01 December 2011

Answering the Grem: Part III

Over the last couple of days I've been trying to answer, as best I can, the questions posed here, itself a response to this post of mine.I don't think I'll try anything so comprehensive as this again, as it's been difficult, especially given that I'm both busy and teetering in the no-man's land between a dying virus and a rising cold. It's not been a fun couple of weeks here at Gargoyle Garret.

On Tuesday I quickly dealt with Enda Kenny's 20 July speech, about which I've written several times in the past, to show that he didn't say that Rome had directed that abuse in Ireland should be concealed. Enda had alleged that there was a lack of sympathy in Rome for those who reported abuse, though this seems belied by the Cloyne Report, and claimed that the Report revealed an attempt by the Vatican to frustrate an enquiry by the State at some point since 2008, though it's still not clear what he meant by this; these apparent calumnies aside, he never actually said that Rome was responsible for the covering up of abuse in Ireland.

That dealt with, I thought it important to dispell a misconception that obscures and bedevils the vast majority of attempts to discuss the issue of clerical abuse, by pointing it that from an administrative point of view, the Catholic Church is not an institution. It is, instead, a loose network of thousands upon thousands of largely autonomous institutions, all in communion with each other. Insofar as Rome exercises authority and jurisdiction over these institutions, it does so in a manner almost wholly reliant on the receipt of accurate information from them and dependent on their co-operation. 

Yesterday, then, saw me dealing at length with the question of whether there had ever been a centrally-orchestrated cover-up. I don't believe that this happened,  not least because all the evidence we have shows that abuse cases simply weren't reported to Rome, such that until quite recently Rome seems to have been wholly unaware of how extensive the problem was. 

Instead the problem seems to to have been a widespread but localised tendency to cover up reports of abuse. In part this was simply typical human behaviour of the sort that's allowed abuse to become incredibly frequent in society at large, but it may also have been exacerbated within the Church by an often well-intentioned tendency towards secrecy, such that bishops often wouldn't pass on important information even to parish priests or fellow bishops.

Occam's Razor, you see. Don't invent complicated explanations if you don't need to, and don't imagine that there must be evidence to support complicated explanations, especially if a simple explanation does the trick and is supported by the evidence.

Certainly, there has never been a directive that abuse cases should be concealed from the civil authorities in countries where abuse took place; on the contrary, canon law presumes that civil law should be followed, save when the civil law itself is gravely immoral, in which case one may be bound to disobey it on grounds of conscience.

And with that, on to question three.

3: The Financial Cost
The Grem says:
'The price in human misery of the abuse and even more so of the cover up is incalculable. The cost of the investigations would have been much reduced if the Vatican had co-operated fully and in particular been willing to disclose the files of the CDF. Here was a chance for the Vatican to live up to the moral standards which it teaches, a chance which it rejected out of hand.'
I absolutely agree that the price in human misery of the abuse is incalculable -- the whole thing is horrendous -- though I'm far from convinced that the cost in human misery of the widespread tendency to conceal or deny the reality or effect of that abuse was worse that the cost of the abuse itself. Still, that the combination of abuse and the mishandling of abuse has had an absolutely catastrophic effect on the wellbeing of thousands of people is something that I think needs to be accepted, and that the vast majority of Catholics do accept and deeply regret.

That said, I think the Grem is completely wrong to claim that the cost of the Irish abuse investigations would have been much reduced if -- as he says -- the Vatican had co-operated fully. There have been four Irish abuse investigations to date, their total cost coming to just shy of €134 million, almost all of which was due to the €126 million the Ryan Report into abuse in Ireland's industrial schools had cost. 

The Vatican was never approached in connection with the Ryan Report, for the simple reason that the industrial schools were supervised by the Irish State and were not even notionally monitored by the Vatican; this is why the Ryan Report is utterly damning of how the Irish State allowed horrendous abuse and why it never criticises the Vatican in even the slightest respect.

That leaves the Ferns, Dublin, and Cloyne Reports, all of which concerned how allegations of clerical abuse were handled by dioceses, and which together cost the State €7.8 million. I'm not going to wade through the Ferns Report now, as I've only got it as a series of old-style PDFs which I can't search quickly, but looking at the Dublin and Cloyne Reports we can say the following. 
  • First, the Murphy Commission recognises that the dioceses fully cooperated with the Commission and handed over all relevant documentation, including those that were legally privileged, which necessarily entailed handing over copies of all communications sent to or received from Rome. As the Nuncio informed the Commission in connection with the Cloyne Report, dioceses are obliged to comply fully with all civil laws and requirements, and it's clear that both Dublin and Cloyne did just that.
  • Second, as we've seen yesterday, hardly any cases seem ever to have been reported to Rome. In the case of the four cases which appeared on the Roman radar in connection with Dublin, two were sent to Rome because the priests accused of abuse had requested that they be laicized, and two because the priests accused of abuse were appealling against local decisions. In the case of Cloyne, only one case was actually dealt with by Rome during the period covered by the investigation, with Rome upholding the decision that said priest should remain barred from ministry.
In short, we have no evidence whatsoever that suggests that further Vatican co-operation would have saved the State even one cent. We might wish to presume this was so, but there's no evidence at all to support such a presumption.

4: Influence on Countries
In connection with a request from me that he explain what he meant when he said that Ireland and other countries must decide for themselves how much influence the Vatican should be allowed in future, the Grem replied:
'My comment regarding Vatican relations with other countries stems from my support for democracy which is not just about a few seconds in a polling booth once every four or five years. Democracy is about people having a say in how they are governed and it is maintained only  by an eternal vigilance of educational arrangements and of interest groups, be they banks, cults, pressure groups or churches. Maybe especially a Church which also claims to be a "State"'
I agree that democracy should be about far more than an occasional vote; I believe that a real robust democracy requires checks and balances, constant vigilance, and a vigorous civil society. I believe we should be able to hold our religious institutions to account, just as we should our political, judicial, financial, educational, journalistic and other institutions. And yes, I fully agree that the Irish people should be allowed decide for themselves how much influence the Vatican should be allowed have in Ireland. 

I would, however, point out that such a decision should be made in light of the guarantees of religious freedom expressed in the Irish Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the European Convention on Human Rights. These say that people should have the freedom to profess and manifest their own religious beliefs, subject only to whatever limitations are both lawful and necessary. I'd hope you'd agree.

4 i: Distinctions
For what it's worth, the Church isn't a State, and it might be important to grasp that the Church, the Holy See, and the Vatican are not the same things; people often don't realise this.

The Church is, as we've discussed, a huge network of institutions, almost all of which are effectively autonomous in most regards. It is best understood not as an institution, contrary to popular belief, but as a communion of institutions. There are more than 180 such institutions in Ireland, these being run by Irish people and for Irish people; historically they have been a manifestation of Irish society, reflecting the nature of Irish society in general.

The Holy See is, for want of a better phrase, the government of the Church, insofar as the Church is governed at all. It is not a state, though it is a sovereign entity and has been recognised as such since the medieval period, long before most current states even came into existence. It is with the Holy See that the Irish State has diplomatic relations, and not with the Vatican, although in colloquial speech the two terms are interchangeable.

The Vatican City is indeed a state, albeit the smallest in the world in terms of both size and population. The Holy See has operated from the Vatican City since the Vatican City was established as an independent entity in 1929; prior to that it had operated from the Papal States for many centuries, barring most of the fourteenth century when it operated from Avignon, a few years during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, and 1870-1929 when it operated from the Kingdom of Italy.

4 ii: Bishops and Schools
So. The Vatican has no influence on Ireland; the question, rather, is whether the Holy See does. It would be very easy to answer that this is obviously the case, in that most Irish people are at least nominally Catholic, and Catholic doctrine is defined by the Holy See, in accordance with Tradition, Scripture, and Reason. Fine: I don't think any reasonable person would challenge that kind of influence, in that it's entirely voluntary, as our identity as Catholics is defined in large part by our being in communion with the successor of Peter, and nobody is forcing us to be Catholic.

The question, I think, is whether the Holy See has an inappropriate influence in Ireland, the kind of influence that's improper in a republic that guarantees freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion to all its citizens, subject to the demands of public order and morality.

This takes us to the subject of Ireland's educational system, which is far too complex to delve into properly here, save to say this: the majority of Ireland's schools -- more particularly the overwhelming majority of Ireland's primary schools -- exist under the patronage of the Irish Church, in some sense. Almost all primary schools are national schools, controlled by a board of management under diocesan patronage, with many of them having a local priest on the board.

There's a strong case to be made, therefore, that Ireland's bishops have an excessive influence on education in Ireland. Fine. Does this mean that Rome has such an influence? Certainly, that would seem to be the view of Fintan O'Toole:
'The Vatican, in its refusal to deal with the Murphy commission on child abuse in the Dublin diocese, made it clear that it wishes to be regarded, not as a church organisation, but as a foreign state. Which raises the rather stark question: why do we allow a foreign state to appoint the patrons of our primary schools? If some weird vestige of colonial times decreed that the British monarch would appoint the ultimate legal controllers of almost 3,200 primary schools in our so-called republic, we would be literally up in arms. Why should we tolerate the weird vestige of an equally colonial mentality that allows a monarch in Rome to do just that?'
Let's not get bogged down in the fact that the Holy See did not refuse to deal with the Murphy Commission, instead informing the Irish government that it would prefer if the Commission approached it through normal diplomatic channels, and that it would co-operate if it did so.*

It is true that Ireland's bishops are appointed by the Holy See, but despite having been appointed by Rome, they don't really answer to Rome. Remember what the Ferns Report said. Bishops don't act as vicars, delegates, or representatives of the Pope. They're not funded or in any way financially dependent on Rome. What's more, they can't even be removed from office by the Pope, save when they've committed an ecclesiastical crime -- that being a clear offence against a defined provision of canon law. Incompetence and poor judgement aren't grounds for their removal from office, though their resignation can be quietly recommended, as surely happened in the case of John Magee. The bishops should not be understood as ambassadors of what Fintan describes as 'a foreign state'. In Ireland, under normal circumstances, only the Nuncio is an ambassador of the Holy See.

Is it a problem that Irish schools are under the patronage of Irish bishops, when the vast majority of Irish people still identify themselves as Catholic? Maybe, but if this is so, it is and has always been an Irish choice. It's a bit like how people claim that we're compelled to do things by Europe: we're not. As the German Supreme Court has ruled, the national parliaments are, and have always been, masters of the treaties. We could leave if we wanted to. Doing so wouldn't be without repercussions, but we could still do it.

Likewise, yes, most Irish schools are under the patronage of Irish bishops, and those Irish bishops are appointed by the Holy See. If we have a problem with this, it's our  problem. Rome doesn't require the Irish State to have Irish bishops as patrons of Irish schools; it's possible that Irish people might do that, though. I think most people would agree that the current system needs rebalancing, but I'm not convinced that the Irish people voted last February for a halving in the number of schools under diocesan patronage.

4 iii: Why Choose to Reduce our Influence?
None of this, of course, has anything to do with what I've said about the folly of our decision to shut our embassy to the Holy See, which was something on which I'd asked the Grem to expand.

Rome has no selfish interest in Ireland maintaining a specially designated embassy to the Holy See in Italy; our doing so has always been a straightforward matter of our own national self interest. As Tim Fischer, the outgoing Australian ambassador to the Holy See, puts it:
'Being on the ground means more networking, more contact, more momentum, and more profile for Australia in this hub -- this incredible hub -- of the Eternal City of Rome.'
There are reasons, after all, why the United Kingdom and the United States have been seeking to boost their presence in Rome and have been working to enhance the profile of their embassies there. It's hard to see why a small country entirely dependent for its international influence upon the Irish ability to talk with people should choose to walk away from what is one of the most important nodal points in global diplomacy. There's no realistic political reason for it to have done so: it's clear that it was intended as a snub, and one carried out for crude ideological reasons. The Irish Labour party, the junior party of government, is worried about its left flank, and financially incapable of fulfilling its electoral promises, it's seeking to maintain support through cheap anti-Catholic demagoguery and petulant gestures.

To Conclude: Turf Wars and Transparency
It's not true to say that it was in an 'unguarded moment' that Benedict described as 'filth' those abusive clergy who've disgraced the Church. On the contrary, he said this when standing in for the dying John Paul II in the Way of the Cross on Good Friday 2005, just weeks before he was chosen as Pope. It's worth reading some of his public meditations that day, and not merely that publicly proclaimed at the ninth station:
'What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us.'
In his prayer at that station he lamented the soiled garments and face of the Church, saying how they throw us into confusion, such that we see the Church as more weeds than wheat. He prayed that God should sanctify and save the Church. This was not an unguarded moment. Rather, acting in the place of the Pope in such a way that the attention of the world was on him in a way it had never been before, the then Joseph Ratzinger publicly recognised the corruption that blights the Church, our need to remain true to God , and our need for God to purify us and his Church. And it was just a few weeks after the then Joseph Ratzinger publicly prayed this that he was chosen to succeed John Paul II in the Petrine Ministry.

Since then, of course, he has condemned abuse time and time again, while practical steps have been taken on the ground in order to combat this scourge. His determination in this regard should not be in question. And I have a good feeling about his having appointed someone who'd worked closely with him in the CDF as the new Nuncio to Ireland.

Are there those in the Vatican and in the Irish Church who don't get Benedict, who deny the reality of abuse, and who are opposed to Benedict's programme of renewal? No doubt there are. The Vatican's not a monolith, after all. The question, then, is a simple one: do we support the successor of Peter, who is seeking to cleanse and renew the Church, or do we deny him our support and leave the field to his opponents?

I know what where I stand.

* Judge Yvonne Murphy was advised of this, but decided against using the instruments of State in this way, as she supposedly felt it would be inappropriate to do so, given that the State itself was also under investigation. The Holy See asked whether its response had been communicated to the Murphy Commission, and was advised that it had been, but it was apparently not advised of Murphy's unwillingness to follow things up. In the aftermath of the Dublin Report's publication the Holy See was widely criticised for its failure to cooperate. Given how it had been Yvonne Murphy's decision not to use diplomatic channels to seek co-operation, and how her reasoning had not been passed on to Rome, such criticism seems, at the very least, misplaced.


Benedict Ambrose said...

Frankly, I'm standing and cheering at this point, Mr Gargoyle. Bloody well done on a heroic effort here. Thank you for all your efforts to give the truth a fair shout in the Irish abuse saga. I have linked to you often and will keep doing so.

Toby said...

Thank you for your enormous efforts in providing this outstanding quality analysis. It is massively appreciated.

For those of us with open minds, and looking to understand exactly what happened so that we can ensure we prevent such abuses in the future, your coverage is invaluable. Sadly it will be of less value to those whose narrative it does not fit and who will find it an inconvenient truth.