In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O'Brien's heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out 'Swine! Swine! Swine!' and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen.
1984, George Orwell
The Irish people are now being treated to their Two-Minutes Hate of Cardinal Seán Brady and the Catholic Church, in the same way that the Party members in Orwell's novel are daily required to rant and fulminate against Goldstein, the Party's obligatory enemy and focus of antagonism.
I do not believe that this is really (for the most part) about abuse, or about the failure to speak out against abuse or paedophilia. If this was what the media outcry was really about, then Senator David Norris-- who appealed for clemency on behalf of a friend convicted of statutory rape in Israel-- would surely be subjected to the same kind of villification, the same calls to resign his office.
I have never been sexually abused. I accept that I cannot understand or appreciate the pain that abuse victims go through. It is easy, incredibly easy, to politicize somebody's pain, to forget the living, breathing human beings involved-- and there is always the temptation to leap unthinkingly to the defence of something you love, as Catholics in Ireland love their Church. I regularly pray for all abuse victims.
And yet, for all that, I still believe that the media reaction to the BBC documentary on Cardinal Brady's (minor) role in the history of Fr. Brendan Smyth is excessive and hysterical. Cardinal Brady has pointed out that, even under current guidelines, the responsibility to inform the authorities would not rest with somebody in the role he played at the time. He was acting under conditions of confidentiality. I don't know whether he should resign or not, but I do think that the story hardly deserves to dominate the headlines and news broadcasts in the way it has, both yesterday and this morning.
The Irish Times editorial today began:
DESPITE ALL that has happened in relation to the clerical abuse of
children, the Vatican’s response still revolves around the requirements
of canon law and the protection of church authority. Unambiguous
endorsement of the actions taken by Cardinal Séan Brady regarding the
late Fr Brendan Smyth, following the BBC’s This World documentary by
reporter Darragh MacIntyre, has firmly placed the importance of internal
discipline and obedience above personal conscience.
Is there not a chance that "obedience above personal conscience" might also come to characterize our relation to the State and the law? After all, although Fr. Brendan Smyth should definitely have been reported to the gardai, there are situations that would not be so clear-cut. Are we moving towards a society where everybody will be legally obliged to file every suspicion with the authorities? Is the State infallible? With the attack upon the Seal of Confession, and the proposal to increase the State's power to intervene in family life with the Children's Referendum, are we seeing not only the Two Minutes' Hate, but also the beginning of the Big Brother society?