Sensing a slight shift in the wind?

Sensing a slight shift in the wind?


Attacks on the Catholic Church have gone too far and people are starting to notice, writes David Quinn


It is now 20 years since the Bishop Eamon Casey/Annie Murphy scandal first came to light, and 18 years since the Albert Reynolds/Dick Spring government fell, ostensibly as a result of the Fr Brendan Smyth case.

It is 16 years since the hierarchy published its first official child protection policy, and 16 years since Dear Daughter TV documentaries about Goldenbridge orphanage was aired.

Taking the Bishop Casey affair as the point at which the hypocrisies of the institutional Church in Ireland first began to be well and truly laid bare, to be quickly followed by revelations of the infinitely worse child abuse scandals, we have now lived through a full 20 years of unrelenting and often deserved attacks on the Catholic Church.

Those criticisms culminated in Enda Kenny’s fire-breathing ‘sermon’ in the Dáil last summer when he launched an unprecedented attack on the Vatican accusing it of ”elitism, narcissism and dysfunction”.

The attack was prompted by the publication a few days before of the Cloyne Report which revealed that Cloyne diocese had not properly followed the aforementioned child protection policy launched in 1996.

The Kenny speech, for all its faults, undoubtedly captured what many people felt, and feel, about the Catholic Church. They wanted the country’s leader to say out loud and in unmistakable terms what they believed.

But now, today, several months on from that speech, 20 years on from the Bishop Casey revelations which were only a foretaste of much worse scandals to come, can we detect a slight change in the atmosphere, a small abating in the feelings of hostility towards the Church?

The Sunday Independent has its own critics but it can rarely be accused of being out of touch with the public mood.

At the weekend, it published a front page editorial about the current condition of our country. It surveyed, and criticised, various of our leading institutions including the banks and politics.

But then, about half-way through, the editorial suddenly turned its attention towards the Church.

It said: ”The only institution displaying humility right now in this country is the Catholic Church.” It added that the Church ”has a great deal to be humble about”, chiefly because of the abuse scandals, but acknowledged that, in this regard, the Church is finally showing a ”willingness to reform”.

The leader writer (Anne Harris, the new editor following the untimely death of Aengus Fanning) then described the Labour party’s continuing attacks on the Church as ”incomprehensible”.

Harris wrote: ”It takes no courage to turn on a beaten Church — the braver thing is to take what they have to offer and use it for the benefit of the community.”

Inside, the paper carried two more prominently displayed articles saying much the same thing, one by the new deputy editor of the Sunday Independent, Jody Corcoran, and another by philosopher, Stephen Costello.

What change in the public mood is the Sunday Independent detecting and what is bringing it about?

The change is that many members of the public appear to believe that some of the attacks on the Catholic Church have gone too far.

Two events came together very shortly after the Kenny speech which signalled this. The first was the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel case which seemed to demonstrate that for priests, the presumption of innocence has been replaced by the presumption of guilt.

The second was the closing of the embassy to the Holy See.


On a more minor level, but still indicative of an extreme hostility towards the Catholic Church, was the ludicrous incitement to hatred complaint against Bishop Philip Boyce, and the now withdrawn Labour party motion asking that Department of Education officials should be screened to ensure they are not ”Catholics first and Irish second”.

There is a big difference between a wish to see a previously overbearing Church cut down to size and justly punished over the child abuse scandals, and a desire that the Church be eliminated completely from Irish society, or at least driven completely to the margins.

The Sunday Independent, for its part, has never been a shrinking violet when it has come to criticising the Catholic Church and so could never be accused of being an ‘apologist’.

This makes it all the more credible when it says, in effect, that enough is enough, although obviously this is not to say that the Church won’t be criticised in the future by that paper. It will be, just as any other institution will be.

From the Church’s point of view, what is crucial is that there are no more repeats of Cloyne diocese. If there are, then those members of the public who currently oppose the closing of the embassy to the Holy See might have second thoughts, as might the Sunday Independent itself.

But assuming this does not happen, perhaps the first time in 20 years it is now possible to draw a clear distinction between those who are simply critics of the Church and those who are genuinely anti-Catholic.

If so, then perhaps we can expect attacks on the Church to become more proportionate over time and for anti-Catholicism to become more exposed as the bigotry it so often undoubtedly is.