Hypocrites should keep a stony silence
Liam Clarke - The Sunday Times - March 21, 2010
In the bible, Jesus saved an adulterer from death by stoning after challenging her executors: “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Nobody was enough of a hypocrite to do so. (In an alternative version, Jesus turns and says: “Mother, you are being a bit hard on her,” as a massive rock strikes the adulterer on the head.) The problem with the widespread, and justified, condemnation of the failings of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with sex-abuse allegations is that many of those throwing the rocks are far from faultless themselves. Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley are two examples.
During his visit to Washington, America, last week, the Sinn Fein deputy first minister expressed forthright views about the revelation that cardinal Sean Brady had taken part in a church tribunal after which two young alleged victims of clerical child abuse were sworn to secrecy. “I think there was a lot of concern among Catholics on the island of Ireland that there was not going to be a fundamental change to bad practices in the past. Now I think people will be demanding fundamental change,” McGuinness said, adding that Brady should “consider his position”.
The sentiments are unexceptional, but McGuinness was the wrong person to express them without making a clean breast of his own and his party’s past. According to Eileen Kelly, a worker in Belfast’s Rape Crisis Centre for more than 20 years, the attitude taken by Sinn Fein and the IRA to sex-abuse cases was little better than the church’s.
“There is a huge amount of hypocrisy from different levels of society. It is a case of do as I say, don’t do as I do,” she said. “In the vast majority of cases, it [the attitude of republicans to sex abuse allegations] was absolute denial and silence. We have become aware of cases recently where there appears to have been some input from the party, but that was not the norm. In a few cases, women were given some apparent level of support but many of them felt they were being interrogated rather than helped.”
Think of Liam Adams, the brother of the Sinn Fein president. Liam has not been tried and is entitled to the presumption of innocence in the sex-abuse charges against him, but consider how the allegations were handled. He was moved about the country and for a time lived in America without those he was staying with being told that he was under suspicion. Gerry Adams, who says he believed the allegations when they were first made to him in 1987, did not inform other members of Sinn Fein or the authorities. The result was that McGuinness was photographed opening a Sinn Fein office in Dundalk alongside Liam Adams, who worked on youth projects there and in west Belfast.
Gerry attended Liam’s second wedding and was photographed canvassing with him. To any onlooker, or anyone following Liam’s career through the press, there was no hint of suspicion. What is more, Gerry told a meeting in north Belfast in 1995 that child abuse should not be reported to the police because “the RUC are not acceptable”. This was 20 years after Fr Brady, as he then was, and his superiors failed to report child-abuse allegations to the gardai.
As for imposing codes of silence, we only have to look at McGuinness’s refusal to answer crucial questions put to him at the Bloody Sunday inquiry, citing “a republican code of honour”. “There have been many occasions in the past when people who betrayed republicanism went over to the British and were executed by the IRA,” he explained under cross-examination.
So it is difficult to see where McGuinness acquired the moral authority to judge the church on issues of secrecy and cover-ups without coming clean about his own faults. Well into this decade, the republican leadership advised people not to go to the police on any issue. As late as 2005, Adams advised witnesses to the murder of Robert McCartney, who was knifed by republicans outside a Belfast bar, to make statements to “a solicitor, or any other authoritative or reputable person or body” but not to the police. The IRA tried to handle the affair with an internal inquiry.
People attending IRA inquiries, or who brought complaints to the IRA about the behaviour of its members, were also bound to secrecy. It is not much of a compliment to the Catholic church that its behaviour was no worse than that of the IRA, but it should be a reminder to Sinn Fein that, by judging others, it is itself judged.
The same could be said for Ian Paisley Senior. “The Brady/Smyth revelations are not in accordance with law, morality, with people’s sense of fairness, with justice, and with what is deemed acceptable behaviour . . . they seduce evil and they dishonour good,” the former DUP leader stormed in his online News Letter column on Friday.
Yet did Paisley do all that was necessary to clear up the sex abuse scandal at Kincora boys’ home? That broke in 1980, not long after the hearings Brady presided over. William McGrath, a member of Paisley’s Free Presbyterian church, ran the home. He was also at the centre of a gay paedophile ring and master of Ireland’s [heritage] Orange Lodge.
In 1973, shortly before McGrath was due to preside over the lodge’s annual service at the John Knox Free Presbyterian church in Belfast, Paisley was contacted by Valerie Shaw, one of his church missionaries. Homosexuality was against the law and Paisley was campaigning against its legalisation. Shaw alleged that McGrath was running a vice ring and produced a compromising letter from another man. The man told Paisley that McGrath had seduced him.
According to Shaw, Paisley’s attitude was a mixture of compassion and condemnation. “Sister, judge that ye be not judged, thank God that you are not a pervert,” she remembers him telling her. Paisley said that he confronted McGrath, who denied everything. “The case was so serious I told McGrath that under the circumstances he would not be permitted to take any part in the service,” he wrote later. “I also informed the lodge accordingly. Certain friends of McGrath in the lodge protested vigorously and talked about cancelling the service and picketing the church. I remained adamant and the service went on, McGrath taking no part therein. There the matter ended as far as I was concerned.”
Is this any better than the way Brady handled allegations put to him about Fr Brendan Smyth? Paisley may not have known that McGrath worked in a boys’ home but he could easily have found out.
There are many other examples of hypocrisy in Irish society. A commentator who has condemned secret compensation contracts between priests and their accusers has secured an order forbidding disclosure of a police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. The terms of the injunction prevent me from going further.
The Catholic church, with its ageing, celibate male power structure, has suffered a systemic failure which demands root and branch change. Brian D’Arcy, a priest of the Passionist order in Enniskillen, believes the compulsory celibacy imposed on the church’s 500,000 priests worldwide is central to the problem. D’Arcy argues that if bishops had children themselves, they might be more reluctant to keep child abuse secret. Sean McElgunn, a retired priest who is now married, thinks allowing women into the priesthood would also result in a more rounded attitude.
The whole of society has failed child-abuse victims. Many who rush to condemn shy away from confronting the truth when it touches their own interests. To adapt the biblical story, those who live in glass houses should not throw the first stone.
Nobody in their right mind would in any way try to justify the abuse of innocent children no matter who the perpetrator may be. But, the writer of this article raises some very valid points and cites individual cases to support his opinion that the Catholic Church is not the only place where these abuses of innocent children occur. Justice can only be served when the same standards of punishment for these horrific acts are applied to all who are found guilty of participating in them. The principle of innocent until proven guilty should be applied in Cardinal Brady’s case rather than the opposite. Until then public officials holding high office such as those cited in this article who are certainly not without sin themselves, should refrain from preaching morality and instead concentrate their efforts on doing the job they were elected to do.