I've often welcomed guest posts from those of differing opinions to me, and have had the pleasure of hosting several from those of people of faith. Today's post from a Catholic friend differs from these in that it has my full agreement.
Fiona Hanley writes from the perspective of an ordinary Irish Catholic. She's not speaking for an institute or a hierarchy, so it's a voice you may not have heard before.
Today is June 8. It’s Pentecost, marking the end of the Easter period and birthday of the Church. According to the Gospel, apostles have locked themselves in a room terrified. They get a visit from Jesus saying ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ Well indeed. Harsh but fair.
The Catholic Church has never said sorry properly for abuse meted out and covered up. Sure, there have been mealy-mouthed lawyer-approved expressions of regret for actions of individuals on the other side of the alter rail. All the words of apology jumbled up to mean nothing at all. Co-operation with enquiries proceeded like a snail under a brick. It’s difficult to understand why there was no full, unconditional apology and expression of responsibility. A professional Catholic of all people should know that without atonement there will be no forgiveness. There are only seven sacraments and that’s one of them.
Last month was a significant one for Catholicism because May is the month of Mary, comforter and protector, source of succour, Mother of Perpetual Help amongst other titles. Pope Francis issued a beautiful and gentle prayer to celebrate her as the Undoer of Knots: “full of kindness and patience you gave us example of how to untie the knots of our life... you put in order, and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord.”
However May is over and according to the calendar its time to come out from under her arms. Pentecost marks the time of the Holy Spirit. What that means, amongst other things, is a demand to step up and not be afraid of truth and speaking the truth. Let’s not mistake that for evangelism which is boring for everybody else and just rude in my opinion.
The last few weeks in Ireland have seen an unravelling of lies and silence around the deaths of almost 800 ‘illegitimate’ babies and young children whose mothers were placed in the ‘care’ of the Bons Secours nuns in Tuam, Co. Galway. What Irish women did to other Irish women in the name of God is really quite disgusting. Illegitimate. What a thing to call a human. ‘Secours’ deserves scare quotes also.
The mysterious deaths of so many infants isn’t comparable to Victorian workhouses because a vicious conservatism towards unmarried pregnant women cut across Irish society whether the families were poor or not. It's important to note that women weren't kidnapped en masse by religious orders. The default reaction was that women were 'sent away' by their families, an arrangement presumably approved of by local priests and families of the men responsible for the pregna
The State knew what was going on and discussed in the Dáil keeping costs as low as possible. As identified by Elaine Byrne this week, extracts of debates that took place in the seat of Irish government included “doubtless the great proportion of deaths in these cases is due to congenital debility, congenital malformation and other ante-natal causes traceable to the conditions associated with the unfortunate lot of the unmarried mother” (i.e. the fault of the mother for the ‘sin’ of conception) and “these children are not wanted; they are boarded out, and if they die so much the better.”
We should remember that the Irish State and the Irish people are one and the same, and acknowledge that our grandparents were adults. Whether their responsibility was diminished or not, they colluded to persecute the vulnerable. Jason Walsh pointed this out this week when he asked whether the post-Famine church obsession with sex also fitted neatly with economics of land and primogeniture.
The story has been out for weeks now followed by stories of other mother and child homes runs by other female religious orders with more extraordinary and untypical mortality rates. The whole world is talking about it yet Pope Francis has said nothing. Again, it’s difficult to understand why. It’s not as if he’s afraid of the costs of reparation because he’s spoken before of his longing for a poor church. If he’s been in deep, deep prayer about the whole thing it’s really high time to come out and say something.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said nothing either. Cardinal Seán Brady was supposed to resign a while back when it transpired that he had witnessed and taken notes on the swearing to secrecy of a child who had come forward to report sexual abuse by a priest. This didn’t emerge any thanks to Brady who stayed quiet throughout investigations pursued by the State. And again, why he hasn’t been shown the door yet by Pope Francis is a bit of a mystery.
Not the it matters hugely in the scheme of things, because we aren’t the persecuted ones, but the hierarchy doesn’t seem to care about the position its silence places ordinary lay Catholics and priests in. It's embarrassing, to say the very, very least.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
Or not. It’s not as if God forces anybody to do anything. People have free will, they will do what they want all by themselves whether they believe they’re acting for God or not. But scripture says what it says, and as long as full and freely offered atonement is withheld, the Church in Ireland is dying on its ass.