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Added to on April 13, 2007

Sunday Independent, 14 November 1999

[This is a remarkable review of John Cooney's scurrilous biography of John Charles McQuaid. To gain an insight into just how remarkable, imagine the following scenario:

John Cooney writes a biography of a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland. The book is a sneering assault on the man's memory and includes false allegations of child abuse. A journalist publishes a review which admits that the abuse allegations are false and regrets that they "undermine the value of his book" and discredit the reality of "sexual and non-sexual abuses" by Jewish Rabbis.

Surely it would be more logical to question the morality of the anti-Semitic (or anti-Clerical) campaign being carried out by Cooney and his fellow journalists? I have previously pointed out that PRIOR to Cooney's lies about Archbishop McQuaid:

- the UK Guardian had to publish an apology for claiming that an un-named Irish Bishop was a member of a paedophile ring (April 1994),
- Pat Rabbitte had slandered Cardinal Daly by claiming that he tried to hinder the extradition of Father Brendan Smyth (November 1994),
- TV3 had to broadcast an apology for slandering Bishop Magee of Cloyne (September 1999).

And these are only the slanders against the HIERARCHY. The case against Nora Wall collapsed in July 1999; she was the first woman in the history of the State to be convicted of rape AND the first to be sentenced to life imprisonment for that alleged crime (June 1999).

Knowing all those facts, why does Colum Kenny assume that the Catholic Church is guilty and that Cooney's lies are not significant? Does he believe that anti-Clericalism is morally superior to anti-Semitism?

Rory Connor
8 April 2007

Colum Kenny, who as a schoolboy called on the archbishop for tea, thought the prelate a sexual reactionary but not a paedophile . . . or a pub-crawler

WHEN you sup with the Devil, bring a long spoon. First the Pope makes media baron Rupert Murdoch a papal knight. Then Sun King Murdoch divorces so he can marry a young one. Then Murdoch's Sunday Times lambastes the former Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, as an alleged paedophile. Should we laugh or cry?

I once had tea in the private rooms of Archbishop McQuaid when I was a teenager (of which more below). Even then I thought him a lamentable old goat, with reactionary sexual and political attitudes. But a pub-crawling, whiskey-drinking, feeler-upper? It never crossed my mind.

The Sunday Times has used the most sensational statements in John Cooney's new biography of McQuaid to boost the circulation of its Irish edition. Those statements combine insinuation with an anonymous third-hand allegation and constitute an unworthy attack on the reputation of a dead man. At best they deserved a small and carefully-worded footnote in the book.

What makes Cooney's paedophile scenario especially insidious is that it is plausible. Maybe McQuaid was an abuser. There is just no credible evidence. But reeling from successive revelations about a minority of clerics who have abused children, people may be inclined at this stage to believe anything about those in holy orders.

What is known for certain is that a strong mixture of unfettered power and sexual repression actually constituted the diocesan style of John Charles McQuaid.

In failing to establish publicly that his biography is primarily an analysis of that deadly cocktail, and showing how that cocktail directly facilitated sexual and non-sexual abuses by the clergy, Cooney has undermined the value of his 600-page book. McQuaid becomes just another sinner, instead of the representative of a system which was corrupting.

Long committed to writing about the Catholic Church, Cooney had a real opportunity to help transform and heal our society by clearly identifying necessary changes. But, thanks partly to the self-serving sensationalism of Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times, that chance is now greatly diminished.

However, other voices within the Church itself are beginning to make public the connection between its own abuses of power and the social circumstances that facilitate child abuse in general, which is committed mainly by non-clerical family members and ``friends''. Those voices include theologian Eamonn Conway, who has just co-edited a new book, The Church and Child Sexual Abuse: towards a Pastoral Response. The book reminds us how closely child abuse is linked to the question of power and identity and raises uncomfortable questions for all of us about the abuse of sexuality in society through deeds, words and images.

However, when arguing for some understanding of the abuser as well as the abused, Conway's book enters dangerous and delicate territory. One contributor uses an inappropriate metaphor to suggest that ``those who commit sex abuse against children are the contemporary lepers in our society''.

Leprosy is a disease where self-control is not an issue and where the ill don't deliberately set out to damage healthy people. If books by lay people have their faults, so too have those by the clergy. Nobody has a monopoly on perfection.

Because sexuality is central to the individual and to society, we still need to come to terms with the legacy of John Charles McQuaid, the Pope's appointee as Archbishop of Dublin.

PERSONALLY, when I was a teenager, I spent one hour alone with McQuaid in the study of his mansion at Killiney. We supped tea and discussed astrology and politics. If sex came up I don't remember, but then it would have been unusual in the 1960s for a Catholic youth to meet privately with a cleric and not use the opportunity to talk about sex.

McQuaid did not lay a finger on me or offer to show me any of the pornographic books which he is now said to have kept in his library. We're talking here about the 1960s, when I bought George Orwell's 1984 in Belfast because it was still banned in the Republic.

My opportunity to meet the controversial archbishop arose because I was asked to join the Colleges Volunteer Corps at school. The CVC, which John Cooney mentions four times in his book and by four different names, had been set up to recruit schoolboys.

The CVC still exists today, helping the elderly get to Lourdes, amongst other worthy activities, but we were expected to act as stewards on certain ceremonial occasions where the archbishop was present.

I quickly grew tired of the CVC, but it did provide an opportunity for members to request an individual meeting with the archbishop and that was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Hence, I found myself one night on his doorstep in Killiney, being ushered into the great man's presence by a very silent nun. I sat by his great desk and he sat at it, his personal papers strewn about.

The hour passed slowly and I wondered why he bothered to waste his time meeting schoolboys such as myself. Perhaps he was lonely. Perhaps he was sussing me out for ulterior sexual motives. I somehow doubt it. Cooney suggests that he was creating ``a new corps of eager intelligence-gatherers''.

I had heard that he had a special telescope somewhere in the attic and I asked him about this in the hope of being invited to see it. However, we stayed put while he warmed slightly to the subject of stargazing.

I remember the archbishop later sighing about the amount of correspondence he received from people. He waved a hand across the papers on his desk and muttered: ``They write to me about the system. What system? There are only people''; or words to that effect.

That statement, which has stayed with me as the most memorable moment of my brief encounter with McQuaid, rebuffed my feeble efforts that night to persuade him that Irish bishops must press strongly for social progress alongside new economic developments. This was an era when, in the words of Fergal Tobin's study of the 1960s, ``the papacy was somewhere to the left of the Irish Church''.

The Colleges Volunteer Corps, nicknamed with unintentional irony ``The Archbishop's Bodyguard'', held a two-day retreat specially for its members. There were two outstanding features of that retreat. One was a bizarre and extreme talk on masturbation by a priest, who roared at us all about how we would end up screaming on our deathbeds with regret if we engaged in the practice. Having read James Joyce I was somewhat prepared for such hysterics.

The other memorable feature of the retreat was the private catering, laid on at the expense of the archdiocese, so we were told. I had never before tasted Baked Alaska, and never since then such good Baked Alaska. The sensuous discovery of hot meringue over ice-cream was delightful.

Even then I found the talk of masturbation utterly inappropriate and over the top, just as my political insight was sufficient to raise social issues with the archbishop. That's why I get impatient with those who try to claim ``we never knew''.

Growing numbers of people, even some teenagers, had a pretty good idea in the 1960s that something was rotten, and some people in power, including archbishops, must have known quite well what that was.

FINAL COMMENT: I appreciate Colum Kenny's reporting the Archbishop's reaction to people who wrote to him blaming "The system".

"He waved a hand across the papers on his desk and muttered: ``They write to me about the system. What system? There are only people''; or words to that effect."

Blaming "The System" is, at best, an excuse for doing nothing yourself. At worst, it is an excuse for telling obscene lies about people in authority on the grounds that they are the cause of your own personal problems. Archbishop McQuaid did a huge amount of work for the poor of Dublin. Most anti-clerics confine themselves to denouncing "The System"!