Thursday, 28 July 2011

Enda Kenny, we salute you

In all the media frenzy which followed first Hackgate and then the tragic Oslo killings, one event has passed with perhaps less coverage than it should have had. A week ago, a speech by Enda Kenny, Taoiseach of Ireland, directly and firmly criticised the Vatican for its handling of the child abuse scandal which has done so much to damage the Church and especially in Ireland.

Before anyone starts feeling a jerk of the knee, this is not an anti-religious or anti-Catholic piece. Legitimate criticism of the Vatican is not the same as an attack on the Church. It is a recognition of what is essentially a management failure; and that is in the sense that, if the Catholic Church had been a business, its shareholders would have long ago insisted on a change of management. It being a religious institution, and accountability not really being its strong suit, that clearly has not happened. And the necessary changes arguably still do not go far enough: as the speech points out, we are talking about actions occurring
“as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.”
Kenny’s was a rousing speech with some fine passages which are noted in this magisterial piece at normblog, which I commend to you all. It is tough but unflinchingly fair. But it was truly remarkable for two things: firstly that it was – correct me if I’m wrong here – perhaps the first-ever direct criticism of the Vatican by a sitting president or prime minister; and secondly that that criticism came from Ireland, historically one of the most Catholic countries on the planet. It is not to exaggerate too much to say that, in future histories of Ireland, there is likely to be a “before” and an “after” to this speech.

It was right and it was appropriate, but it required an act of rare courage to articulate it. I believe that it also tapped into a deep vein of resentment which some Irish have felt for some time towards the Church, its power and the traditional deference towards it. The twentieth century portion of this vein can be traced to the creation of Ireland under De Valera, when the Long Fellow craftily connived with the Church to maintain his grip on power; it passes through atrocities such as the “laundry girls” who were made virtual prisoners in Church-run laundries for the crime of having had a child out of wedlock; and it ends in the present-day scandal of child abuse among priests, notable less for its existence than for the undeniable cover-up which followed. At the very least, it needs to be remarked that the relationship between Ireland and the Church passed through a very unhealthy period.

This is not the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland: but the Vatican needs to take note of it, because it sends a very serious signal at global level. Young Irish people will need to have a good reason to get involved in the Church, which at the moment they can't see - quite the opposite, in fact. The Catholic Church is likely to be around for a long time yet, but the Vatican needs reform. And if it wants not to end one day to see its empire come crashing down like so many dominoes, as we have seen happening with another multinational organisation over the last few weeks, it needs to read these signals well, and act. And this time, with seriousness and without reservation.


  1. Ireland has changed a lot since the last 30 years. It is now acceptable to be non RC. As for Kenny, I think you fall into a foreigners trap. He is "playing to the galleries" on this one. Go back to 1981 and see how he propped up the Vatican. Oh the Fine Gael party had links to the NSDAP & Franco in the 1930s.

  2. Perhaps, and I defer somewhat to your Irish knowledge. You may (or may not) be right about his motivations. But sometimes the effect is more important than the motivation. And, as you say, Ireland has changed a lot in 30 years. Probably in 1981 he thought he had no chance of taking on the Vatican and winning, I'd say is a fair analysis. And he was a very young man then.

    Btw Fine Gael was certainly not the only Irish political party in the 30s who had some questionable links! And De Valera hardly covered himself in glory during WWII, from an Allied/British perspective at least. Have you read the Tim Pat Coogan biography? V. good.

  3. Muchas gracias. It is good to see Ireland emeging from the mists. Yes Sinn Fein had links to Hitler. De Valera signed the book of condolences on Adolf's death to snub Britain. He also snubbed 20 million Russian dead for which I for one, will never forgive the hija de puta.

  4. I must admit, he won Ireland its freedom but I can't say, on balance, that I liked him at the end of the book. On the contrary, I think he has a lot to answer for.

  5. Sharp intake of breath. Dev did not win us independence, that was due to punters like my paternal Grandad who spent 4 years in the trenches then fought the British. Dev was not appealing to liberals. He kept Ireland in the dark and waged economic war on the U.K, at that time the world's biggest empire. Doufus.

  6. There I go, simplifying history again. You are right, of course.

  7. I am right in connection to Dev, who was a doufus. The author did not intend, nor infer that you are;)


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