The second coming of the Eucharistic Congress landed in the RDS like some visitation from the planet holy, and got busy ‘forgiving themselves’ in a rebranding exercise that would make BP proud. Scratch Dat Itch is taking some time out to look at what happened in the intervening 80 years.
The Irish State and the Catholic Church are interwoven, as you would’ve guessed if you switched on the TV last week to see pictures of the big mass. But how did this relationship start, and how did it give birth to a silence which settled on this land like a fog, hiding monsters, suppressing truth and bringing with it a creeping fear?
During that first congress it was estimated that more than 25% of the population attended the mass held in the Phoenix Park in 1932. Back then the Irish State was itself an infant. A mere five years on from this De Valera is drafting up the new, shiny constitution and is receiving almost daily communications from his friend John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, on all matters religious, educational, health and social.
De Valera was playing the game: seeking respectability on the international stage by having approval from the Catholic Church. A draft of the constitution was presented to the man who would become Pope Pius XII who commentated ‘We do not approve, neither do we disapprove; We shall maintain silence.’ The silence that started back in the 1930s was locked into place.
De Valera was seeking approval for a blueprint of what a Catholic nation-state should look like. As anyone with a smidgen of Leaving Cert history knows a woman’s place was in the home in 1930s Ireland. There’d be no divorce, nor contraception in these lands and all children born would be Catholics, regardless of their protestant fathers or mothers. The family was the bedrock of the flock, and the flock was firmly under the control of their spiritual leaders, the Church.
When the reality did not match this blueprint for a better Catholic world; when it unravelled, then the rights of the individual disappeared. People remained in loveless, violent marriages or had children out of wedlock and begat a social problem which the new State washed their hands off quickly.
The cleaners were called for, and in stepped the Holy Orders who would sweep up the collateral damage, the products of sin. This led to over 30,000 children, identified as petty thieves, truants, in danger of promiscuity, or from dysfunctional families, being incarcerated in industrial schools, reformatories or orphanages.
The findings of the Ryan report  said that abuse was ‘systemic, pervasive, chronic, excessive, arbitrary, endemic.’ The Christian Brothers pursued a lawsuit which defended their right to anonymity with reference to the Ryan report, even in cases where they’d already been convicted of sexual and physical abuse of children. This was a successful delaying tactic.
It is interesting to note that the original chairperson of that Commission into Child abuse was Justice Laffoy who resigned in 2003. She felt that both the government and the department of education had frustrated the commission’s investigation, that the state also delayed in facing up to what it had done.
I remember a Christian Brother who displayed an unhealthy excitement for physical violence. I heard of a boy retaliating only to end up in an industrial school. I knew of younger boys who were warned by their older brothers to stay away from certain Christian Brothers. A pensioner told me the story of being warned as an altar boy to stay well clear of certain priests. A woman was incarcerated into a Magdalene Laundry, her crime was to attempt to date a single man in Kerry. This was the culture many of us were raised in. One of warnings and quiet words, where you couldn’t escalate it to the next level because of the esteem the Church was held in. The members of these orders were handed impunity on the day they started the job and they had an army of youth in their care.
The silence was stitched into the social order of the country. The State had already acceded a special place to the Catholic Church, they were the frontline for all of the social policy and they cleaned up the by-products of failed catholicism. They were untouchable; people saw this and learned quickly. The culture of quiet words and whispered warnings became normal. When you took it further, you could have your own family disagreeing with you.
In Dear God: The Price of Religion in Ireland by Eamonn McCann, the mother of a child that was raped by a sadist priest described it, ‘my mother took his (the priest’s) side when the other priests said we shouldn’t have him in the house so much. Fr Grant and Fr Rooney both said we shouldn’t encourage him much. That’s the phrase they used: don’t encourage him’.
Archbishop McQuaid embodies this attitude, that his like were only answerable to God or Rome. In the Murphy report  it was revealed that he choose carefully what was told to Rome. In 1960 McQuaid was informed by the Guards of an abusive priest in the diocese but instead of taking action he was too preoccupied with preventing scandal rather than protecting children.
The policy of silence and cover up was pervasive. Cardinal Sean Brady sat in on a hearing about an abuser Priest in 1975 during which a brave 14 year old boy told his story. Brady went away and corroborated the case of abuse against that priest by speaking to another of his victims. He then referred the matter upwards to his Bishop. HE did not tell the parents what was going on with their children. HE did not follow it up.
The primary concern, back in 1975, was that the 14 year old boy agreed to tell his story only to that committee and that committee alone. Twenty-four years later a government fell due to a belief that there was a coverup about that same abuser, Fr. Brendan Smyth. By that stage over 100 children had been abused by him.
If you wish to know the face of the Church, do not get distracted by the images of the devoted from the RDS: go into the National Portrait Gallery and seek out Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. A man who wrote ‘A Jew as a Jew is utterly opposed to Jesus Christ and all the Church means. But further, Satan has other allies; all those who by deliberate revolt against God and his Church set themselves under the government and direction of the evil one. I want you to remember the truth very clearly: by Satan we mean not only Lucifer and the fallen angels , but also those men, Jews or others, who by deliberate revolt against Our Divine Lord have chosen Satan for their head.’How do you separate the failed State from the fallen angels?