24 February 2012

Ireland's Grey Lady is long past her prime...

It seems Patsy McGarry’s up to his old tricks again. Hardly a column of his goes by without me staring in astonishment. I know I should be used to it by now, but I'm hope over experience personified; it means I spend a lot of my life in a state of profound disappointment.

Look at today’s, and start with the title.
‘Lack of Vatican Co-operation over Child Abuse led to Closure of Embassy’
Interesting, isn’t it? It seems Patsy has embraced the growing consensus that rejects the Irish Government’s claim that economic motives were behind the decision to shut the embassy to the Holy See.

Granted, I don’t think that’s quite what he says in the column, but he’s not far off it, and Patsy’s editor can be forgiven for thinking that was his point. After all, columnists rarely get to decide the titles that head their work; this would have been an editorial decision. Of course, that invites the question of whether the Irish Times editorial team thinks the Government are lying. 

Patsy, as you’d expect, isn’t happy that people aren’t pleased about this. Perhaps he doesn’t see the value in the State having a real diplomatic presence in one of the nodal points of global diplomacy. Perhaps he doesn’t think the State should be seeking to enlist the help of the Holy See and some of the world’s largest NGO’s in achieving our supposed foreign policy aims regarding development, debt relief, conflict resolution, justice, and the environment.  Perhaps he just doesn’t care. 

It’s nonsense for Patsy to wheel out Malta as an example of a country that doesn’t have a resident embassy to the Holy See; he might be right, but only if he thinks our ambitions shouldn’t exceed those of a country barely a third of the size of County Louth and with far fewer people than County Cork.

Undermining our global diplomatic aims is fully justified, Patsy seems to be saying, because the Holy See undermined two Irish national investigations into criminality in the Irish Church. 

He’s referring to the two Murphy reports, of course, into how allegations of clerical child abuse were handled by the institutions of the Church and the State in the Archdiocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004 and in the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009.

If you’ve read the reports even half as thoroughly as me, you’re probably blinking in astonishment.  Was either the Dublin Report or the Cloyne Report an investigation of criminality? If so, why on earth haven’t there been any prosecutions of the various bishops, priests, policemen, or staff of the national health service who the reports described as mishandling abuse allegations*

Is Patsy saying that these were investigations into criminality, and that no evidence of criminality was found? Is that the Irish Times’ line on this? 

The Cloyne Report doesn’t even consider the question of whether the law of the land was broken. With reference to the Church, the Murphy Commission examined whether abuse allegations received by the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009 were handled in regard to the diocese’s own internal rules.  Internal rules, mind, not the law of the land. Criminality wasn’t under investigation into any sense.

If McGarry genuinely believes that it was, and if the Irish Times does likewise, then I think it’s time to acknowledge that the title ‘Ireland’s Newspaper of Record’ is up for grabs.

Myths about Rome...
Aside from falsely claiming that the Murphy investigations were investigations of criminality, McGarry goes on to repeat a couple of long-discredited canards. 

Firstly we hear of how the Holy See refused to cooperate with the Murphy Commission's Dublin inquiry. As has been established for some time, the Holy See did nothing of the sort. The Commission wrote to Rome asking for assistance, and Rome contacted the State asking for communications on this matter to go through the usual diplomatic channels.

Accepting that the Holy See was fully entitled to ask that this request be handled properly rather than in an ad hoc way, the State informed the Murphy Commission of Rome’s response, and the Commission decided not to pursue the matter. Rome subsequently asked the State whether its message had been passed on, and was told that it had been. 

Rome was quite willing to cooperate; it was the Murphy Commission that chose not to avail itself of whatever help Rome could offer. If Rome didn’t know that the Murphy Commission couldn’t use the normal channels because it was also investigating the State – a dubious assumption on the part of the Commission – this was because neither the Commission nor the State informed them of this. The fault, on this, lay entirely with us.

Then we hear of the Nunciature refusing to cooperate with the Cloyne inquiry. Nonsense again. Murphy wrote to the Nunciature asking for whatever documents it held on matters relating to abuse allegations in Cloyne. The Nunciature replied saying that it held no documents as it did not deal with such matters, but that the diocese would have all relevant data and was bound to comply with the law on this.

It’s completely true that the Nunciature doesn’t deal with abuse allegations, and thus couldn’t be of assistance in supplying documents. As for the diocese, the Cloyne Report acknowledges that unlike the HSE, it handed over everything, including legally privileged copies of documents that were sent to Rome.

That’s important to note, conspiracy theorists and paranoid anti-Catholics: Rome doesn’t have secret files on abuse cases; it has copies of files that are held in dioceses, and it only has them if the dioceses bother to send them to Rome. 

As the substance of both the Dublin and Murphy reports makes clear, for far too long, dioceses tended to avoid submitting anything in connection with abuse to Rome, preferring instead to handle or mishandle allegations at a local level. 

The Cloyne Report mentions only a handful of allegations ever being passed on to Rome, all bar one of those being submitted in the month before Bishop John Magee, after a quiet private discussion with then then Nuncio, ‘resigned’. The only report submitted to Rome before this – which happened to be in connection with the only Cloyne priest ever found guilty of any form of sexual abuse, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence – is dealt with comprehensively in the Report because the diocese cooperated fully, as the Nunciature had said it would.

How does McGarry characterise the actions of Rome in all this?
‘That was how the Holy See treated two inquiries set up by our government to investigate the gravest of abuses of thousands of Irish children by priests. It ignored them.’
Firstly, it didn’t ignore the investigations. Secondly, neither inquiry investigated even one case of abuse. The remit of the two investigations was, quite simply, to investigate how abuse allegations had been handled. It had no remit whatsoever to consider whether any abuse actually took place.
It did, obviously, and on a terrible scale in Dublin as shown by the Dublin report. But the abuse of thousands of children? No, Patsy, not even close. Hell, despite all the claims in the Cloyne Report, only two priests cited in it were ever charged in court. One pleaded guilty to acts committed with a teenage boy, and received a two-year suspended sentence; the other has been acquitted twice.

There’s no sense in which the Holy See can credibly be said to have obstructed the Murphy investigations, neither of which were into criminality. Things have got to a bad place when a still fairly well-regarded paper perpetuates such myths and does so with such determination.

And there's the subtitle...
And then, of course, there’s the most poisonous part of the whole article, with Patsy saying that now the furore over Cloyne has died down, craven defenders of the indefensible  are crawling out of the woodwork:
‘Then there are the usual suspects, lay voices who make a living from defending the institutional church when it is safe to do so, when outrage is settling after the Cloyne report.

It was the same after the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports. Their immediate reaction is practised horror. Then, with time, they’re back to their slithering ways, diluting truth, minimising the wreckage, playing it all down.’
Ironically, much the same thing could be alleged about Patsy, to judge by his comments at the time Father Kevin Reynolds' innocence was established, hanging his head on behalf of his too keen media colleagues, only for him but moments later to stick on the same scratched record he's been playing for years. Indeed, the line about lay Catholics making a living from defending the Church is a bit rich coming from an agnostic who paints himself as an expert on the Church and who as far as I can see makes a living out of attacking it  Perhaps most importantly, it’s also demonstrable nonsense. 

Who could he possibly mean? David Quinn? John Waters? Breda O’Brien, who he so shamefully defamed on national television a couple of months back, such that he should count himself lucky he wasn’t taken to court? The staff of the Irish Catholic?

Patsy’s surely not referring to these, all of whom were prominent in the media at the time of the Cloyne Report, condemning child abuse in Ireland while at the same time advising people to read the Cloyne Report to see what it actually said, because an injustice was being done to the Church as a whole because of the actions of John Magee and Denis O’Callaghan. 

But who, then? Who are these ‘usual suspects’? They allegedly have form for doing this. They’re people, clearly, whose names we should all know.

Why wouldn't he have named them? 

Could the Irish Times legal people have advised him against doing so, as for him to have done so would surely have constituted defamation?

Was he just rattling something off at speed, with nobody at all particularly in mind?

I honestly can't figure this one out.

You might have a better explanation. If you do, I’d be glad to hear it.

-- An edited version of this was subsequently published in The Irish Catholic, 1 March 2012

* I'm not disputing the reality of the vast majority of allegations detailed in the reports, of course; what happened was monstrous, and it was spectacularly mishandled in disastrous ways, ways that made matters so much worse in Dublin, if not in Cloyne. I'm just saying that the reports weren't into the abuse itself, solely into how allegations were handled.


Cathal Loftus said...

My sentiments, entirely. Bravo Thirsty Gargoyle! I sent a Letter to his Editor that is (of necessity) shorter than your exhaustive "exegesis" (and I use that word because of the soi-disant biblical nature of the Irish Times!). Slake thy thirst Gargoyle; for thou hast earned it!

Shane said...

Excellent post (as always). You have no idea how much I despise this newspaper. Thankfully their future doesn't look so bright. ;)

Their readership figures seem to be plummeting at a faster rate than pew attendance.

Lynda said...

The Irish Times is still only "a fairly-well regarded paper" by those who support its ideological propaganda, those who are hopelessly naive or those who are not familiar with its output. As for Mr McGarry, he does not do journalism, he gets paid to write anti-Catholic, anti-God, anti-objective morality, rants. He discredits himself, continually, as a journalist, and ought not to be regarded as one on any objective measure.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of ideological propaganda, you want to see the second leader column in today's issue (Wednesday 14-3-12). Or maybe you don't. Suffice it to say that it concerns "acceptance" of gay people in Churches. And guess what particular Church they're really aiming at, although not stated in outright terms? (Hint: it's not the Primitive Methodists).

Could it, might it, be that our esteemed religious affairs "correspondent" had a slight hand in the drafting? Gosh, that's a challenging thought!