Email Us My Blog


Friday, 22 December, 2006 12:00 AM
From: "Rory Connor"
To: "Professor Vincent Comerford" "Ronan Fanning" "Dr. Colum Kenny", "Daire Keogh", "Dermot Keogh", "Dr. Eoin O'Sullivan", "Professor Irene Whelan", "Editor History Ireland" , "John Horgan", "Louise Fuller Maynooth"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One problem in interpreting the vicious slanders against Catholic clergy over the last 20 years or so is that there is rarely any discussion of the lies when they are exposed. I have pointed out that SIX Catholic Bishops have been libelled since 1994 alone but NONE of these cases have made it into the history books. (I am talking about the books you yourselves write). You are prepared to write about the Fethard boycott in the 1950s and the protests about the appointment of a Protestant librarian in Mayo in the 1930s but not about Catholic prelates against whom false sexual accusations are made.

Why is this? It is obviously NOT due to ignorance. After all some of you wrote  reviews of John Cooney's biography of John Charles McQuaid in which you acknowledged that the accusations of paedophilia are lies. Yet this judgement never made it into your histories of modern Ireland. In your histories you present people like Christine Buckley and Mary Raftery as heroically exposing the dark secrets of the Catholic Church. You COULD conceivably have said that certain clergy and religious are the victims of false allegations but that the indictment of the Church is largely true. (I don't agree  but at least it is an arguable point). Instead you ignore the cases of Nora Wall, of Sister Xaviera, of Archbishop McQuaid, of Cardinal Daly etc. in favour of a narrative that could have come out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the Horrid History of Maria Monk.

I know very well that your work will be repudiated by a future generation of historians but that is no good. Future historians will have their own hang ups and it will cost them nothing to berate their deceased predecessors. My interest is in your mental processes here and now. HOW EXACTLY DO YOU JUSTIFY YOURSELVES?

I have come across one book that may help to answer that question. Fintan O'Toole is an intellectual thug who has frequently made false allegations against the Catholic Church. His book "The Ex-Isle of Eireann" written in 1997 is a collection of his newspaper articles over the previous few years. It is full of weasel words and weasel logic but because of its nature, it contains detailed discussions of certain  events as they were being played out. In particular O'Toole devotes several pages to the fall of the Reynolds Government in November 1994 and in particular the role played by Pat Rabbitte. His attempts to justify vicious lies reveal a lot about the mentality of anti-clerical journalists. Maybe it also reveals something about the mind-set of historians of modern Ireland?

Since this article is getting too long I will mention just one issue in O'Toole's article. While he highlights the alleged deficiencies of Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Attorney General Harry Whelehan and Cardinal Cathal Daly there is not a word of criticism of Pat Rabbitte. Yet O'Toole clearly realises that Rabbitte is lying. The relevant chapter of O'Toole's book is called "Scenes from the Birth of a New Morality". The "New Morality" involves praising a successful slanderer and abusing his victims.

There is a saying that "History is written by the winners". Is that why historians ignore slanders directed against the Catholic Church?


Happy Christmas

Rory Connor
21 December 2006

Extract from "SCENES FROM THE BIRTH OF A NEW MORALITY" - from the book “The Ex-Isle of Ireland” by Fintan O’Toole published in March 1997.

November 1994. The consequences of the Brendan Smyth affair spread from Church to State. The Attorney General Harry Whelehan fails to explain delays in processing a request for Smyth’s extradition to the satisfaction of the Labour Party, which pulls out of Government. The Fianna Fail leader Albert Reynolds loses office just at the moment of his greatest triumph, his role in bringing about the short-lived IRA ceasefire.

Early last Thursday, as Ireland was waking to the morning after its wildest political night for decades, I met at Heathrow airport one of the grand old men of Fianna Fail. Throughout the upheavals within the party in the 1980s, he was one of those who would appear on television to make announcements, to steady nerves, to reassure the public. Now he was walking along an airport corridor pushing a trolley and shaking his head with an air of unfathomable perplexity.

We spoke for a few minutes but he couldn't’t find much to say. He had left Ireland a fortnight ago, leaving behind a government with the largest majority in the history of the State and a Taoiseach on the brink of delivering a historic end to the political violence that has seemed endemic to Irish life for a century. Now he was going back to a collapsed government, a disgraced Taoiseach, and a senior judge under pressure to resign, all against the background of a child abuse scandal involving a Catholic priest. The only thing he could be sure of, he said was that he was glad he no longer had the job of explaining things.

It was easy to agree. For bizarre as the events themselves had been, what was still more amazing was the fact that, for most of Wednesday, [16 November 1994], the most fantastic rumours had been believed in Dublin. When the Dail met to debate a motion of no confidence in Albert Reynolds the Democratic Left TD Pat Rabbitte rose to allege that there was a letter in the Attorney General’s office whose contents would rock the State to its foundations. Between that and the rather more prosaic fact, contrary to the impression given to the Dail by Albert Reynolds on Tuesday, dealt previously with a similar case to the Brendan Smyth one, this claim spawned an extraordinary brood of rumours.

These rumours implicated the very highest levels of both Church and State in scandal, forcing the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Cathal Daly, to go on television to denounce suggestions that he had tried to interfere with the prosecution of a paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth as “absurd”. Wild as many of the rumours were, though, they revealed a deeper truth - that the Irish public was now so alienated from those in authority that it was prepared to believe almost anything. How had such mistrust taken hold in what used to be one of the most conservative and deferential societies in Europe?

This was, after all, once the society in which the dominant politician Eamonn de Valera, the founder of Fianna Fail, could say with evident sincerity that whenever he wanted to know what the Irish people were thinking he had only to look into his own heart. It was the society in which, while the Second Vatican Council was shaking Catholic belief, the Archbishop of Dublin could return home from \Rome and tell his flock that there was nothing in the Council, which should disturb the tranquillity of the faithful in Ireland. It was the society in which, as recently as 1986, the combined authority of the Church and Fianna Fail could still defeat proposals to permit divorce. Last Wednesday it was a society in which people seemed prepared to assume the worst about both of these institutions.

………………..The story of a surreal week in Irish politics had at least [three] beginnings.

(1) One of them is the revelation in 1992 that the Catholic Bishop of Galway Eamonn Casey had fathered a son and had used church funds to pay for his upkeep. The erosion of the authority of the Church since that revelation is one of the ingredients of this week’s events. Out of it emerges the must shadowy, but nevertheless the most potent figure in the drama, Fr Brendan Smyth, the Catholic priest serving a jail sentence in Northern Ireland for sexual offences against children.

(2) A second beginning is in April 1987, when Albert Reynolds as Minister for Industry and Commerce in a minority Fianna Fail government led by Charles Haughey began a series of dealings with one of the country’s most powerful private citizens, the beef baron Larry Goodman. Between then and late 1989, Mr Goodman received from that government, an extraordinary series of benefits, most notably $100 million of export credit insurance for his exports to Iraq. The gradual revelation of these dealings in a three-year public inquiry, which finally reported last August, created the climate of suspicion between Albert Reynolds and his deputy in the coalition government, Dick Spring, in which this week’s events unfolded.

(3) The third beginning, and the one in which the issues of Church and State in the other two are brought together is the infamous X case of 1992. In that case Albert Reynolds’s newly appointed Attorney General, Harry Whelehan took out a High Court injunction to prevent a 14 year old girl, pregnant as a result of rape, from leaving Ireland to have an abortion in England. The X case suddenly brought to attention the hitherto unnoticed fact that the low-profile office of Attorney General was one in which the separate areas of law, politics, morality and religion could collide with the most dramatic consequences. The X case turned Harry Whelehan overnight from an obscure lawyer into a figure around whom many of the most visceral emotions of Irish life - the deep divisions between conservatives and liberals - converged. It ensured that Albert Reynolds determination to appoint him to the second most senior judicial post in the country, the presidency of the High Court, would not as such appointments usually are, be a matter for public indifference.

If the story has three beginnings, though, it has one theme - the collapse of authority. Behind the breathtakingly rapid series of events is a slower shift in the nature of Irish society. As Ireland has moved in recent decades from a largely rural and traditional society to a largely modern and urban one, the relationship of its people to power has changed. Quite simply, a young highly educated and largely urban population is not prepared to accept that the exercise of power in Ireland is none of its business. [my emphasis]
Ironically the peace process itself was part of a wider momentum in the island as a whole, one that is at odds with Albert Reynolds attempts to use it to avoid accountability. That momentum is towards democracy and away from all types of private power, whether it be the brute force of private armies, the subtle hints of senior churchmen, or the discrete intimacies of the Cabinet room.  The irony is that Gerry Adams grasped the shift in the public attitude to authority more clearly than either Cardinal Daly or Albert Reynolds did.

Far from damaging the peace process the events of this week have enhanced it. A new settlement in Ireland will only be possible if ideas like democracy, accountability, consent and trust are given real meaning. This week both church and state have been given painful lessons in what these meanings should be. [My emphasis]