27 November 2009

The Church in Ireland (2)

Back in May I posted an article about the Ryan report, which had uncovered a huge history of abuse in church-run children's homes and orphanages in Ireland. Now there's another report, giving details of abuse perpetrated by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Here's an opinion article from the Irish Times - but be warned that it includes graphic description of an act of abuse. For those who can't take it, a named priest has admitted sexually abusing dozens of children. Some years after the first complaints, he was moved and appointed as chaplain to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire (where children were among the patients). The hospital wasn't told of the suspicions against him.

Throughout, it's the same story of bishops and archbishops failing to investigate reports of abuse, much less take action to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The columnist, Mary Raftery, comments:
What emerges most clearly from the report is that priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals had the greatest difficulty in telling right from wrong, and crucially that their determination of what constituted wrongdoing was vastly different from that of the population at large.

These are priests, who are supposed to have higher moral standards than the rest of us, who are supposed to tell us what's right and wrong. I don't see how the people of Ireland - or anywhere - can continue to have any kind of respect for a Church that went so far from any acceptable standard of morality.

The report also shows the Irish police taking no action - treating it as an internal Church matter. This isn't covered in Mary Raftery's comments, but there is more in this editorial. It points to "the fundamentally rotten nature of relations between the Catholic Church and the State" in which the Church was effectively outside the law.

Atheists like me aren't keen on using the word "evil" - that's something religious people do. But what else can you call the Church in Ireland in the 20th century? A significant number of its members abused children on what seems to be a massive scale. A much higher number colluded to ensure that the abuse went unpunished and so continued. In the process they corrupted the system of civil justice.

I'm a fairly gentle atheist, and I try to recognise that religions can have positive effects, can be a force for good. Harder atheists will say that it is the nature of religions to oppress, to make rules for themselves, and to provide an unquestionable authority for anything they do. Looking at what's happened in Ireland, it's hard to disagree.

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