Sunday Tribune 7 June
Money is the first thing to greet you as you approach a churchyard: it calls from the collection tin being rattled at the gate.
Money is the first thing to greet you as you pass the font, forehead dripping. Catholic newspapers for sale – and “every Catholic home should have one”.
Money is everywhere inside the church. The candles near the altar can be bought for a special intention. The slot in the wall is for the parish dues. The second collection is for the upkeep of the priests.
Money is there when you first enter the spirit of the church. Silver is given for christenings. Money is the first thing you hope for when you receive First Communion and are confirmed. A Catholic childhood is marked by this trinity of religious landmarks and windfalls. Adulthood is marked by the trinity of births, deaths and marriages, requiring gifts and donations to the church. Irish Catholicism is awash with money and we are bred to receive it as children and give it back as adults. Only the church gets to keep it.
A Catholic life is mapped out by trinities. A Catholic country is too.
Those of us under 50 didn’t know the trinity that once ruled Ireland: the church, the banks and the state’s biggest party, Fianna Fáil. We do know, however, what it’s like to watch it falling from grace.
The banks have been falling for months, the church – by which I mean the entire organisation from bishop to brother – has been damned by the Ryan report, and Fianna Fáil have been flayed at the polls. Natural justice is prevailing.
Fianna Fáil were in power for most of the 1950s and all of the ’60s, that dark period investigated by the Ryan report. It colluded, one way or another, with the church in the abuse of children. In 2002, it colluded again and capped the orders’ liability at €127m while they lied about the extent of the abuse. The man with ultimate responsibility for that deal was taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a visibly devout Catholic.
Last Thursday, Fianna Fáil again spoke to the orders, who said they were willing to make “substantial additional financial contributions”. The government must wait two weeks to learn how much that will be. It hopes it will equal the state’s contribution.
Instead of finding a legal way to undo the black knot tied by Ahern, the government is sitting on its hands waiting to be dictated to by the religious orders. It’s waiting outside the head brother’s door, hoping it won’t get smacked again.
This government has looked after its banker friends with billions and is still kow-towing to the cloth. It should put a gun to the church’s head and make it pay for all the ‘redress’. It’s as straightforward as that: drag the church to its knees and punish it.
Those are hard words to type. I was baptised a Catholic. To have faith and to lose it is worse than never having believed. The realisation that the church which taught you how to pray at night was actually the monster under the bed is almost too hard to comprehend.
Twice daily, the church reminds us of its presence. At lunch and teatime, God’s dinner bell rings out for the Angelus. With every clang of the bell, we are reminded that this is a Catholic country – and reminded of the sins perpetrated by our predecessors.
And here is the point: none of this is my fault. My generation is not responsible. We are paying for other people’s sins. While perverts are at liberty, the victims are, rightly, seeking compensation. Thanks to Fianna Fáil, we are picking up the tab.
I want the victims of abuse to be properly cared for, but I am not willing to pay for it while the church can. It’s rotten with money – we are not, thanks to Fianna Fáil’s developer friends. The state that existed back then is gone. Today’s generation should not be sharing its guilt. I would rather bankrupt the church than accept any of the blame for what Ryan revealed. The church must rip up Ahern’s 2002 deal and prostrate itself before its victims. It should not be given two weeks to decide what contributions it wants to make.
There are many good people in the church. This must be heartbreaking for them. They would still be good people even if there was no church. Their contribution should not be forgotten.
Eighty six per cent of us said we were Catholics at the last census. Many of us are really just à la carte, picking the bits we like – weddings, Christenings – and ignoring the rest. After Ryan, how many can stomach being associated with the church, even on that basis? A similar question can be asked of Fianna Fáil’s ‘rump’ supporters. After all the revelations, how could you vote for it last Friday?
According to a Newstalk poll, 73% of us want a general election. Fianna Fáil must give it to us now.
For the past month, their canvassers have vied with the collectors for Catholics’ attention at the church gates – a reminder of the old trinity of politics, piety and the sound of money.
Today, just the charity workers remain – without politicians to hinder their work.
June 7, 2009