Church defenders should thank media who exposed child abuse

Dame Nuala O'Loan knows all about institutional cover-up, having skilfully unmasked precisely that in policing here 
Dame Nuala O'Loan knows all about institutional cover-up, having skilfully unmasked precisely that in policing here  Dame Nuala O'Loan knows all about institutional cover-up, having skilfully unmasked precisely that in policing here 

NUALA O’Loan knows how an organisation protects its own and belittles accusers.

She knows all about institutional cover-up, having skilfully unmasked precisely that in policing here.

In return she took insults and threats but media comment was a strong ally. So it is sad to see her in a recent university conference attacking Irish media treatment of the Catholic Church - in a bizarre location.

Boston: scene of this year’s vivid Oscar-winning Spotlight, on the local Church’s handling of paedophile priests over many years.

The media failing there was not exposing the crimes decades earlier, despite having considerable evidence.

Boston-Irish Catholic communal identification, plus fear and awe of the overweening Cardinal Bernard Law, trumped honesty, and the press duty to challenge power.

When at last the media did their duty the Pope’s response was to bring Law to Rome, giving him charge of the prestigious Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

At the Boston College conference on April 16 with O’Loan, as well as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Irish Times religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry and others, was Marie Collins – the only panellist without a title in the programme.

Collins’s abuse as a child by a hospital chaplain, a priest, is one of the many stories the Church has been unable to permanently silence.

But it took years for her to go public, still clinging to her own faith, and the Vatican-launched commission she agreed to join is taking an age to begin work; something reported recently by McGarry, who has written extensively about the clerical paedophile scandal.

The conference was called ‘Faith in the Future; Religion in Ireland in the 21st century’. O’Loan in a general blast at the Irish media complained specifically of McGarry’s paper.

A ‘country in which the media was once sympathetic to the Catholic Church is now aggressively hostile.’ Journalists seemed on occasions to have abandoned careful language in favour of wild assertions which encouraged virulent anti-Catholicism.

‘For the most part people do not challenge some of the wilder statements, such as those about paedophile priests or widespread savagery in Catholic schools, possibly because they do not want to be seen to do so.’

They were right, she said, to think it could be dangerous. During the same sex marriage campaign ‘people like (columnists) Breda O’Brien and David Quinn were repeatedly and viciously attacked for proclaiming views which are consistent with Church teaching. Blessed are the persecuted!’

This is one way of tackling accusations long since impossible to rubbish effectively. Imputing malice to the media substitutes for denigrating the accusers, which even the most resolute, most in denial Church defender can usually hear as no longer persuasive, or decent.

O’Loan did acknowledge that it was the media which ultimately forced Church and state to begin dealing with child sexual abuse. But it had then become ‘open season...the victim had to be believed, so the priest must be lying.

Some were, but some weren’t...Men who had done no wrong were not, and in some cases still are not properly treated during the period of investigation.’

Indeed the media did get some things wrong, hardly surprising given the global determination to conceal and silence.

O’Loan chose the glaring example of trial by television of the 2011 RTE Prime Time programme, an almost wilfully careless and unprofessional production which said a missionary priest in Kenya had made an adolescent girl pregnant.

DNA testing proved he was not the father of her child. RTE paid massive damages. Father Kevin Reynolds returned to ministry.

Looking back, as many if not more media mistakes were in refusing as in Boston to see patterns, failing to listen properly to inarticulate allegations by traumatised, often poor and isolated victims up against a powerful institution.

One of the ugliest Catholic defences is that the Church’s collusion with abuse is no different from that of other organisations, priest abusers no worse than others. A priest’s standing in society enabled abuse - to put it very mildly.

The Catholic Church concealed crimes of abuse in a calculated, prolonged, repeated, global way, shuffled priests they knew to be a danger to different parishes, dioceses, countries, in effect exposing fresh batches of children to cruel harm, from Brendan Smyth, among others.

Church moral authority has been greatly damaged, in Ireland and elsewhere. The Church lost respect by its own behaviour. Its defenders should blame first and most the paedophile priests, and the bishops and cardinals who so shamefully failed to deal with them. They owe a debt to serious media investigators.