which was that very serious matters of the abuse of children in this country were not reported to the authorities. [...] What happened here should not have happened. What happened here was a totally inappropriate, unjustified and unacceptable intervention by the Vatican in the reporting arrangements, even within the context of the arrangements of the church itself. They conveyed a message to priests which may have led them to believe that they could in conscience not report matters to the authorities.'
He was talking about the Congregation for Clergy's 1997 response to the Irish bishops' 1996 document Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, which he wholly mischaracterises, going further even than the Cloyne Report itself in that regard. As I said the other day, the Report describes how the Irish bishops' 1996 Framework Document was sent to Rome in the hope of it getting Rome's approval, such that it should be regarded as canonically binding, and how a year later the Papal Nuncio passed on the response of the Congregation for Clergy (C1.18, 1.76, 4.21). Does that really strike you as an 'intervention'? 

If somebody asks you a question, and you reply, is that an intervention? Even if the reply you get isn't the reply you'd wanted?

Gilmore seems to be trying to say that Rome interfered, whereas basically what happened is that the bishops drafted a common response, asked Rome if it could be made binding, and were told that it couldn't, as the Congregation for Clergy had concerns about it. As I said the other day, there's no suggestion in the Cloyne Report that it was the intention of the Vatican to undermine the Irish Church -- let alone the Irish State. Frankly, even insofar as the Report says that this was the effect of the Vatican's answer, it's only evidence for this is the actions of one priest, a priest who the Report shows as having utterly flouted the Vatican's instruction in that same 1997 reply that canon law should be 'meticulously followed', and who later interpreted a 2001 instruction in accordance with the subtext he imagined was there rather than the text that was!

Now, I'm not saying that the 1997 reply was the response the Irish bishops wanted, or that it's one the State would have hoped for, but that's not to say it wasn't legitimate. This is blatantly obvious from the Report itself, such that I'm left wondering whether Gilmore's not read the report, can't read, or is simply using the sexual abuse of children decades ago by Catholic priests as a political football, something he can use to distract the country from the Government's performance in other spheres. After all, how can a country with no army to speak of rattle its sabre in a jingoistic way, other than to rattle it against a country which famously has no divisions at all...

A Proposal to Deprive the Abused of Healing, and to Criminalise their Loved Ones
The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Justice and Equality, and Minister for Children are talking utter nonsense, I'm afraid. Should they succeed in making mandatory the reporting of all 'knowledge' of sexual abuse, irrespective of how one comes by that knowledge, such that failure to report abuse will be a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison, they will have succeeded only in creating an unenforceable and unconstitutional law, that will deprive thousands of abuse victims of the possibility of achieving any kind of peace in this life, while criminalising many thousands more.

Don't believe me? Well, let's crunch some very grim numbers.
If the 2002 SAVI Study, conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in association with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, is any way accurate, child sexual abuse has been endemic in Ireland. You can read the Executive Summary of it online, though the full study seems no longer easily available -- I downloaded it years ago.

It can be hard to make the numbers make sense at times, and though I may go through them at some point it'd just clutter things to do my rough work now, but the Study can be gutted to reveal the following core points, based a high response rate and a sample of more than 3,000 people:
  • Roughly 27 per cent Irish adults in 2001 had been the victims of child sexual abuse.
  • Just under 65 per cent of child abuse victims had been abused whilst under the age of twelve. 
  • Over 48 per cent of abuse survivors had never disclosed their experiences to anyone before being surveyed.
  • Just under 52 per cent of abuse survivors surveyed had previously told family, friends, or others of their experiences.
  • Only about 5 per cent of abuse cases had at that point been reported to the Gardaí.
  • Just 16 per cent of 38 abuse cases reported to Gardaí had gone to court; of these six cases, only four had resulted in a verdict of guilt.
  • In other words, little more than 10 per cent of reported abuse cases had by 2001 led to a criminal conviction.
  • More broadly, only about 0.5 per cent of abuse cases had at that point led to a criminal conviction.
  • Fewer than 1.7 per cent of abusers appear to have been religious ministers of any sort.
Now, think about this. At least in 2001, when the survey was conducted, more than a quarter of Irish adults had experienced child sexual abuse, almost half of abuse cases remained undisclosed to anybody, and of those that had been disclosed, the vast majority had not been passed on to the Gardaí. Or, putting it another way, 12.5 per cent of the Irish adult population in 2001 had told people of having been sexually abused when they were children, but neither they, nor anyone they had told, had passed this on to the Gardaí.

How many people did they tell? That's impossible to tell, really, but let's assume, for the sake of convenience, that they all told just one person each, and the people they told hadn't themselves been abused. In reality, I think many will have told more than one people, and that some of those who they told will have been told by others of their abuse, and that some of them are survivors themselves, but still, let's assume those possibilities cancel out, and just run with one confidante per survivor. 

This means that -- victims aside -- one in eight Irish adults in 2001 was witholding knowledge of child abuse from the Gardaí. According to the 2002 census, there were 2,904,172 adults in Ireland the year after the SAVI Study was conducted. It seems that something of the order of 360,000 of them must have been withholding knowledge of child abuse.

Victims trapped in their pain, and Confidantes threatened with prison...
360,000 people. That's how many people Deputies Kenny, Gilmore, Shatter, and Fitzgerald look set to criminalise. Not thousands. Not tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. The husbands and wives of abuse victims. Their partners, their parents, their children, and their friends. And yes, their doctors, their social workers, and their priests too. But not just them. This isn't about the Church. It's about all of us.

Are we guilty of endangering other children by keeping our mouths shut? Maybe, and I think we need to try to find a way to resolve that. But this crude rabble-rousing isn't the way forward.

If you'd been abused, and you didn't want to go to the Gardaí -- for whatever reason -- do you really think you ought to be deprived in confiding in anybody, deprived of getting some small measure of healing by opening up and telling someone you loved what had happened to you when you were small, about why you have the cracks you do, why you find it so hard to love, to trust, and even sometimes to touch? That's what this law threatens to do. It'll force thousands of abuse survivors to choose between asking their loved ones to turn themselves into criminals or remaining trapped in their pain.

Is this something we really want to do?

I have a very strong interest in my Church being such that it does not in any way hinder children in coming in Jesus, and in my nation cherishing all its children equally. We have a terrible problem at home. This isn't the way to fix it. I don't know what is, but this isn't it.

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