FINTAN O'TOOLE, DR. WILLIAM COULSON AND FR. BRIAN GOGAN
Dr William Coulson
Irish Times, June 11, 1999
Sir, - Having written in an earlier column (January 12th, 1994) that I am "the American rightwing campaigner Charles Coulson" (evidently confusing me wth the former Watergate felon Charles Colson), Fintan O'Toole has added insult to injury (Opinon, May 14th) by misquoting me badly. Although this time he got my name right, he wrote:
"And here, in 1993, is an American Catholic, Dr William Coulson, brought over to Ireland by conservative Catholic groups, addressing a meeting in Cork: `Children are being told to tell teachers if anyone interferes with them, even if it is their father. This is a direct attack on parental responsibility.' "
I did not say this. I said nothing remotely like it. I have gone over the tape of the talk twice, and colleagues in Ireland have gone over it three times more.
Then Mr O'Toole did it again. In a footnote to a letter from one of my defenders, Fr Brian Gogan (whom he called Grogan), he wrote (May 31st): "Father Grogan also implies that I invented a quotation from William Coulson. Dr Coulson's description of advice to children that they should tell their teacher if they are being abused as a `direct attack on parental responsibility' is contained in the Cork Examiner's report of the event to which Father Grogan refers. Again, the reluctance to acknowledge that such a statement was made is unsurprising."
How does he know the statement "was made"? He knows, he says, because he read it in a newspaper. One supposes the Examiner practices fact-checking. Perhaps the standards of the Examiner are like Mr O'Toole's own; perhaps they are better. In any case, he got me wrong again. - Yours, etc.,
William Coulson, Consulting Psychologist, Comptche, California, USA.
`States Of Fear' Series
Irish Times, May 31, 1999
Fr. Brian Gogan
Sir, - Like the rest of us, Mr Fintan O'Toole has been deeply shocked by the harrowing stories of mistreatment of children in Irish orphanages and industrial schools in the latter half of this century. In his article (May 14th) he analysed what he believed to be the "attitudes that led to abuse (that were) entrenched in the system". Giving examples of exponents of such attitudes, he speaks of myself and Dr William Coulson among others.
Mr O'Toole referred to an article in The Irish Times in February, 1994, in which I spoke of a fundamental moral principle: "We have stewardship over our bodies but, like everything in the world, they belong to God. We render an account to him for what we do with our bodies." Mr O'Toole dubs this moral principle as "conservative Catholic".
It is in fact a mainstream Catholic position, a subordinate clause, as it were, to the integrity of the human person. This position runs through, for example, Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (cf 18, 25, 25-53, 27 and 56), The Catholic Catechism (373, 377 and elsewhere), as well as a wide range of contemporary moral theological opinion. It is shared by many philosophers and theologians across the Christian traditions. It underlies the morality of the development of the human person in relation to health, hygiene and the protection of life as well as sexual ethics. Coupled with established values of social justice and universal charity, it justifies ethical norms on care of the earth, social justice and global development.
I was astonished at Mr O'Toole's logic in claiming that this principle influenced the brutal treatment of a number of children in orphanages and industrial schools run by religious in Ireland in the second half of this century. In point of fact, what underlies such behaviour by those who carried out acts of brutality, those who knowingly remained silent and those in authority who failed to stop the aggressors, flouts this very norm.
Mr O'Toole also referred to Dr William Coulson. I spoke to Dr Coulson and he was pleased to hear that The Irish Times columnist had finally come to agree with me that he is not, as Mr O'Toole alleged (January 12th, 1994), Charles Colson of Born Again fame but in fact the distinguished ethno-psychologist, William Coulson, PhD, former colleague of Carl Rogers, and co-editor with him of 17 works on education. In recent years, he has become a severe critic of Rogerianism in education.
As regards the remarks attributed by Mr O'Toole to Dr Coulson during a lecture in Cork in 1993, his researchers have let him down again. If he refers to his speech given to the Education Forum of Ireland in UCC on February 13th, 1993, chaired by Dr Des McHale, the alleged statement is not in the recorded text.
With regard to Mr O'Toole's broad thesis that institutional and doctrinal Catholicism underlies the gross maltreatment of numbers of children in care, I wonder how he might explain the position regarding children in care in the UK? The Guardian referred to children's homes in the UK as being run by "a bureaucracy of paedophiles", while the Labour Welsh Affairs spokesman, Rhodri Morgan, spoke in the House of Commons of children's homes providing a "diet of sadism by day and sodomy by night".
Richard Webster, in his book, The Great Children's Home Panic, observes that "slowly but surely our prisons are filling up with care workers who have been convicted . . . by the end of 1996 at least 100 care workers had been arrested in one county alone". Webster claims that one-third of the English police force is engaged in retrospective investigations into care homes with similar investigations in progress in Wales and Scotland.
All of this occurs in a secular liberal democracy, built on the ideology of which Mr O'Toole is our local prophet. Is it not time, perhaps, he began to look into the impact of his own ideology on child care.
Finally, as regards his misuse of my name and opinions in the context of an aggressive discourse on the mistreatment of children in orphanages and industrial schools, this is an old tabloid journalist's smear trick: guilt by verbal association. I like to think this is unworthy of someone who has made a significant contribution to public debate in this country. - Yours, etc.,
Brian Gogan, CSSp,
Booterstown Avenue, Co Dublin.
Fintan O'Toole replies: Father Grogan leaves out an important sentence which I quoted from his Irish Times article of February 1994. Before the passage which he does quote, he states: "The claim that a child owns its own body is at odds with the Christian tradition." His reluctance to recall this statement speaks for itself.
Father Grogan also implies that I invented a quotation from William Coulson. Dr Coulson's description of advice to children that they should tell their teacher if they are being abused as "a direct attack on parental responsibility" is contained in the Cork Examiner's report of the event to which Father Grogan refers. Again, the reluctance to acknowledge that such a statement was made is unsurprising.
Attitudes That Led to Abuse Entrenched In System
Irish Times, by Fintan O'Toole 14 May 1999
"I trusted a system that was there. I did my own work." Thus Sister Stanislaus Kennedy on Morning Ireland on Wednesday, explaining her failure to act on information about child abuse in St Joseph's, Kilkenny.
That kind of institutional, bureaucratic attitude, by no means unique to the church, offers some kind of rationale for the extraordinary silence of decent people in the face of the horrors being perpetrated by a minority of their colleagues. The urge to trust the system and mind your own business is always a powerful factor in the perpetuation of abuse and injustice. But it is hardly enough to explain the scale and persistence of institutionalised violence against children in Ireland.
When the commission that has been established in response to Mary Raftery's brilliant and terrible States of Fear series begins to get to grips with what has happened, it will not be able to take refuge in the notion that all of this went on for so long merely because some good people were too weak to stop it.
It will have to come to terms with something much more uncomfortable: the fact that the abuse was not the result merely of individual perversity or private failure. It was the result, rather, of a coherent and widely-held set of beliefs. Conservative Catholicism, both in its institutional forms and its political implications, was at the very core of the violence.
What lies behind the whole scandal of the industrial schools is the criminalisation of poverty. Poor children, and the children who ended up in institutions were almost by definition poor, were believed to be guilty.
This was pointed out as early as 1936 in the report of the Commission on the Reformatory and Industrial School System. It acknowledged that there was, in Irish society generally, a tendency to regard industrial schools as part of the prison system: "The early association in the public mind of industrial schools with the prison system was undoubtedly responsible for a misconception that persists even to the present day regarding these institutions and the children trained in them."
The commission felt it necessary to point out that "in the main, the problem is one not of criminal tendencies but of poverty". It appended figures showing, for example, that, in 1932, 3 per cent of committals to industrial schools were for "serious offences", 6 per cent for failure to attend school and 90 per cent for "poverty and neglect". The commission tried, in its own limited way, to persuade society that poverty and neglect were crimes inflicted on children, not crimes committed by them for which they deserved to be incarcerated.
A decade later, in 1945, however, Mr Justice Henry McCarthy pointed out that the courts were still being used to criminalise children whose major sin was poverty: "Day after day, courts are obliged to remove children from their homes only because their parents, who idolise them, and who are entitled to the joy and solace of their companionship, are unable, through no fault of their own, to keep them from destitution . . . When one contemplates the appalling conditions under which so many of our poor children are compelled to live, one can but wonder why it is that so many of them keep out of trouble . . ."
Such pleas had little effect. Instead of facing up to the squalor in which so many children lived, it was easier to treat those children themselves as the problem. The church, which consistently opposed even the mildest moves towards a welfare state, sustained that notion by running what were essentially children's prisons. In order to maintain the myth of a decent, civilised Christian society, it was necessary to lock up the children whose very existence gave the lie to that myth.
For children born out of wedlock, many of whom ended up in institutions, the church reserved a special contempt. In a book published in 1952, Father Cecil Barrett, head of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, described single mothers as "fallen women" and "grave sinners", whose children were the product of "wickedness".
A decade later, another Irish Catholic discourse called The Problem of the Unmarried Mother described children born out of wedlock as "rebels" who "suffer from complexes analogous to those of certain invalids". They were "destined for suffering and often for failure". In that sense, the suffering inflicted on them in industrial schools might be seen not as a terrible aberration, but as part of their God-given destiny.
Two other attitudes were also crucial. Children must not be taught that their bodies are their own. And the prevention of child abuse is less important than the preservation of adult authority. Both of these attitudes remained central to conservative Catholicism in the 1990s. Here, for example, is Father Brian Gogan, writing in The Irish Times in February 1994: "The claim that a child owns its own body is at odds with Christian tradition. We have stewardship over our bodies but, like everything in the world, they belong to God. We render an account to Him for what we do in and with our bodies."
And here, in 1993, is an American Catholic, Dr William Coulson, brought over to Ireland by conservative Catholic groups, addressing a meeting in Cork: "Children are being told to tell teachers if anyone interferes with them, even if it is their father. This is a direct attack on parental responsibility."
The scandal of child poverty must not be allowed to tarnish the image of a free and frugal society. The institution of marriage must be upheld by stigmatising and suppressing the children of unmarried mothers. Children must not be given the notion that their bodies are their own. Adult authority must not be undermined.
These ideas were much more important factors in the perpetuation of cruelty than any individual failure. And they had a huge constituency, not just in the church, but in politics, social life, and the media. They were part of a governing consensus which people challenged at their peril.
This is not, of course, to lessen the responsibility of the perpetrators or of those who knew what was happening and did nothing. But it is important to understand that what we see when we turn over the rock of secrecy and indifference is not some kind of exotic horror. It is our own State, our own culture, our own ideological assumptions. And it is not dead. The suppression of the Madonna House report, the dreadful neglect of children with mental disabilities and the continuing scandal of children being sent to prisons and places of detention simply because there is nowhere else to put them all point to the persistence of attitudes which perpetuate abuse.
Above all, the criminalisation of child poverty is still with us. We still prefer to lock children up rather than deal with the poverty and neglect with which many of them live. It is long past time that we all stopped trusting that system.