18Jan Kevin Myers on the Church

THE late Mary Raftery was rightly a muchrespected and muchloved journalist. And what follows is certainly not criticism of her or her achievements, but of our Great Single Narrative.


Once upon a time, the Great Single Narrative of Ireland was largely provided by the Catholic Church.

Now it comes from the new clergy in the secular media. In this current GSN, the hapless Irish people were oppressed by a sadistic caste of sexually depraved priests, who raped, brutalised and violated children at their ease, immune to all legal consequence.

As with all successful GSNs, there is sufficient truth in these allegations to sustain the myth. But within the culture that has emerged around this GSN, virtually all memory of the selflessness and dedication of scores of thousands of priests, brothers and nuns down the centuries has vanished.

And when you consider the cynical alliance the Catholic hierarchy struck with Charles Haughey’s Fianna Fail in the 1980s, you shouldn’t be too surprised that modern secular Ireland is not too charitably disposed towards the Catholic Church.

The hierarchy, better than most, knew about Haughey; about his coauthorship of the Provisional IRA; about his financial malfeasance: and about his compulsive philandering.

How sweetly paradoxical it was that Haughey’s political successor, Bertie Ahern who – scenting the changing in the breeze – aligned Fianna Fail with the emerging post- Catholic GSN, leaving the Catholic hierarchy as the jilted old spinster at the altar. Bertie Ahern’s creation of the Redress Board, along with the sudden and revolutionary new jurisprudential dogma that an allegation of abuse constituted proof thereof, changed just about everything in Irish life.

The presumption of innocence was abandoned, and the concrete rang with the sound of babies’ shattered foreheads, along with the bathwater.

A worldwide advertising campaign was begun, asking for “victims” to come forward, in order to be compensated.

This, uniquely, was compensation-culture being fed not by litigantlawyers, but by the very people who would have to pay the compensation. It is doubtful whether any state has ever behaved with such ruinous stupidity, but in fact it was only a weird mutation of the Fianna Fail cargo-cult creed: that the state exists to shower goodies on the citizens, who in due course will reward the party at the ballot box.

No Golconda is so vast, no oil-well so bottomless, no diamond- mind so carboniferously- endowed, as to be able to sustain such promiscuous and dysfunctional generosity indefinitely.

The Fianna Fail gravy ladle finally reached the bottom of the tureen with the bankers and the speculators; but by that time, its unprincipled munificence towards anyone who had made allegations of clerical abuse had created an insatiable army of litigants, – and not just in Ireland, but across the English-speaking world.

From their howls, and the government-created enquiries which treated all allegations as jury verdicts, has emerged the Great Single Narrative of our times.

THE new GSN created a very great lie: that the Catholic Church was responsible for all our woes, when the truth was more complex: a consensual and democratically endorsed pact between the governing political caste, the electorate and the Catholic Church created a strange society, in which all three components were responsible for the many failings.

A people that believed in corporal punishment produced a like-minded clergy; and a sexually repressed society nominated a caste of sexually illiterate virgins to devise sexual norms for the non-virgins.

Would you choose a plumber or electrician on such principles? No wonder things went wrong. But just for once, let’s look on the positive side.

Irish Catholic priests and nuns were determined that Irish emigrants to the US arriving as third-class citizens wouldn’t remain that way.

Yes, it’s easy now to mock the austere puritanism and sexual rigidity of Catholic mores, but the men and women who ran the Catholic Church knew what anarchy can be unleashed in the absence of order (as any O’Connell Street at midnight will now testify).

And contrary to much current fiction, many women were immensely powerful in Irish life of yesteryear.

Our hospital system was invented and run by an army of unpaid and mighty Irish females: the Sisters of Mercy and of Charity. (Take your pick: them or the HSE?) A vast network of hundreds of girls’ schools, educating millions of pupils across the world, was created by the Ursuline, Presentation and Loreto nuns of Ireland.

An example: a single Ursuline convent, that of the Annunciation in Cork, spawned daughter-convents in Wales, New York, Kentucky, South Carolina, Ontario, Kenya, British Guiana, Demerara and Barbados.

Overall, the Presentation Sisters of Ireland established 116 schools in the US alone. Knocking the Catholic Church is easy: but the work ethic, sobriety and discipline imparted by the Irish clergy were essential to the success of the Irish in the US.

Having a Great Single Narrative is common to most societies; it is usually called a myth, and is generally composed of benign historical garbage.

But what distinguishes the Irish Narratives is the overnight rejection and excoriation of previously respected forms of Irishness. And this is utterly counterproductive, for self-hatred is no way to build either a real future, a happy nation or a unifying Great Single Narrative.

5 Responses

  1. Rory Connor

    QUOTE: THE late Mary Raftery was rightly a much respected and much loved journalist. And what follows is certainly not criticism of her or her achievements, but of our Great Single Narrative.
    The following is an extract from the Wikipedia article on Nora Wall – re the effect of Mary Raftery’s “”States of Fear” series on her false conviction for raping a child. The Wiki article also points out that Kevin Myers was the ONLY journalist to defend Nora Wall a time when other journalists were [literally] screaming obscenities at her and her own Sisters of Mercy were apologising to her accusers.
    The final programme in the [States of Fear]series was broadcast on 11 May 1999. Nora Wall and Pablo McCabe were convicted of rape on 10 June.
    Carol Coulter, Legal Affairs correspondent for the Irish Times wrote on 1 December 2005 that “[The case] took place at a time of heightened sensitivity to the problem of the sexual abuse of children in institutions, especially those run by religious orders. The RTÉ series States of fear had ended a month earlier, generating widespread debate and indignation.” [42] An Irish Times editorial on 17 December 2005 entitled “Nora Wall” stated that: “The charges were laid at a time when allegations of the abuse of children in institutions had entered the public domain. The case was heard within a month of the broadcast by RTE of the States of fear programmes. The jury could not but have been affected, it seems, by the horrific abuse exposed in that series and by the complaints of the child victims that no-one listened to them.”.[43]
    Wall told teacher and religious affairs journalist Breda O’Brien that she has no doubt that the atmosphere generated by States of fear was a central factor in the jury’s willingness to believe the allegations.[1] In addition, the opinion of the Irish Times is significant as in 1999 Mary Raftery was both a columnist for the Times and a senior Producer/Director with RTE.[44]

    Mary Raftery never attempted to address this issue. Her account of the case in her book “”Suffer The Little Children”- a follow up to the States of Fear series- is totally inadaquate.

  2. Mairead

    Interesting article from Kevin Myers. He is to be commended for swimming against the tide. However, it is a pity that the sisters who believe that they were wronged have never had the courage to speak out. I would suggest that, at this stage, they have nothing to lose. My guess is that they are afraid of the people who were raised in orphanges and/or the media. The fear that people once had of the church is very similar to the present climate of fear in the face of a very powerful media–and a media who will always rally to the defence of their own.

  3. Mary Burke

    Kevin Myers’ article is persuasively argued. While a child who has been abused in any way is one too many, there is another side to the story. In addition to the industrial schools in their charge, the Christian Brothers ran another 155 non-residential schools. The vast majority of their schools were in fact non-residential. It is informative to read the obituaries in Saturday’s Irish Times. Invariably one, or more frequently, more than one of those being remembered were educated by the Brothers. Yet the reputation and good name of the order have been severely dented. While a minority of its members abused children in their care, physically and sexually, the majority of its members never worked in a residential institution.

  4. Eileen

    Thanks for taking the unpopular view, Kevin, unlike so many others in the media! Interesting how Our Great Single Narrative has changed. Neither version is accurate and the current one is probably an extreme reaction to the historical one. For more on this theme, Chimamanda Adichie gives a very insightful and entertaining presentation, entitled ‘The danger of a single story.’

  5. Rory Connor

    The following is the extract from Mary Raftery’s book “Suffer the Little Children” that refers to the Nora Wall case. It comes from Chapter 10 entitled “The Evil Within: Child Sexual Abuse”:
    In a separate matter, the case of Nora Wall, formerly Sister Dominic of the Sisters of Mercy, was heard before the courts. Both she and Paul McCabe had been charged with the rape of a young girl at the Cappoquin Industrial School during the late 1980s. In July 1999, they were both found guilty. However the verdict was quashed four days later in the Court of Criminal Appeal. Counsel for the Director of Public prosecutions did not oppose this, explaining that a witness had given evidence whom the DPP had previously decided should not be called. Nora Wall and Paul McCabe remain on bail until the courts decide whether or not there is to be a re-trial.”
    Among the points that Mary Raftery does NOT mention in the above are:
    The case of Nora Wall and Pablo McCabe established a number of extraordinary precedents in Irish law.
    Nora Wall was the first woman in the history of the State to be convicted of rape;[32]
    She was the first person in Ireland to receive a life sentence for rape;[33]
    It was the only case in the history of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that a witness was called contrary to the instructions of the DPP;[34]
    Regina Walsh said she had recalled the rapes after experiencing “flashbacks”. This seems to be the only occasion a conviction was obtained on Repressed memory evidence in Ireland. (However in the USA “Repressed memory syndrome” has a long and contentious history).[35]

    AND also there had been TWO rape allegations against Nora Wall and Pablo McCabe. In the first, the accuser claimed she had been raped on her 12th birthday. The Defense was able to prove that Pablo McCabe could not possibly have been on the scene on that day, so the jury found the two accused innocent on that charge but guilty on the second one that did not specify an exact date. I suspect that was also unprecedented in Irish legal history as the credibility of the accuser is normally considered vital in a trial for rape – EXCEPT where the accused is a Catholic religious apparently!
    While Mary Raftery’s response to the case was grossly inadequate, it should also be noted that the Sisters of Mercy apologized to the two false accusers and then said nothing after the collapse of the convictions. No condemnation of the accusers, no apology to Nora Wall or Pablo McCabe. Perhaps it is not surprising that Mary Raftery felt under no obligation to consider the implications of that gross miscarriage of justice when the Sisters themselves failed to do so!

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