By Donal O’Keeffe

If you can reconcile yourself with a global conspiracy to cover up the rape of children to the point where you can welcome Pope Francis to Ireland, then do you really care about child abuse at all?

There was a telling interview in last Thursday’s Irish Times. A Pennsylvania grand jury had just reported that over 1,000 children had been sexually abused by hundreds of priests in six US dioceses, and senior clerics had covered it up. Patsy McGarry spoke with Ian Elliott, former chief executive of the Irish Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children.

In an interview entitled “Bishops ‘resisted attempts to protect children’”, the man whose job it had been to create child protection structures for the Catholic Church here told The Irish Times he had experienced such resistance from bishops that he would not do the job over again.

“If I was faced with the prospect again and knowing what I know now, would I go down that route again? The answer is no. Very definitely not,” Elliott told McGarry.

Elliott says he was met with hostility, and he describes the Irish Catholic Church’s approach to child protection as “a lot of lip service”. That’s a deeply troubling claim when over 90% of Irish primary schools remain under the control of the Catholic Church. Elliott also says that of all of the Irish bishops, only one stood out as being genuinely committed to protecting children.

“Without a shadow of a doubt that would be Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, because he had the courage of his convictions … I always felt he had the best interests of children and young people at heart and that he could not in his conscience come to terms with the fact that any member of the clergy could abuse a young person … He was outstanding.”

Diarmuid Martin is, of course, despised by the conservative wing of the Irish Catholic Church, which perceives him as 'liberal'. Make of that what you will.

I wrote here two weeks ago about the film Spotlight, which dramatised the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé of clerical sex abuse and the cover-up of that abuse by the Boston Archdiocese. In the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report, Sacha Pfeiffer, a member of the Globe’s Spotlight team, tweeted: “When we did our @GlobeSpotlight stories on clergy sex abuse, some people asked us why Boston had this problem. But they were missing the larger, systemic tragedy: It was never just Boston. It was always everywhere.”

16 years after Boston, Pennsylvania is now experiencing something Ireland knows too well. Not just the exposure of systemic sexual abuse of vulnerable children by paedophile priests, but the realisation that the Catholic hierarchy cares far more about reputational damage to the institutional Catholic Church than it ever did about the safety of those vulnerable children. The Catholic Church has always gone out of its way to cover up the crimes of paedophile priests, and you’d really have to wonder why so many priests are paedophiles.  

Yes, I know it’s not all priests. I know some very decent priests who are horrified and repulsed by the Catholic Church’s ongoing problem with child abuse. Of course it’s not all priests. But do you know something? It’s a lot of priests.

You’d have to ask, what is it about the priesthood, what is it about the Catholic Church, that attracts paedophiles? What is it about the priesthood, what is it about the Catholic Church, that fosters paedophilia?

Is it the misogyny, the creepy fixation with women’s bodies? Is it how the Catholic Church defines every woman by her sexuality, as Madonna or whore? Is it the homophobia? Is it the way in which the Catholic Church demonises gay people as being 'disordered' for being exactly as God made them? Is it the systematic thwarting of natural sexuality through the deeply weird concept of enforced celibacy? Is it the seminaries, which seem to act as generational, rolling abuse factories?

Is it the pompous, authoritarian cruelty which defines much of the Catholic hierarchy? Is it the morbid sex obsession which seems to inform the Catholic Church’s every move?

Perhaps a more important question might be: why do so many Catholics reach a moral accommodation with an institution they know full well to be riddled with paedophilia?

In 2016, Donald Trump marvelled that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters”. You’d have to wonder what the Catholic Church would have to do to lose some of the faithful. After all, a global conspiracy to rape children and cover it up is clearly no big deal to some. 

Smiling twinkly Pope Francis will descend on Ireland this weekend. Ian Elliott describes Francis’ record on child protection as 'a dismal failure'. Half a million Irish Catholics will welcome Pope Francis. Catholic churches in Ireland are busy every week. Why do so many people still go to Mass? Why do so many still contribute money? Why do 78.3% of Irish citizens voluntarily identify as Catholic?

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some Catholics just don’t care about child abuse.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will say Mass in Phoenix Park. Maybe he’ll deign to meet with a few survivors, but it’ll be a hollow gesture. Maybe he’ll even apologise, but that will be as meaningless as Father Dougal’s “Well, Ted, as I said last time, it won't happen again”.

Colm O’Gorman is hosting a public event, Stand for Truth, at 3pm on Sunday, 26th August, at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, to coincide with the Papal Mass. Colm is a survivor of clerical sexual abuse, and the founder of the charity One In Four. And he sued the Pope. If you can be in Dublin, you could go to Parnell Square and stand in solidarity with those abused by the Catholic Church.

At the same time, in Tuam, Catherine Corless, the historian who sourced the death certificates of 796 children from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, will join members of the Tuam Babies Family Group to light candles and to read out the names of the 796 Tuam Babies.

However you mark Pope Francis’ visit, maybe you could take a moment on Sunday afternoon to stop and think about all the harm inflicted upon children by the Catholic Church, all the childhoods stolen, all the futures poisoned.

Unless, of course, you’re a Catholic who just doesn’t care about child abuse.

One In Four: 01 66 24070

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-Hour National Helpline: 1800 778888