The silence of our bishops

Jul 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

A friend was an altar boy in Artane in the final years of the industrial school.

“You didn’t have anything to do with the school?”

“Oh God, no”.

“Did you know that the place was bad?”

“Of course, everyone knew”.

“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”

“Who were we going to say anything to?  The priests ran the country”.

There must have been many people who knew what was going on.  Families committing girls to the Magdalene laundries; politicians sanctioning state funds for the appalling industrial schools; teachers who said nothing about colleagues’ abuse of children; former pupils who would have known that the abuse they suffered was continuing, but were cowed into quietness: how many people were engaged in a fearful conspiracy of silence?

The Ireland in which detective novels were banned because of the fear of corrupting the pure morals of the Irish people was an Ireland where children could be raped and not a voice be raised.

The one tiny group that might have provided a platform for voices of dissent, that might have given a hearing to people who were frightened to speak elsewhere, seems frightened to have speak on anything.  When Archbishop McQuaid, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and the Dublin Corporation ganged up against the staging of plays by Joyce and O’Casey, the Church of Ireland maintained its customary silence.  John Cooney quotes Sean O’Casey writing to the Irish Times in frustration:

There we go; the streets of Dublin echo with the drumbeats of footsteps running away.  The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay viva watch to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop (Barton) draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell.

Within the Church of Ireland there must have been people who knew of horrible truths, but said nothing.  We need to acknowledge our own failure to oppose the growth of a society where such things could happen.

The Taoiseach was described this morning as having ‘crossed the Rubicon’ in his attack on the Vatican in yesterday’s speech. Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon river in 49 BC is remembered because it was considered an act of insurrection; an attack on Rome.

Enda Kenny’s speech is an open revolt against the old order of things in Ireland,  against the influence of the Vatican in this Republic, yet the object of Sean O’Casey’s ire seems as quiet and passive as ever.  Would it have been so controversial for one of our bishops to have spoken in support of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin in his desire for a new, open and transparent church? Would it have been considered extreme to have quietly suggested that a different, pluralist, non-clerical Irish society must now be the way forward?  There are moments that would make you wonder what bishops are for.




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