Archbishop of Armagh, Catholic Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin
You can keep us out of this.
“Over the past year or so, in my role as chair of the Council for Communications of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, I have heard a variety of views on the relationship between the Church and the media in Ireland. These views were garnered from professionals working inside and outside of Church structures, and they ranged from the negative to the optimistic.
In my view it is now time for us to build afresh mutual respect and trust between the Church and the media in Ireland, not in any fawning or deferential manner, but in recognition of the fact that we share similar goals – to seek out the truth, to highlight injustice. In many ways we have a common mission – vocation even – to interact with society and the world in order to promote truth, ask hard questions, multiply goodness, enhance beauty and to serve the common good.
I recognise that coverage of the child abuse scandals in the Church has fundamentally shifted our relationship with the media. We are a long way from the 31 December 1961 when my predecessor Cardinal D’Alton broadcast a live message of blessing and goodwill from Armagh to the newly established RTÉ television station. It is true that we in the Church have sometimes reacted defensively or in denial to legitimate criticism in the media – it is also true that some commentators, particularly on social media, seem at times to have lost the ability to objectively question a story, running instead with their consensus caricature of the Church.
Most now accept that “the media” has played a vitally important role in Ireland and around the world, in lifting the lid on a terrible and shameful chapter of our history; giving a voice to those who for years had been carrying a lonely trauma. Media attention of these issues has accelerated the development and implementation of best practice in safeguarding, both in the Church and throughout society.
There is, of course, a legitimate interest in reporting bad as well as good news about the Church. What Radharc [long-running RTÉ Catholic documentary strand] did so well, however, was to present the beautiful, edifying and spiritually-inspiring lives of people of faith in ways which reflected the beauty and goodness of God. I believe that today, when so many people are tempted to despair, we need to rediscover the Radharc vision and lift people up, giving them, as Saint Peter put it, “a reason for the hope that lies within us.” With so much conflict, hatred and division in the world, it would do all our hearts good to witness the commitment of people of faith to peace and justice, to love and understanding.”
Germany’s largest media company [Weltbild], sells books, DVDs, music and more — and also happens to belong 100% to the Catholic Church. Few people knew about this connection until this month when Buchreport, a German industry newsletter, reported that the Catholic company also sells porn.
“The petition you featured a couple of days ago on your site has nearly reached 15,000 signatures. If there is anyone who missed it can you share it again so we can try and reach 50,000 signatures.. Thank you.”
You may have been struck by the ‘strangely muted’ reaction to the Tuam Babies story in the Irish media since new revelations emerged in the Connacht Tribune the Irish Mail on Sunday.
Gwen Boyle writes:
796 tiny bodies, squashed into a septic tank. Bones upon bones; the bones of 1960s babies mingling with the bones of 1950s, 40s, 30s, 20s babies in untold layers of misery, layers of starvation, layers of neglect.
The horror of the discovery, or rather re-discovery, of the mass grave at the old site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, Co. Galway last week caused no more than a flinch for some, an involuntary turning away.
On the day that the tireless work of local historian Catherine Corless and her colleagues became known to the wider world, RTE News devoted their time to the story of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s honeymoon in Cork. In an age of instant information and desperate press oneupmanship, it is impossible that the revelations in Tuam escaped their notice. It is also unlikely that a conspiracy was afoot at the state broadcaster to keep this unfortunate story quiet.
The most likely reason for RTE’s inexplicable blindness, along with that of many other major news outlets, is much more prosaic and much more terrifying.
It was ignored because it wasn’t a story. It wasn’t news. It no longer surprises us that these things have happened.
Almost 800 babies shoved into a septic tank, uncared for, unmarked, unremembered? Of course they were. What else would you expect from the organisation that presided over the rape of thousands of children, the forced adoption of thousands more, untold years of slave labour, and the incarceration, brutalisation and shaming of women?
The story, which is gaining traction days later as news outlets recognise their terrible oversight, has garnered little more than a shrug from the established press, barely a mumble from the State, and a defensive, sidestepping statement from representatives of the Catholic church.
What can explain this reluctance to report, to engage, to imagine?
Certainly, no-one wants to imagine it.
We would prefer not to think about those women, removed from their homes and families, giving birth under the gaze of disapproving nuns, watching their babies starve, or die from a preventable disease, or disappear one day into a car to be sold to a new family. We would prefer not to think of disabled babies slowly dying in lonely, shabby rooms. We would prefer not to think about exactly how those babies’ bodies ended up in the septic tank. We would prefer not to think of the symbolism of that tank, of what those babies meant to the people who were meant to care for their tiny souls. We would prefer not to, but perhaps we should.
That said, Irish people now outstrip their official mouthpieces. Many of us don’t share this reluctance. Given the opportunity, we react. In floods of outrage on social media, in the comments section of online news, in conversations on the street, in letters to the paper, people freely speak of things that we would prefer not to think about, but that it would be worse to forget.
With anger and disgust, people condemn the actions of a church that claimed to love and a state that claimed to care. The story goes global, but at home, fringe media and even satirical news sites provide coverage more hard-hitting than anything in the Irish Times. The attitude of ordinary people on this island toward the Catholic church has changed swiftly in the wake of scandal after scandal, while traditional media and government spokespeople still struggle against decades of ingrained deference and outdated modes of public engagement.
This week, Pope Francis, seeming concerned about the world’s chronic underpopulation, lamented the fact that some married couples choose not to have children. He accused these couples of selfishly preferring their holidays and dogs to the propagation of loyal young Catholics.
These future children, we can be assured, would be cherished. The children of marriage. The children of devout followers. Not the children of unwed mothers, the children of other religions and none, the unbaptised, the unwanted. Times have changed since these children were left to die of neglect and disposed of in septic tanks, but they are still not the right kind of children for the church to cherish.
The church that still reaches deeply into Irish lives and psyches is not the church of Jesus Christ, a man who by all accounts simply wanted people to care for one another without reservation or prejudice. It is an organisation that thrives on power, that runs on secrecy, that entangles itself in the lives and deaths of its followers.
However, revelations about babies in septic tanks, now matter how slowly they filter into the mainstream, are unforgettable once lodged in the public imagination. Ireland has changed, and continues to change, while the press and government struggle to keep up with the outrage of the people.
Some members of government suggest a memorial might be in order. The Archbishop of Dublin thinks that the matter is possibly worthy of a social history project. What neither of them wants is an excavation.
Why? Because an excavation means bones. Bones that will be brought to light, touched, examined, photographed. Bones that will reach the front pages of papers and the corners of the internet. Thousands of tiny, fragile bones, permanently engraved in the minds of Irish people everywhere.
“Two of my friends who have children under the age of 4 are finding the same problems trying to get a place in a school for their children. They’ve both been told that their unbaptised children will be put at the bottom of the list if they apply to Catholic schools. Frustrated, they’ve started this petition [link below] calling on the Irish government to sort out an increasingly common problem. Any signal boost would be welcome. Thank you.”
[Mary McAleese at the launch of Quo Vadis, in 2012]
“I don’t like my Church’s attitude to gay people. I don’t like ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay.”
[ Speaking during a lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh] Mrs McAleese said she studied suicide among young Irish males, many of them gay Catholics who grew up being told their sexuality was “intrinsically disordered” and “evil”.
When she took this research to the new papal nuncio in Dublin she was surprised by his response.
She said she was asked: “What do you want me to do? Do you want us to turn our back on tradition?” Her answer was: “Yes, if it’s wrong.”
“Things written by [former Pope] Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality.”
“Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil.”
Mrs McAleese drew a comparison with the Church’s attitude to Jews. It took almost two millennia formally to revise the “Christ-killer” slander which had been repeated down the decades.
(Representatives of the Sisters of Mercy meeting the Minister of Education in 2011)
Ceist is a charitable trust company set up by a number of Irish religious orders, into which ownership of the school property of those orders is intended to – and in many cases has been – transferred.
The orders are the Daughters of Charity, Presentation Sisters, Sisters of the Christian Retreat, Sisters of Mercy and the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
The Sisters of Mercy alone has transferred 66 school properties, worth €412m, to Ceist whose directors include Senator Ronan Mullen.
Ceist’s memorandum and articles – publicly available from the Companies Office – define its purpose as the furthering of the aims and purposes of Roman Catholic education generally, and state that its assets are to be used for that purpose.
However the ability to legally transfer school property into Ceist – a trust is limitedby the existing charitable trusts on which that property is held.
Where property or money is bequeathed or given for a particular charitable purpose, it must be used for that purpose only.
A widening of that purpose, or transfer into another charitable trust with a different – purpose, is not permitted without consent of the Charity Commissioners – or the High Court.
BUT we are unable to find any record of such consent having been given in respect of any property transferred by the orders to Ceist.
Charitable trusts are permitted because of their public benefit and are under the care and responsibility of the Attorney-General. To which we ask: