The meeting in Dublin of over 1,000 members of the Catholic Church must give heart to those who (as Martin McGuinness says he does) love the Catholic Church and are concerned for its direction. There’s no doubt that many Church members feel their Church is in a mess and that the hierarchy aren’t doing much about it.
An example: the only two bishops to have spoken on the Cardinal Brady affair have been Archbishop Martin in Dublin and Bishop Donal McKeown in Belfast. Martin has called for an independent public inquiry, McKeown has said the debate about the past needs to be wider. I think they’re both wrong.
We’ve had enquiries around Catholic clerical abuse of children until they’re coming out our ears. A better idea, if you must have another inquiry, might be this: are the Catholic clergy alone in the child abuse arena? Or are other Churches, other faiths, humanists, atheists, the general public as likely to be child abusers as your local priest? This is an urgent matter, since at present Catholic priests in general feel singled out and stigmatized by the presence of abusers in their ranks.
Bishop Donal McKeown is right in one respect: there are many ways in which children can be abused. They can suffer poverty, educational discrimination, domestic neglect, physical abuse and even death at the hands of adults. And we do well to keep that in mind. But having said that everyone – Workers’ Party, Sinn Féin, the state – should reflect on the abuses they inflicted, Bishop McKeown then narrowed his criticism down to those who engaged in violent action for ‘the cause’ (his word) and didn’t report paramilitary acticities to the authorities. This is an old and inaccurate representation of the conflict that wracked this part of Ireland over the last forty years: that it was all due to a small group of merciless psychopaths who dealt in murder and mayhem. Bishop McKeown is an intelligent and educated man who knows his Irish history. He should know better than to talk in such a blinkered way.
Martin McGuinness made one distinction in his Stormont speech on the topic which is important: there’s the Irish Church and there’s the Vatican. Catholics in Ireland have not been well served by the Vatican since the early 1960s and the suppression of Vatican II’s vision. The meeting of 1,000 Catholics, clergy and laity, in Dublin at the weekend suggests that the vision lives on and may even gather strength.