The last few years have been something of an education. We have found out that the great and the good haven’t always been that great or that good. The pillars which hold up society haven’t so much collapsed as corroded, the damage inflicted from within.
It has been a bountiful time for those addicted to scandal. Only this week, the UK’s foremost police force, the Met, lost two of its most senior officers to the News of the World controversy. Last week the Catholic Church was again in the dock, as the Cloyne Report shone light on the way abuse allegations were dealt with – or, rather, mishandled – in County Cork.
The press has been tarnished, politicians have been impugned and bankers maligned. No institution, it seems, has escaped unscathed and, on the face of it, none has deserved to.
Rupert Murdoch described Tuesday’s appearance before a Commons Select Committee as the most humble day of his life. The octogenarian media mogul cut an almost pitiful figure as he answered – and sometimes failed to answer – questions from MPs about the phone-hacking scandal which has convulsed Westminster, sickened the public and torpedoed Murdoch’s attempt to acquire BSkyB. The assault on the old man by a foam pie-wielding interloper heightened the indignity.
You will gather I am not an admirer of the newspaper magnate and I was unimpressed by his testimony. He seemed woefully out of touch with what was happening at the News of the World and some of his answers to the Committee seemed unconvincing. But I will give him one thing: he turned up to face the music, leaving us to form our own judgements as to the genuineness of his contrition and humility.
The Cloyne Report raises disturbing questions about the contrition and humility of senior figures in the Catholic Church, both here on this island and in Rome. There has been much weeping and wailing over the ongoing and widespread decline in faith but, when one surveys the wreckage of the recent past, is it any wonder?
For Irish Catholics, who’ve had to absorb demoralising blow after demoralising blow, the revelations – unreported abuse allegations (in defiance of the Irish bishops’ own guidelines) and an uncooperative Vatican – have come as a betrayal. We were assured that lessons had been learned from previous scandals; we were told that the same mistakes could not be made again, that measures were in place to prevent any such recurrence. Judge Yvonne Murphy and her colleagues found otherwise.
The sexual abuse perpetrated by clerics has been immoral, outrageous and criminal, and the victims should be uppermost in our thoughts; but there has been substantial collateral damage, too. It is high time that some in the Catholic hierarchy woke up to the hurt they are causing to the church they profess to love. Far from protecting the institution’s reputation, their actions are dragging it through the gutter.
I have always regarded the Holy Thursday service – when the local bishop washes the feet of members of the laity – as among the most moving of the Easter ceremonies. Too often, though, its significance has been forgotten. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, suggested that humility was preached by the clergy, but practised only by the lower classes.
Litany of failures
Certainly the litany of failures – detailed in the Ferns, Ryan and Dublin Archdiocese reports – had been shattering for lay Catholics, but it has been disheartening, too, for many, many decent priests who have been betrayed by abusive colleagues and undermined by their leaders. The Cloyne Report has compounded the problem, since the wrong-doing it uncovered occurred after the introduction of new child abuse guidelines.
Matthew tells us that no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.
Those who have chosen to serve Rome – rather than the little ones – have done their church and its members a grave disservice. They have left many ordinary Catholics with a crisis of faith – not in Christ, but in the hierarchy.
Unconvincing. Out of touch. Time will tell whether the damage can be repaired. God knows we have never been more in need of moral guidance.