Now we know the price for having turned a blind eye to clerical abuse

THE political correctness controversy surrounding the recent remarks of Mary O’Rourke reached ludicrous proportions. The only thing racist in relation to her comments was the criticism.

She was paying black people a compliment when she praised her supporters for “working like blacks”.

The first controversy of this kind that I witnessed was a child in 1953 when the Dominican prior in Tralee made some outrageous remarks during a public address to commemorate the martyrdom of one of his predecessors in 1653 by Cromwellian forces. President Seán T O’Kelly was there.

The prior, Fr Benedict O’Sullivan, complained that literary people had been trying to undermine the Catholic faith in their writings by “the glorification of vice and the holding of virtue up to ridicule”. They did not have a holy nun, a saintly priest, or a virtuous Catholic layman as characters in their writings, he said, “but the tramp, the tinker, the drunkard, the violent ruffian are always welcome there”.

Fr Ben was only winding up. “A book has recently appeared bearing the title Shaw, Yeats and Joyce - Three Great Irishmen,” he continued. “In this there are two misstatements, for these men are not great, nor are they Irishmen. No atheist, as all three were, no pervert as Joyce was, shall be numbered with us.”

For him the true Irishman was a Catholic.

“We will welcome as a friend the good Protestant who is willing to become a true Irishman and, thank God, we have Protestant patriots - though few and far between,” he said. His remarks set off a storm in the correspondence columns of the Irish Times, and Fr Ben was banished to Scotland, which was apparently Catholic Ireland’s equivalent of Siberia.

This was the heyday of the Church’s temporal power and there was great local resentment towards the Irish Times for publishing the letters, as well as an editorial criticising the fact that someone of Fr Ben’s standing would “propound the grotesque theory that only a Catholic can be an Irishman”. There were always some people who were prepared to criticise Church leaders, but most remained silent. We have changed a lot since then, but old habits died hard and we are still paying for the sycophancy.

John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General, told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee during the week that the compensation for institutional abuse being paid out through the Redress Board could reach €1.35 billion. This is the bill for our failure to confront the gross mismanagement of the Church-run residential institutions.

Thanks to the bungling ineptitude of Michael Woods and his government colleagues, the people primarily responsible have had their liability capped at €128m, which means that the taxpayers will likely have to pay over 90% of the total bill. That is another fine mess that this Government has created.

A couple of weeks ago I complained here about the remarks of journalist David Quinn on Vincent Browne’s radio programme as they were discussing the case of Joseph Pyke, who died in February 1958, shortly after receiving a severe beating in the industrial school in Tralee.

David Quinn essentially rubbished allegations about Pyke’s death by repeatedly citing the case of William Delaney, a 13-year-old boy who died in comparatively similar circumstances following a beating in the industrial school at Letterfrack.

Delaney’s body was exhumed in 2001 and the then Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy, concluded that the boy’s death in July 1970 was as a result of a medical condition. Just because William Delaney died of natural causes had nothing to do with the death of Joseph Pyke, but David Quinn repeatedly cited the Delaney case to dismiss what happened to Pyke.

In a letter to the Irish Examiner last week, David Quinn again came to the defence of the Church authorities by twisting the argument. He suggested that paedophile clerics constituted only 3% of all paedophiles. No doubt many people were surprised by that figure because it might have seemed like there were many more.

INSTEAD of confining the paedophile clerics to positions where they would have no access to children, the authorities transferred the likes of Fr Brendan Smyth to unsuspecting communities where they were able to offend all over again. Hence each of them had the impact of seven or eight different paedophiles.

The issue that I had raised, however, was about the behaviour of the authorities who covered up for the paedophile priests and facilitated their perverted ways, especially the Christian Brothers who transferred offending brothers to industrial schools where the children had virtually no protection. If those in authority did not know this was wrong, they should have had nothing to do with children.

Of course, those authorities knew, but they were criminally indifferent. In the process they not only betrayed the children, but they also betrayed the paedophiles by further exposing them, and they ultimately betrayed the cream of two generations of Irish people - the vast majority of the good, decent people who answered vocations to serve humanity. The Christian Brothers undoubtedly did very good work in this country and abroad. But because of the callous and selfish indifference of their authorities, they are now in utter disgrace in Canada, in Australia, and in this country. After flourishing for more than 100 years, they have practically disappeared.

In 1958 the doctors said that Joseph Pyke died of pneumonia and septicaemia, but one of his colleagues is convinced the septicaemia was the result of a blow that burst a carbuncle on the boy’s neck during a severe beating by a Christian Brother in the dinning hall of the industrial school because he was not eating his food.

It was in the context of that discussion that David Quinn stuck both feet in his mouth by suggesting that the kind of cover-up that happened here happened everywhere. “It happened universally across the world. It happened in Britain,” he said. “It happened in Canada. It happened in America, where there was no church - or where there was no Catholic church.”

Some people may think that the almighty dollar is God in America and that it is a country with little religion, but one would be hard pressed to find any country where there are more churches per head of populations than the US.

Moreover, Roman Catholicism is by far the single biggest religion. In 2004, the Catholic population of the US was an estimated 71.79 million, compared with Baptists, who constitute the second largest religion, with 47.74 million. The Methodists were a distant third at almost 20 million.

Did David Quinn even know what he was talking about? Remember, even if you accept that the beating of Joe Pyke had nothing to do with his death, you still cannot avoid the conclusion that a ‘Christian Brother’ savagely beat a dying boy just because he had lost his appetite. We should have been outraged that such a thing could happen, but we just ignored it. We are shocked now that we are going to have pay over €1.2 billion while the institutions most responsible are only paying a fraction.

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