The Catholic Church is simply not serious about confronting its shameful history of abuse. That’s why media-savvy Pope Francis isn’t stopping here long enough to engage in any meaningful way with Irish survivors, says Donal O’Keeffe.
Did you watch Spotlight on RTÉ1 last Wednesday? It’s a powerful, deeply intelligent 2015 film, directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy, and featuring a top-notch ensemble cast.
There’s a scene early on in Spotlight in which Boston Globe reporter Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) meets lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci). Garabedian is representing several victims of clerical abuse, and alleges that Cardinal Law had known Father John Geoghan was a serial child rapist and had done nothing to stop him. Garabedian is doubtful the Globe can challenge the Catholic Church.
“The Church thinks in centuries, Mr Rezendes,” Garabedian says. “Do you think your paper has the resources to take that on?”
The film doesn’t paint Law a moustache-twirling monster though, and takes care to portray Law’s reaction to 9/11 as a moment of genuine leadership, with Law praying that America’s response might reflect the nation’s best ideals, “and even more, reflect God’s own teaching, not only as it is shown in Christianity and Judaism, but in Islam as well”.
Spotlight touches briefly on the fact that Bernard Law was, in the 1960s, a brave and principled civil rights activist, a man who received death threats for his courage, and a man described by Charles Evers , brother of the murdered activist Medgar Evers, as acting “not for the Negro, but for justice, and what is right”.
But Law was a prideful man, consumed by his dream of becoming the first American Pope, an aspiration which carried him to the office of Archbishop of Boston in 1984, a position he would hold for 18 years, presiding over one of the Catholic Church’s largest flocks.
Law presided too over one of the largest assemblies of sexual predators on the planet, his own burning ambition informing his careful management of those rapists and child molesters, quietly moving paedophile priests to new hunting grounds to avoid scandal for Mother Church, and to preserve his own career.
Literally thousands of children were abused because Bernard Law decided their safety was less important than the reputation of the institutional Catholic Church, and less important too than Law’s own ambition. Thousands of young lives ruined, and untold more tainted by tragedy. Some died by suicide. Others fell to alcoholism and addiction.
The Boston Globe ran hundreds of articles exposing the cover-up of abuse in the Boston archdiocese. In April 2002, Law was proclaiming defiantly his intention to stay as Archbishop and address the scandal.
By December 2002, he was gone. Law was forced to resign, his dream of being the first American Pope in tatters. Still, he was promoted to Rome, and he lived like a king.
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their work.
To this day, survivors are living and dying with Bernard Law’s legacy.
“When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal,” says a survivor in Spotlight. “How do you say no to God?”
It’s a fictionalised line, but one which will be familiar to anyone who has spoken with survivors of clerical sex abuse.
Bernard Law died last Christmas, aged 86. The Vatican buried him with full honours. In the funeral Mass, no mention was made of the child abuse Law facilitated and covered up.
Pope Francis will be in Ireland in late August for exactly 36 hours. He’ll be here for the World Symposium on Catholic Daddy and Mammy Families and No Gays, or whatever it’s called. There has been considerable media speculation that the Pope won’t have enough time to meet with survivors of clerical sex abuse. But I think we can expect to be told the Pope will meet survivors after all.
I think we’re being set up for scenes of kindly, twinkly Pope Francis meeting – fleetingly – with survivors. I think it’ll be long enough for a photo, but not long enough for any sort of meaningful engagement.
I’m fascinated that no one seems to be asking the question as to why Pope Francis is only visiting Ireland for 36 hours. I mean, is he a fellow on a schedule? Is someone telling him he can’t be here for more than a day and a half? Is he not the temporal ruler of 1.2 billion Catholics? Why are we buying into the notion that the Pope is a slave to the clock?
This is Papal ‘Bull’. Pope Francis will be in Ireland for exactly as long as he wants to be, precisely long enough to make the most of his time here, but not so long that he has to answer any difficult questions.
Maybe we’ll see the Pope take a photo-op with a survivor or two, but otherwise good luck and thanks. No chance to ask about the €1.3 billion or so still owed to us by the Catholic Church in abuse redress.
We’re being played. Pope Francis is just Pope Benedict with shinier teeth and better PR.
Writing in the Boston Globe after Cardinal Law’s death, Kevin Cullen, formerly of the Spotlight team, said Law should be remembered as “one of the greatest enablers of sexual abuse in the history of the world”.
At Bernard Law’s funeral Mass last December, prayers were led by kindly, twinkly Pope Francis.
The Church thinks in centuries.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour National Helpline is 1800 778888 drcc.ie
One In Four: 01 6624070 oneinfour.ie