The bishop of Tuam has released a statement in which he seeks to distance his diocese from the appalling treatment of the women who were locked up in the notorious Mother and baby Home.
In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Cahal Daly, who also sought to distance himself from any responsiblity for the monstrous behaviour of Father Brendan Smyth, the paedophile whose activities brought down a government and first exposed to the world what was really going on behind the veil of sanctity in Ireland.
Daly, you might recall, pointed out that he had no authority over Brendan Smyth, because the priest was a member of the Norbertine order and was therefore under the control of his religious superior within that order. This was why, according to Daly, he could not intervene in the priest’s rape of children. He was powerless to do so.
Oddly enough, this lack of power didn’t prevent Daly’s successor from intervening in the activities of another priest who was also a member of a religious order. Cardinal Seán Brady who, as a young priest, had sworn abused children to secrecy on pain of damnation, had no hesitation in stepping in when Father Iggy O’Donovan, an Augustinian priest in Drogheda committed a transgression in 2006.
His crime? Iggy O’Donovan celebrated an ecumenical service with a Protestant clergyman, in a spirit of reconciliation and solidarity.
Thus we had two bishops of Armagh, one of whom could not stop a member of an order from raping children, while another was ready and willing to prevent a member of another order from reaching out to his friends and neighbours.
Bishops, as we have seen, are powerless when it suits them to be powerless, and that’s where Michael Neary comes in. Michael is Archbishop of Tuam and I’m sure he’s a perfectly decent chap in his own way. His response to the Ryan report seemed genuine enough and his unreserved apology on behalf of the Catholic church was convincing in its sincerity, but like most of his colleagues apart from Diarmuid Martin, Michael is a slave to Bishopspeak, just like any longstanding official in any monolithic organisation, and his press release showed all the symptoms of that enslavement.
Michael’s primary purpose in issuing the press release seems to be this: to distance his diocese as much as he possibly can from the Bon Secours order, in the hope that as little dirt as possible will stick to his predecessors. That’s why he says as follows:
As the diocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam we do not have any material relating to it in our archives.
Michael is being, as a bishop might put it, disingenuous. The reality is that the Tuam Home would never have been set up in the first place without the express wishes of Archbishop Gilmartin.
His Grace the Archbishop of Tuam is anxious that the Bon Secours Sisters should go there, Mr Jordan advised a meeting of Galway County Council.
Sadly, no photographs of Dr Gilmartin surfaced, but here’s a picture of his successor, Dr Walsh, who also had absolutely nothing to do with the Bon Secours Nursing Home.
There are many ways of exercising control, as we all know. It is not necessary to manage an institution in order to control it, and anyone who ever had the chance to observe a community of nuns at close quarters will have seen how obsequious and grovelling they were to even the humblest clergyman, never mind a prince of the church.
When Dr Deeny, the Chief Medical Officer, unilaterally closed Bessborough Home because of the number of children it was killing, the Papal Nuncio complained him to DeValera on the order of Bishop Lucey of Cork, even though the home was run by nuns.
The bishops knew everything and the bishops controlled everything. Let us not forget that this bishop of Tuam was the very same one to whom the entire county library catalogue was submitted for vetting. Gilmartin selected the books to be burned, and yet, somehow, Michael Neary would have us believe he was a benign, bumbling old Santa Claus figure who had nothing to do with the systemic oppression of women in post-independence Ireland.
Isn’t it time Irish Catholic bishops stopped insulting our intelligence?
Bishop Michael must have written his press release hastily because he seems to have overlooked the fact that the 796 children on Catherine Corless’s list are not buried in a graveyard. We still don’t know if they were thrown into a septic tank, but the fact remains that their location has not been established.
He also seems not to realise that the women who were incarcerated in the Home did not give up their babies, but were coerced by the nuns, by the local clergy, by their families and by society at large into doing so. Or more to the point, he knows that full well and he’d prefer if you wouldn’t realise the same thing.
This is a characteristically cowardly statement, of the sort we have come to expect from Irish bishops. It attempts to push responsibility onto the nuns and away from his own office, while at the same time looking to gain the high moral ground by offering to seek a dignified re-interment for the remains of the children in what he calls consecrated ground.
The mealy-mouthed arrogance of that sentiment is astonishing. To think that those children, or their abused mothers, would want to lie in the sort of ground Michael Neary regards as consecrated simply repeats the insult that was visited on them by Neary’s predecessors and by the nuns they controlled from 1924 to 1961.
This prelate needs to go away, meditate and be quiet.