One of the ironies of Catholic Church life in Ireland today is that never before had we so many high powered communications people employed at such
huge cost for such a poor return. It is not their fault, of course, because every bishop is lord in his own diocese and the culture of deference that
assures them they are competent in every imaginable subject makes it almost impossible for them to actually accept that in certain instances they are
completely out of their depths. Part of the difficulty is that they seem not to understand how much the ground has moved under their feet.
Some years ago the late Cardinal Cathal Daly made the point, in an RTE interview, that part of the difficulty of dealing with the IRA was that it was impossible to communicate with them. The were in a time warp; they had tunnel vision; they didn’t seem to realise that time has moved on and that Ireland has changed. They were, he concluded, stuck with a particular mind-set that blocked communication.
His words are a metaphor for where we are as a Church now. And the interview given by the hapless Bishop Magee simply underlined the problems we have. We are, of course, coming from a low base. In sporting terms it¹s deep into the second half, we¹re several goals down, playing into a strong headwind, we’ve a second eleven on the field and some of those have been sent to the sideline. We have little to say, we¹re not able to say it and anyway few want to give us a fair hearing.
But there are rules that have emerged from the experience of dealing with difficult issues and there are people who know about them. There are things
you do and things you don’t do. And the Magee interview was an object lesson in what not to do. You don’t agree to talk to someone giving the impression
that you are being door-stepped. You don’t read out a statement or, if you feel you have to, you make sure that someone who knows something about words has a look at it beforehand. You don’t justify or explain, when the evidence is conclusive and the jury has already gone home. You turn up. You tell the truth. You hold up your hands. It¹s not brain surgery. It’s just being media savvy.
The difficult truth at present is that bishops are not believed or trusted. Even if they said the Our Father there would be something wrong with it. Old
men in black suits conjure up frightening, not reassuring images. Being Catholic is the last great stigma. To quote a man who found himself in a similarly impossible place, ‘We are where we are’.
The sad truth is that all of this (or much of it at least) could have been avoided. A People’s Church. Accountability, transparency, collegiality,
co-responsibility. That’s what, in effect, God said to us in the Second Vatican Council. But we knew better. And now we have old men in black suits
speaking a language no one wants to hear. It could have been so very different.
I have been listening to the media coverage of the Cloyne Report and, more recently, of Bishop Magee’s statement. I have little doubt but that Bishop Magee’s plea for forgiveness must be classed as a definite own goal. The facial expression, the language, the black suit all pointed to a man who is totally institutionalized, a man who appears to have no identity outside the clerical milieu.
Following Bishop Magee’s statement, I noted that some commentators opined that the “victims were destroyed” and that “they would never find peace”. I am surprised that no professional counsellor or therapist has come forward to challenge this pessimistic view. Is anyone ever going to say that we have some choices about our lives? Persons who have been abused had no choice when the abuse was happening and the abuser had full power over them. But those who have been abused have choices now. They can choose to hold on to the hurt for the rest of their lives, or to let it go. They are more than the abuse that was visited on them. When I hear some of their representatives speaking on the media, I get the sense that “closure” is not the outcome that they desire.