Tanks approaching from the Tiber

From Tienanmen Square to the Via della Conciliazione?

Brendan O’Connor, writer with the Dublin paper, the Sunday Independent went on the rampage against the Catholic Church – again – last weekend  A little in the mold of  The Skibereen Eagle, he is threatening to send  tanks into the Vatican on behalf of the United Nations.

On a more serious level, he is one of growing band of virulently anti-Catholic journalists infecting western media in this new century whose tirades match anything that the anti-Catholic writers of 19th century have left on record. They bring to mind something from the last century which we might have thought was the swan-song of that breed: the contributions to religious debate and ecumenism in the 1960s which used to appear regularly in the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Protestant Telegraph – things like a series entitled “Love Affairs of the Vatican”. Nice bedfellow for Mr O’Connor.

Of course O’Connor had an axe to grind, having been hauled over the coals by the Irish broadcaster, RTE, for landing them in an €80,000+  bowl of soup for defamation. The naivety of the man was astounding, inviting the campest of camp transvestites to name and defame on live television a number of Irish pro-marriage writers and campaigners as being “homophobic”.

In the aftermath of that debacle O’Connor decided to launch into a defence of the United Nation’s latest own goal – its outrageous, arrogant and ignorant rebuke of the Catholic Church which effectively called on it to reformulate the Ten Commandments in the name of the UN’s brand of justice and equality.

Truth is and always has been the first casualty of war and the culture wars are not exception to that particular law of human frailty. Of course the injuries which mark this casualty are more often than not inflicted by way of half-truths and gross exaggerations than by the downright lie. The partial truth missile launched at a target is harder to deflect than the easily refuted barefaced untruth.

Of course there were wretched and renegade clerics at large among the Catholic faithful in the decades following the much vaunted sexual revolution who preyed on vulnerable children as readily as Jimmy Saville and other pop artists and celebrities preyed on the underage groupies who followed in their train; of course there were clerics in authority whose response to the discovery of these aberrations was grossly inadequate – just as were the responses of police and social service personnel; of course the approach of another age to finding solutions to the needs of children thought to be at risk may have failed both children and their parents in terms of principles of justice and charity which are much clearer in our age.

As Caroline Farrow said when she appeared on BBC television to discuss the issue on BBC1′s The Big Questions programme, No right-thinking Catholic wishes to deny or downplay the terrible harm that was caused to victims, a harm that was compounded by the attitude of those within authority who in many cases ignored or disbelieved their claims and some even went so far as to attempt to smear and discredit victims. All of this was contemptible and inexcusable – childhood abuse destroys lives and sets people up with a lifetime of mental health issues.

But truth, she went on to say, is the bedfellow of justice and without it, justice cannot be served. This report lets down the victims by serving a false narrative of orchestrated abuse and a centralised deliberate policy of cover-up, whereas the truth is that the Catholic church is massively decentralised, individual Catholic bishops have a lot more direct canonical power than their Anglican counterparts. Where there were failings this was due to the ineptness at a local level, and if we want to prevent any sort of recurrence then we have to be able to look at what happened and analyse matters objectively. Blaming the Vatican directly is far too glib and simplistic, as well as being erroneous and it lets too many people off the hook, including those members of the laity who colluded with the abuse.

O’Connor begins his diatribe by saying that there wasn’t much new in the UN report. That bit was true. But then he goes on to give his own utterly outrageous take on the whole thing:

The church has a history of trafficking babies, of discriminating against children based on their sexuality or that of their parents, and of allowing children to be abused, of protecting their abusers from the law, of moving abusers around – allowing them to abuse again, and when it came to abuse, of “consistently placing the preservation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests”. The church has even protected priests from their own children, denying children the right to know the identity of their fathers and “only agreeing payments from the church until the child is financially independent only if they [the mothers] sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information”.

Then he goes on to show not only his own ignorance but swallows wholesale the ignorant utterances of the United Nations Committee which produced this piece of shameless vitriol which with barefaced arrogance called for a response to it from the Holy See.

The UN report is important, he says, because it treats the church as what it is – a de facto state, geographically dispersed throughout the world certainly, but a metaphysical and legal entity, and therefore, “a sovereign subject of international law having an original non derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority of jurisdiction.”

Make no mistake, if the Holy See was an actual country, we would be at the least boycotting its fruit and at the most sending in the tanks. Here is a state that has institutionalised homophobia, discrimination against women and children, that has systematically overseen the protection of the abusers of tens of thousands of children, protecting abusers from the laws of their host countries. Here is a state that has overseen mass scale trafficking of babies, a state that opposes modern health and sexual education for young women, a state that forces secrecy on children, even those who are victims of sexual abuse.

These guys are up there with China or the worst of Africa in terms of their human rights record. And when you look at it coldly and clearly like that, your blood runs cold. Because instead of shunning this rogue state, we have invited it into the very heart of all our countries, and into the heart of our families.

Wisdom after the event is a dangerous potion. The rash and unjust judgements now being meted out, a la O’Connor and company, to the entire Catholic Church and to the entire spectrum of religious organisations which sought to and did serve the Church and society for centuries, is now perpetrating further injustice.

History will, hopefully, look at this era and see this travesty for what it is, a hate-filled campaign – not for justice for the wronged individual children and adults who suffered in the past. This is a campaign whose objective (foolish and as sure to fail as was the campaign of the pagan Roman Empire against Christianity two thousand years ago) is the destruction of the Christian religion and its removal from the face of the earth.