(tw: child rape, imprisonment, slavery, theft, sale, and deaths of children.)
I thought it would be useful to examine statements surrounding Ferns, where for decades members of the clergy raped and sexually assaulted at least a hundred children. It seemed apt: the bishops are doubtless aware of the particulars as two of their members (Herlihy, Comiskey) expended considerable effort ensuring the rapists and sex offenders did not trouble the attention of the authorities.
What phrase best describes this calculated concealment of depravity? Bishop Brennan's official statement chooses to condemn the affair as 'failings'.
I've done some amateurish tinkering around the edges of Theology and accept that the depth of the hierarchy's moral expertise may be shrouded from me by their years of study, but it seems to me that a failing is considerably less serious than a minor injustice, let alone a grave injustice. They must fear marriage equality greatly if they choose such words.
Next I sought out official statement on the Magdalene laundries. This business scheme consisted of religious orders imprisoning tens of thousands of women and girls as a source of slave labour, using violence, head shaving and psychological abuse to maintain control. The operation wrapped up in 1996. Paying the survivors their due wages and pensions seems to me a just step, but again I lack the moral expertise that is endowed to members of the Catholic hierarchy. They're not paying.
How, I wondered, did this mass enslavement for base coin rank alongside allowing two men or two women in love to make a solemn commitment to devote themselves to each other for the rest of their lives?
It seems unlikely that the bishops have not heard of the matter, and yet the closest I can find to a comment is Bishop Eamonn Walsh rushing to announce that other parties should share responsibility. He adds that "[the] religious won't be found wanting". (They have yet to apologise, or contribute to compensation funds, so one presumes the emphasis is on 'found'.)
Seeking a fourth point of comparison for this attempt to reverse engineer morality according to bishops, I turned to Ireland's mother and baby homes. It was here that pregnant women and girls were imprisoned by religious orders, usually for three years, and forced to manual labour while their children were sold or reallocated to parents deemed more desirable.Surely, given the bishop's now obsequious concern for the family, they are apoplectic in their condemnation?
We have a statement, of sorts, a shrewdly crafted piece of wordsmithery that acknowledges pain without seeing wrongdoing before launching into the sort of rapid distancing that normally requires rockets. It mentions only disquiet at the hundreds of children who died, sparing no words for the families destroyed. You can read it in full before reading Bock the Robber's dissection.
My personal highlight?
"Many of these young vulnerable women would already have been rejected by their families." - Michael NearyHere the bishop forgets that it was precisely the instructions of his predecessors that caused this rejection. It's a neat trick, perhaps illustrative of the talents one must acquire to hold such high office.
But I digress. We have enough information to form a rudimentary scale of moral evils, as seen by the moral experts that make up the nation's bishops. To start our scale we have the nationwide enslavement of an estimated 30,000 women and girls. We see primacy given to sharing blame. There is no apology or compensation. It seems my moral betters leave me with little option but to regard this as trivial.
Next with a banal repetitiveness we see widespread enslavement of women. But this time in addition to manual labour their children are stolen, sold, reallocated, or die in the harsh environment of the mother and baby homes. This ranks more seriously: we have an acknowledgement of pain and a wriggling attempt to blame society, all the while omitting the fact that the hierarchy's control of society at the time was absolute. There is a strong attempt to blame a subdivision of the organisation. Naturally the hundreds of unmarked graves do not earn the epithet 'grave injustice'. That is reserved for the offence of recognising the loving commitment of two of my fellow citizens.
Does the protection and coverup of 21 child rapists in Ferns count as a serious crime? It seems to rank lower, unless the learned bishops ascribe a meaning to 'failings' that is unknown to us commoners. And yet failings seems to be the highest condemnation we've reached. The leap from here to an injustice of any sort, let alone a grave one, seems insurmountable.
Language does not lend itself to a points system and I cannot assign numeric values to how much worse the bishops must view marriage equality when compared to enslavement, child rape, perversion of justice and violence against women and girls. But it is clear that they consider it the greatest of these four evils.
18% of Irish Catholics agree with their stance on homosexuality. I see no reason why their stance on marriage equality will find its reception any warmer.