Letter to The Irish Times - Friday, July 23, 1999
Sir, - Mr Justin Keating's remarks about celibacy, and more particularly about celibate priests and religious (The Irish Times, July 15th) must rate as the most vitriolic and irrational nonsense that I have heard from anyone, regarding the issue of clerical sex abuse.
He makes the assumption, based on no evidence whatever, that celibacy is a "decision taken in (the) teens under mental pressure from reprehensible older people." It is odd that someone who calls himself a humanist seems unable to cope with the concept of human freedom. (The promise of celibacy, incidentally, comes with ordination, and the Church does not ordain teenagers).
Mr Keating says that he "would not allow celibates near disadvantaged institutionalised children . . . because the risk is too high." If he made a generalised allegation of this kind against any other professional, religious, or ethnic group, there would be uproar. Inevitably when a criminal case is taken against a public figure, he or she is more likely to be identified, and this seems to happen where clerical child abuse is concerned. (There often seem to be "legal reasons" why other people can't be identified).
There is, in fact, no evidence to suggest that priests or religious are any more likely to offend against children than anyone else. Regrettably, there have also been many cases involving married people. Where clergy have been convicted, no evidence has ever been given to show that celibacy was even a contributory cause.
We know, and it is important to acknowledge, that some priests and religious have abused children, and that this abuse has not always been dealt with properly by Church authorities. Children and their families have suffered. The public has felt betrayed.
The majority of priests, who are serving their parishioners faithfully, have also felt betrayed. The reality of child abuse impinges on us too, both in our personal and our professional lives. Fortunately, the majority of people are more balanced in their judgement, and more judicious in their comments than Mr. Keating.
Fr Kevin Doran,
Dublin Diocesan Vocations Centre,
Botanic Road, Dublin 11.
Keating Apologises To Abused For Failure To Protect Them
Irish Times, Thu, Jul 15, 1999 by Patsy McGarry
The former minister for industry and commerce, Mr Justin Keating, has apologised to those who were abused in religious institutions during his term of office. He asked that other ministers who served with him do likewise.
He said he would not allow celibates near disadvantaged institutionalised children and called for generous compensation to be paid by the Roman Catholic Church to victims of abuse.
He also called for complete transparency where State funds were being transferred to church-run institutions.
Mr Keating argued that knowledge of such abuse was widespread at the time. Writing in the current issue of the Irish Humanist magazine, he said: "I now come to something particularly painful for me personally. In the period 1973-1977 I was a member of the government , to the actions (or inactions) of which collective responsibility applies. The fact that my Department was Industry and Commerce does not absolve me from the guilt that follows from the fact that these things happened in my time." He suggests that other ministers who feel as he does might like to join with him in apologising to the abused for their failure to protect them.
He was "quite satisfied that the people in the (religious) communities knew (about the abuse)". "What about the priests at large?" he asked. "Can they, in truth, offer the Nazi alibi: `It wasn't me. I was somewhere else, I didn't know'? "They could not have escaped knowing," he said. "We are sure" the hierarchy knew, because of complaints made to them which were ignored.
Similarly, civil servants "must have developed a very shrewd insight about what was happening", but "the State sheltered its complicity by duplicity, and all the organs of church and State betrayed the victims". Among the conclusions he drew from recent revelations was "that celibacy injures your health". For most celibates, "a decision taken in their teens under mental pressure from reprehensible older people, does them awful harm. Either they endure against their will, at terrible psychological cost, or they are driven to such activities as beating and sexually abusing children. I would not allow celibates near disadvantaged institutionalised children, not because they are all bad, but because the risk is too high".
He called for the relevant institutions to be taken out of the hands of religious and for complete transparency where transfer of public funds to the church is concerned. There was reason to suspect "that capitation fees exceed the money spent on each child, and that the church is subsidising other activities with this money". There should also be generous compensation paid to victims by the church, but he sensed "an obvious evasion looming. `Ah yes,' say the bishops, `we did it, but what we did, we did as agents of you, the State, so you pay'."
He referred to large sums of money being accumulated by the sale of church property, where "even when this property was originally obtained by the expenditure of public money or the gifts of the faithful, the church has shown itself extremely grasping".
He felt that, "judging from their efforts so far, consisting mainly of denial, evasion and non-co-operation, we cannot expect self-reform from the church (apart from the almost hilariously offensive offer of helpline counselling from the organisations which perpetrated the offences)".
Without sustained anger and sustained pressure, "these organisations show no sign of being able to reform themselves", he said.
"The corruption seeping into the body politic from these events has spread very widely. In our world, people who have practised all their lives at believing what is impossible (have) become, simultaneously, expert at disbelieving what is possible. In other words, they lose their judgment. Knowing but not knowing is a national art-form. In plain language it is called hypocrisy and double-dealing and it is everywhere," he said.