29 August 2011

Some Thoughts on Raphoe

While I'm generally averse to conspiracy theories, and am usually reluctant to ascribe to malice that which is more easily explained by incompetence, there are times when I think the mainstream media's coverage of child abuse -- with particular reference to the Church in Ireland -- is so wrong-headed that it might as well be conducted through malice as through ignorance and incompetence. The effects could hardly be worse.

The constant focus on clerical abuse perpetuates a double injustice.

The obvious injustice is against the Church and ordinary Catholics, with lies, half-truths, and prejudice being the norm, and with facts being ignored; while this is blatantly unfair, there is, however, a level at which Catholics should expect this, with the Church being expected to continue the sufferings Christ experienced on the Cross.

The less obvious injustice, however, and one which should worry even even those ill-disposed towards the Church and not remotely bothered by a sense of fairness, is that against the many hundreds of thousands of Irish people who were abused in the past by people who weren't clergy, and the doubtless many many thousands of Irish children who are being abused today. Our constant focus on clerical abuse distracts people from the fact that the 2002 SAVI Study showed that for every victim of clerical abuse in Ireland, there were sixty other victims of child sexual abuse. We hardly ever talk about them. We make people think the problem is out there. It's not. The real danger is far closer.

Take a look at this piece in today's Guardian. In principle it's about clerical and non-clerical abuse, but it's written in such a way as to make non-clerical abuse seem an aspect of clerical abuse.

The springboard for the article is the impending publication of the Irish Church's own child-protection agency's audit of Raphoe Diocese. The purpose of the audit is to examine to what extent the Diocese is complying with the Church's own child-protection policies and procedures. It is, essentially, the same sort of internal investigation as that which led to the removal of John Magee as bishop of Cloyne in 2009.

You'd not think that, though, would you, to read the opening paragraphs of the Guardian article.
'County Donegal in Ireland is about to have its bucolic image shattered by a report into how paedophiles, both clergy and laity, abused children for decades.

An investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Catholic diocese of Raphoe in County Donegal is about to report its findings, which are expected to be damning. '
Leaving aside how Martin Ridge's 2008 book Breaking the Silence rendered impossible the maintenance of idlyllic delusions about Raphoe, the audit isn't an investigation into clerical sex abuse; it's an investigation into how the Diocese has over recent years dealt with allegations of abuse, whether proven or otherwise. These are not the same thing.

The bulk of the story, then, concerns a gentleman who says was abused by an man in the neighbourhood when he was a child between 1965 and 1972. The article introduces this as follows:
'Speaking for the first time about his abuse as a child and the subsequent cover-up, John O'Donnell revealed that he had been abused since he was nine by a lay member of a local church choir.'
The article says the abuse took place in the man's home and the shop he ran; it gives no reason to believe that this alleged abuse was in any way connected with the fact that the abuser sang in the church choir. That fact may well have been revelant to the alleged abuse, but at least based on the evidence presented, his role in the Church seems to have been wholly incidental to what's alleged to have happened.

What of the cover-up? Well, it seems Mr O'Donnell first approached the Guards about this in 1973, when he was sixteen, and that the Guard he spoke to didn't believe him:
'A local guard was outraged that I was naming such a fine upstanding member of the community as a child rapist. The officer slapped me on the face and told me to get out. He said to me that I was adopted and not worth anything. From that day on I never fully trusted a member of the Garda Síochána.'
Now, I'm not saying for a moment that if this happened it wasn't reprehensible, but if anything it sounds more like scandalised disbelief rather than a determined cover-up.

On the story goes, to say how after the various clerical abuse stories that had broken through the 1990s, Mr O'Donnell tried to raise the issue again, with the Guards tackling it this time and questioning the man. He says that in 2005 he approached the Parish Priest as well, because the man was still singing in the choir and thereby working with young people, but that the priest refused to discuss the matter with him. This may well have been not ideal, pastorally speaking, and there's a very high chance that this was contrary to the Irish Church's published child-protection policies, but it's hardly a cover-up: the matter was already in the hands of the Guards, after all.

The article doesn't say what the upshot of the Garda investigation O'Donnell's allegations was; it does say the alleged abuser has since died, but it's unclear whether his death had precluded a prosecution. Certainly there's no suggestion that the alleged abuser was ever found guilty of the alleged abuse; the fact that he's not named is telling.

He may well have been guilty, but that's a separate issue. On the issue of Garda collusion, the article reports:
'Two years ago the Murphy report into widespread clerical abuse of children in Dublin, Ireland's largest Catholic diocese, found that senior Garda officers colluded with four archbishops and top clerics in covering up the sex crimes of priests on a massive scale in the city.'
Quite bluntly, this simply isn't true. The Murphy Report said no such thing. 

One of the most astonishing features of the Murphy Report is how clearly it demonstrates the ingrained clericalism of Irish society in the 1970s and 1980s. Where the Murphy Report criticises the Guards, and it does so on  a few occasions occasions, it generally does so either for a haphazard approach to investigations of for what seems to have been a sincere -- if deeply and disastrously misguided -- conviction that complaints against priests were somehow outside their remit.

With the possible exception of Bishop Kavanagh and Chief Superintendent O'Connor's dealings in connection with how Bill Carney was tried in 1983, the Report in no way suggests that there was any collusion between high level police or clerics with the intention of covering up abuse: on those occasions when Gardaí passed on complaints to clergy, rather than doing their job and dealing with it themselves, it seems to have been in the genuine belief that the Church would deal with the matter.

As we know, it regularly failed to do so, but that's another story.

I'm not looking forward to the audit of Raphoe coming out, but I don't think we need to worry about the Diocese failing to publish stuff that'll make it look bad. Ian Elliot's done a fine job as head of the Church's National Board for Child Protection, and it was his clashes with Magee and O'Callaghan in Cloyne that led to Magee being removed from position there. I think we can be pretty confident that if there should be any attempt in Raphoe to block Elliot's findings we'll hear about it very quickly.  In the meantime, I don't see that there's anything to gain by publicising rumours or what we imagine the audit might cover.

We'll find out soon enough.

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