I got verbally mugged yesterday. By three men of the cloth. Let me tell you about it.
UTV have a programme called ‘The Issue’ , hosted by Jim Dougal. This week they were discussing the Pope’s visit to Britain and I was invited to be in the audience at the Navan Centre outside Armagh. So I went along and tried not to feel intimidated by the number of serious-looking men in round collars standing around outside the theatre where the programme was to be recorded. So in the course of the show Jim Dougal asked me what my thoughts were and I asked if maybe the pooled wisdom of the panel could help me: was there any research which showed that there was a higher incidence of child abuse by Catholic clergy than by clergy of any other Christian Churches, and was there any research showing a higher incidence of Catholic clergy abuse over that in the general population? The panel, which included the Rev Lindsay Allen, the Rev Lesley Carroll and Nuala O’Loan, said they didn’t know of any. Why then, I wondered, was there an exclusive focus on the child abuse within the Catholic Church?
And that was that. Or it was until I emerged after the programme. In the lobby, I felt a hand on my arm and that’s when the verbal mugging began. Two Church of Ireland clergy (one of whom remained silent but stony-faced throughout) and one Presbyterian minister informed me I had the wrong end of the stick. There was no sexual abuse by Protestant clergymen, it was a vice peculiar to the Catholic clergy, and the reason was because they were celibate. I asked how it was, then, that there was considerable abuse among the wider population, from uncles, brothers, grandfathers, cousins of the victims? I didn’t really get an answer to that but I was assured that they ‘knew’ there was no abuse to speak of among Protestant clergy and that it all came down to the celibacy issue along with the deliberate cover-up of abuse by the Catholic Church. No need to look for research on such matters: they just knew.
What shocked me a bit, in my innocence, was the absolutist, almost angry tone that the clergymen adopted. They weren’t discussing this, they were telling me. What’s more, they were telling me because they knew, not because they had evidence to support their argument. Who knows – maybe they’re right on all counts. Maybe there are higher levels of child abuse by Catholic clergy than by their Protestant counter-parts. But isn’t consideration of such matters supposed to be conducted in a rational, open manner – questioning rather than informing?
Clerical arrogance. Maybe that’s another sin not peculiar to the Catholic clergy.