07 September 2011

The Taoiseach's Speech Revisited

In the aftermath of the Cloyne Report -- and to a lesser degree before it -- I've written a lot of posts about abuse in Ireland. Those of you who've been following me will understand where I'm coming from on this, but for any newcomers, it may help if I quickly explain three things.

First, I believe sexual abuse is endemic in Ireland. Research carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in connection with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, and published in 2002 as the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) Study, indicated that 27.1% of Irish adults surveyed in 2001 were survivors of one form or another of child sexual abuse. Based on the 2002 census figures, this means that a decade ago there must have been something of the order of 780,000 Irish adults who'd been abused as children. Of these, 530,000 had been subject to contact sexual abuse, and of those, 120,000 had been raped.

(It's difficult to tell whether abuse is significantly more prevalent in Ireland than elsewhere. Different sampling and research methods have been used in different countries, such that it's hard to compare figures. It looks as though Ireland is among the worse countries for this sort of thing, but the evidence doesn't suggest that it is an outlier in a general sense. As a clue towards this, Colm O'Gorman's One in Four organisation was founded in the UK in 1999, three years before the SAVI study revealed that the abuse rate in Ireland indeed was roughly one-in-four.)

Second, I believe the constant media focus on the Catholic Church in respect of this is not merely unfair, but is in fact dangerous. I don't deny for one moment that there have been far too many priests who ruined the lives of Irish children, and that the Irish superiors of these priests were -- for whatever reasons -- unwilling or unable to take decisive steps to protect those children. They disgraced themselves and the Church, and they have done untold harm to -- I suspect -- several thousand Irish children. Having said that, the SAVI figures indicate that for every survivor of sexual abuse committed by a priest, there are fifty-nine survivors of sexual abuse committed by people other than clergy. These are hardly ever discussed in the media or by Irish politicians, as the focus of debate in these matters remains relentlessly -- and almost exclusively -- trained on the Church.

The narrative that paints abuse in Ireland as primarily a clerical problem commits a grave injustice against the hundreds of thousands of Irish abuse survivors whose stories are largely ignored, and it directs people away from where the real dangers are to Irish children nowadays. Almost all sexual abuse takes place within the broad family circle, being committed by immediate and extended family, family friends, neighbours, and babysitters; by choosing to keep the abuse discussion focused on historical matters within the Church, we distract people's attention from genuine and greater threats in their own homes. In doing so, we're putting Ireland's children at risk.

Third, in connection with Cloyne in particular, I have been appalled at how the Irish Government has sought to use child abuse as a political football, and has taken advantage of the fact that children were abused by priests in Cloyne in order to grandstand and posture. I appreciate that this is a difficult time to govern, given the mess the country is in and the limitations on what the Government can do, but I don't think that there's any excuse for the bluster and the lies that have disgraced Ireland's public discourse over the last couple of months. The Cloyne Report found, in essence, one thing, which was that over a thirteen-year-period, two clergymen didn't apply the Church's own rules. That's all. It didn't find that the reported abuse occurred, though I'm inclined to believe that in most cases it did, and it most certainly didn't find that the Holy See had sought to cover up abuse.

In short, I believe abuse is a hugely serious problem in Ireland, such that more than a quarter of Irish adults appear to have been abused in their childhood, almost all of them having been abused by people who weren't priests and who were usually within the family circle. We need to deal with this, and we need to do so very carefully. Basically, we need to take a good, long look at ourselves, and refrain from pointing fingers at other people as though they're responsible for our problems. They're not. We are. A good start would be for the Government to engage with the problem in a serious way, rather than by trying to make political capital out of children having been sexually abused.

Which brings me to Enda Kenny...
Back in July, as we all know, Enda gave a speech in the Dáil in which he said a lot of admirable things about what the Irish State should be doing to protect Irish children, glossed over the failings of State institutions identified in the Cloyne Report, passed over entirely the failings of the two Irish clergymen on whose actions the Cloyne Report was concentrated, and said an awful lot of things about the Vatican which were completely false and had no basis whatsoever in the Cloyne Report.

And people loved him for it. Because it's okay to lie to the Dáil if it's about somebody you dislike.

The Irish Government demanded answers from the Vatican, and last week it got them. One particular detail, however, remains to be explained. Here's Enda blustering in full gale:
'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.'
In its response to the Irish Government, the Vatican devotes three paragraphs to this particular claim, noting that in the aftermath of the speech, a Government spokesman admitted the Taoiseach hadn't been refering to anything in particular when he made that claim. The response goes on to note that the Cloyne Report made no statement that could conceivably support the Taoiseach's claim, and that in the report the Murphy Commission acknowledged the full co-operation it had received from all parties, including the Church, which -- unlike the Department of Health -- even made available all relevant privileged communications.

One Good Cop?
Now, on Saturday Archbishop Martin made a statement in which he noted the sober measured tone of the Vatican response, and said that he hoped it wouldn't become an occasion for further polemics, as these do very little for the protection of children and the support of survivors. Martin had, of course, made a similar point in the immediate aftermath of the Taoiseach's speech.:
'I don’t want to see a polarisation between Church, State, Voluntary groups -- we all should be working together to see that children are protected.'
He's completely right, of course. Abuse appears to be endemic in Irish society. Trying to create a polarised conflict between Church and State will do nothing to help this situation, and will only do harm. We have, over the past couple of months, been on the brink of a deeply divisive and profoundly damaging internal conflict, just at a time when we need to be working together. It wasn't for nothing that I quoted yesterday from one of the most famous descriptions of what happens during internal wars. It's very obvious that those determined to stir up such a conflict don't have the interests of abuse survivors or vulnerable children at heart. They may say they do, but they don't. At most, they might have genuine concern for the interests of the one-abuse-survivor-in-sixty who'd been abused by a priest, but it's pretty clear that they either don't know or don't care about the other fifty-nine.

Anyway, although much of his statement was spent trying to calm tempers and put out fires, Archbishop Martin felt obliged to pick up on one specific allegation:
'One of the key points of the Taoiseach’s intervention was the assertion that “the Holy See attempted to frustrate an enquiry in a sovereign democratic republic as little as three years ago not three decades ago”.  There is no evidence presented in the Murphy Report to substantiate this, the Holy See could find no evidence and the Department of An Taoiseach’s office said that the Taoiseach was not referring to any specific event.  This merits explanation.'
And it does. You can't just say things like that. It's not just that it's not diplomatic. It's a matter of basic decency: you can't hurl around accusations unless you're willing to back them up.

Venturing an Explanation
Of course, some have thought it requires no explanation at all, presumably in the assumption that if you don't like somebody it's wholly acceptable to say whatever you like about them. Others, apparently, seem to think that publicly-expressed serious allegations don't require public justifications. Andrew Madden seems to think it's all very straightforward, at least according to the Irish Examiner:
'As for the reference by Mr Kenny, [Madden] said he had checked with Mr Kenny’s department at the time of the Dáil speech and was told it referred to the failure by the Cloyne hierarchy to implement child protection guidelines until 2008 and to the refusal by the papal nuncio in Ireland, Giuseppe Leanza, to answer questions to the independent Murphy Inquiry in the belief that foreign diplomats were not expected to answer to national commissions or tribunals.'
Keep that in mind. In July the Department of the Taoiseach was, at least according to one prominent abuse survivor, taking the line that the Taoiseach's claim about the Cloyne Report having revealed an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an Irish statutory inquiry since 2008 referred to
a) the failure of two Irish clergymen to implement the Irish Church's own child protection guidelines, something which only a maniac could claim was the same as an alleged attempt by Rome to frustrate a statutory inquiry,
b) the refusal, based on the belief that foreign diplomats had no obligation to answer to national commissions, of Giuseppe Leanza to answer the Murphy Commission's questions, something which the Cloyne Report does not report having happened.
Now, leaving aside that neither of these instances tallies with the Taoiseach's speech, as is obvious to anyone who's read both it and the Cloyne Report, Enda has since attempted to explain what he meant, and has done so in a way that contradicts this previous explanation, allegedly offered by his office.

The Story as it currently stands...
Speaking at a Fine Gael meeting in Galway, Enda said of the speech that he'd been trying to reflect the frustration of the Irish people, insisting:
'I made the point that this is a statutory commission of inquiry and as such nothing less than full cooperation is required, and anything less than full co-operation in my view is unwarranted interference.'
All of a sudden the mystery is solved! Words mean what they want to mean where Enda is concerned. 'Interference,' as far as he's concerned, has a meaning broad enough to mean 'no interference whatsoever'. He didn't stop there, though:
'As a member of the Catholic Church, I want to see the Church of which I am a member as absolutely above reproach in the issue of this and other areas. And for that reason, my claim in the Dáil still stands, because this was a statutory commission of inquiry. And in 2006, and 2007 and in 2009, there were requests for information and assistance to the Vatican by the Murphy Commission and in each of these cases that request was either refused or rejected.'
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I think it'd not be remiss of us to look again at what Enda actually said in the Dáil. He said that the Cloyne Report showed, as no investigation had ever before done -- and he specifically contrasted it with Murphy Commission's Dublin Report -- an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an Irish Inquiry, this having happened, he said, less than three years earlier.

2006 and 2007 were more than three years ago, Enda...
Whatever happened in 2006 and 2007 is obviously irrelevant to Enda's claim, as events prior to 2008 predate his rhetorical three-year timescale. Only the 2009 event can possibly have had any relevance to this allegation. Having said that, it's worth sketching the two incidents.

In 2006, the Murphy Commission wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, asking it for information, and got no reply, the CDF instead contacting the Department of Foreign Affairs, asking why the Commission had not gone through diplomatic channels (Dublin Report, 2.23). The Dublin Report omitted to mention that in contacting the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Vatican said that if the Irish Government wanted it to address this matter that it would like it to be sent through diplomatic channels -- in other words with a covering letter from the Irish Government -- and that it would co-operate. A subsequent effort was not made to contact the Vatican in this regard, as though a statutory body, the Murphy Commission did not believe it was appropriate to use diplomatic channels. The Irish Government seems to have let the issue drop. That's our problem, not the Vatican's.

In 2007, the Murphy Commission wrote to the then Papal Nuncio, Giuseppe Lazzarotto, asking him to supply any relevant information the Nunciature had, other than that already produced or to be produced by Archbishop Martin, or to confirm that he had no such documentation, if that was the case (Dublin Report, 2.24). Lazzarotto did not reply, which was undoubtedly very bad manners. While I still think an explanation for this would be desirable, I don't see that this rude lack of co-operation would have impeded the Murphy Commission in any respect, given how the Nunciature doesn't handle abuse cases, and how the Dublin Archdiocese disclosed all relevant documentation to the Commission.

And that takes us to 2009
So, what happened in 2009? Well, the Cloyne Report describes quite clearly how it approached various bodies for any data they might have held relevant to the Commission's work, with the Nunciature being asked to submit any information which it had about the matters under investigation (2.11). The Nunciature replied saying that it held no relevant information as it did not determine the handling of abuse cases, something which is true and which the Cloyne Report does not contest. It's hard to see how saying that you lack information which you genuinely lack could ever be construed as a lack of co-operation, much less interferences, but I guess the Taoiseach's mind works in its own way.

It's also striking that this is clearly a more helpful response from the Nunciature than the sepulchral silence of 2007, such that I can't for the life of me see how Enda could ever maintain that this was worse than the unresponsiveness of two years earlier. Remember, Enda said that the Vatican's actions within the last three years, as revealed in the Cloyne Report, had been worse than anything the Dublin Report had described it as doing.

The Nunciature, however, didn't stop with that, and added that the Diocese of Cloyne was obliged to comply fully with all Irish civil laws and regulations. In effect, given that the Murphy Commission was a statutory inquiry, it said that the Diocese of Cloyne was obliged to comply fully with the Commission, not least by submitting any information it held about the matters being investigated. The Commission notes that the Diocese did just that, even supplying all privileged communication, including privileged copies of communications that had been sent to Rome (2.12).

In this, it should be noted, the Church stands in sharp contrast to the Irish Department of Health and Children which refused to disclose a number of documents, claiming privilege over them (2.11). Presumably, by failing to co-operate fully with the Commission, the Department of Health and Children is, in our Taoiseach's flexible mind, itself guilty of 'unwarranted interference'.

Anyway, in short, the Taoiseach lied. I've said it before, and I'm not the only one to have done so, and doubtless I'll say it again. He lied to the Dáil, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he did so in an attempt to make political capital out of children having been abused. That was a vile thing for him to have done, and he should be ashamed of himself.


Donum Vitae said...

Once again a brilliant piece based on the truth of the whole matter. I'm disgusted with Enda Kenny because as we all know that it was from the Book of Flannery that he learned how to read! Shame on him.

Anonymous said...

So what you are saying is that in 2006 the Murphy Commission contacts the Vatican directly seeking its cooperation. The Vatican responds, not to the Commission but to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs, saying it will cooperate with the Commission but only under the structural umbrella of “proper diplomatic channels.” The Commission rejects this, perhaps because it views its authority as independent of the Irish Government and that to adopt such a structural protocol to deal with a foreign state, over which it has no statutory authority, would somehow compromise this independence. So the Commission foregoes the Vatican’s help in getting to the truth of child sexual abuse because, again perhaps, it believes itself slighted in its entitlement to operate above established procedural norms governing relations between independent, sovereign states.
Then the next year the Commission, disregarding the Vatican’s stated position on wishing to abide by established diplomatic procedure, again chooses to contact the Vatican directly. This time the Vatican does not respond, either to the Commission or to Foreign Affairs. And this is to be viewed as being, by you, “undoubtedly bad manners” and, by others, as obstructionist interference because “uncooperative.”
But I cannot see why this failure to respond should be so viewed. The impertinence surely lies with the Murphy Commission in disregarding the Vatican’s position as an independent state bound by its own legal protocol on how it conducts itself with other states and statutory bodies constituted by other states. Surely the onus lay with the Irish Government and the Murphy Commission to adapt its procedures to diplomatic realities rather than expecting the Vatican to flaunt them?

I still cannot get my head around the role and the nature of the authority of the Cloyne Commission in all this. Its remit was to judge whether the response by Church and State authorities to allegations/reports of abuse committed by clerics on minors was "adequate or appropriate." And it seems that from the outset the measure of adequacy was not to be the civil law, but the Framework guidelines adopted by the Church in Ireland. But who determines that the Framework is to be the Commission’s measure of adequacy, and who judges the adequacy of the Framework? Suppose the Framework had said that any cleric who came under suspicion of being an abuser should immediately be castrated. And suppose that Monsignor O’Callaghan had failed in a number of cases to comply with this injunction. Would the Commission, under the terms of its remit, be obliged to conclude that O’Callaghan’s response was “inadequate and inappropriate?” And would it be beyond the remit of the Commission to judge that the castration of suspected abusers was an inadequate measure of what constituted an adequate and appropriate response?
It seems to me that the Commission is a sinister entity that wields an arbitrary and largely anonymous power to shape public opinion, indeed “public truth.” It is ironic that the Roman Church, which more than any institutional entity has rationally examined and explicated its own essence and operation, should be so undone by this modern, liberal, democratically instituted entity that is so rationally unaccountable and operationally tyrannical.