"Then there are the usual suspects, lay voices who make a living from defending the institutional church when it is safe to do so, when outrage is settling after the Cloyne report.
It was the same after the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports. Their immediate reaction is practised horror. Then, with time, they’re back to their slithering ways, diluting truth, minimising the wreckage, playing it all down."
Who said this? I don't think it will surprise you too much to learn it was Patsy McGarry, the religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, who seems to be training for a career as press officer of Atheist Ireland or the Humanist Association of Ireland.
Notice that "the usual suspects" are not named, and that their horror at the reports of child abuse in the Catholic church are described as "practiced". And presumably their "slithering ways" means putting the abuse within the Catholic church into its wider social and historic context. McGarry doesn't have to cite any facts at all. He can simply question motives and he feels his case is made.
This is a tactic used constantly in the attack upon the Church. Whatever its prelates or defenders say or do is assumed to be simply a cover for sinister motives and power-plays. I read one article in a left-wing magazine (Look Left) analysing the Catholic Church as a corporation that was jostling for a new market sector, having lost its existing market.
All this came into my head today as I was reading Ancestral Voices, a 1994 book about religion and nationalism in Ireland by the late Conor Cruise O'Brien.
"The Cruiser" had a reputation as an intellectual, presumably a calm and lucid intelligence that could see beyond the distortions and caricatures of partisan debate. Surely he was a man of facts and logical connections, no matter what else you might have thought about him?
I haven't finished Ancestral Voices but I have rarely encountered such a dossier of unwarranted assumptions, false inferences, and tendentious arguments. O'Brien is so eager to establish a link between violent nationalism and Catholic sectarianism that anything and everything serves to confirm his prejudice. Dots that are miles apart are gleefully joined.
It begins on the very first page-- we are treated to this quotation from the Catechism of Irish History (1876):
Q. Have the Irish preserved the faith preached to them by St. Patrick? A: Yes, the Irish have ever been conspicuous for their devoted attachment to the faith from which not all the horrors of persecution nor the blandishments of proselytism have been able to separate them.
This, says, O'Brien, "assumes that 'the Irish' means Irish Catholics, and nobody else. The assumption has been very strong in the Irish Catholic culture...it also worth noting that this has been the official Catholic doctrine. The Catechism was issued with the highest ecclesiastical approval under Cardinal Cullen".
So there you go. O'Brien's rather strained interpretation of one line in a catechism becomes the official teaching of the Church in Ireland. And that's just the beginning.
I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm already flabbergasted by the sheer multitude of aspersions O'Brien casts. Here are some examples:
"...the most revealing aspect of the whole controversy was the unwilling testimony, in support of Healy's contention, supplied by Parnell's defenders. When cornered on the moral issue, these invariably suggested that being a Protestant, Parnell could not be expected to understand, as a Catholic would, that adultery was wrong. None of them ever said this right out, but everyone knew this was the theme..."
"Redmond, for his part, never again referred in public to the Church's role in the destruction of Parnell. That a veil should be drawn over all that had been an implicit condition of his election to the leadership of the reunited Party."
"Moran may have had clerical backing for the foundation of the paper, and both his paper and his Irish Ireland movement had significant, if discreet, support from the Hierarchy."
"The files of The Leader, from 1900 to 1914, constitute the only explicit exposition of Catholic nationalism that we have. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, this whole area was generally covered by a fog of dissimulation and pseudo-occumenism. After 1921, in the new Irish State, that decorous fog descends again and has never really lifted since..."
"The Republic Tradition was dominated, in its formal ideology, and public expressions, by Wolfe Tone's doctrine of the Common Name of Irishman obliterating, in theory, all political differences between Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters. So no proper Republican could give public vent in explicit terms to anti-Protestant feeling. The constitutional nationalists had more pragmatic reasons for an equivalent inhibition. They needed to play down the sectarian tendencies among their supporters in order to convince their English Liberal allies...that modern Catholic nationalism was part of the tolerant Enlightenment."
"...in that period and in that paper, we have an opportunity to look at Catholic nationalism with the lid off. (Not that all Catholic nationalism is like this, but a great deal of it is, and it is normally screened from public view.) It was an opportunity that had never been presented before, and it "was never to recur."
"Formally, official nationalism during this period repudiated any such identity [Catholicism with nationalism], as it still does. Catholicism was religion, and nationalism was politics, two quite separate things. A person's religion was his private affair. Irish nationalism belonged to all the Irish....Few Protestants believed the old official version, or believe the present one. And I think many Catholic nationalists, in their hearts, don't believe it either."
"In the 1790s however, and under the impact of the French Revolution, Irish nationalism asserts itself for the first time, amongst Irish Catholics, as a force distinct from official Catholicism, and partly in conflict with the latter. Yet at a deeper level, the new Revolutionary nationalism appears to have been continuous, emotionally, with the older religious nationalism of the Counter-Reformation."
"Just as the Penal Laws presumed no such person as an Irish Catholic to exist, so the ideology of the Christian Brothers, fully countenanced by the Hierarchy at this time, presumes no such person as an Irish Protestant to exist (see the passage from Catechism of Irish History quoted at the outset.) And this attitude, in more diluted forms, is widespread today among Irish Catholics."
I haven't even reached page 60 of this tract yet. But there is something depressingly familiar about it all. The Church never seems to be attacked for what it actually says or does. It is nearly always attacked for imagined subtexts, motives and manouvres. Marxists believe that it encourages men to focus on the eternal rather than the worldly in order to protect the established order. Liberals believe that it is opposed to abortion and the ordination of women for misogynistic reasons. They also believe its sexual teaching reflects either a stigmatisation of sex or a hatred of it. The Church opposes homosexual acts because it is homophobic, not because it believes sexuality is ordered to the creation of life and the union of man and woman. And so forth.
But then, I would say all that, wouldn't I? Heaven alone knows what I really mean. I guess I'll have to ask Patsy McGarry.