The only power the Catholic Church has is the power we give it
“How many divisions does the Pope have?” Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin famously asked. His Chinese counterpart, Mao Zedong, claimed that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. The power of the Catholic Church is one example that disproves Mao's claim.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's excellent speech on child abuse has made headlines around the world, and with good reason. 'Catholic' Ireland has finally told the Vatican that its behaviour is no longer acceptable.
The only caveat I would add is that the speech didn't go far enough in acknowledging the State's ultimate responsibility to protect its children.
An oft-repeated claim is that the Catholic Church wielded immense power in Ireland up until very recently. The words of bishops and priests were law, both literally and socially.
People who challenged the power of the church were sidelined and ostracised, many of them felt forced to leave the country.
However, the Catholic Church has no divisions, it has no guns to enforce its will on the Irish people. The only power the Catholic Church has is the power the Irish people give it.
It was the citizens of Ireland that followed and enforced every pronouncement from the pulpit. It was the citizens of this country that allowed priests and nuns to abuse children.
The Church did cover up much of what was being done, however, people looked the other way on the rare occasions that victims and campaigners did speak out.
A perfect example of this was in 1954 when the case of a 14 year old boy who was hospitalised after a severe beating in Artane Industrial School was raised in the Dáil by Independent TD Peadar Cowen.
According to Creating Ireland by Paul Daly, Education Minister Seán Moylan said:
"I would be as much concerned as the Deputy is if I thought it was anything other than a very isolated incident and in one sense what might be called an accident...I cannot conceive any deliberate ill-treatment of boys by a community motivated by the ideals of its founders. I cannot conceive any sadism emanating from men who were trained to a life of sacrifice and of austerity. They are also trained to have a greater devotion to a very high purpose...The point is that accidents will happen in the best regulated families and in this family there are 800 boys...These boys are difficult to control at times. Maybe it is essential now and again that children should be punished."
One of the reason priests could get away with the rape of children, why they could be transferred from parish to parish, was because of the slavish, subservient attitude people had to them. How many times have you read of parents whose children were abused going to the local parish priest or bishop instead of straight to the gardaí?
The Irish State allowed Catholic religious orders to run schools, orphanages, industrial schools and Magdelene Laundries and abdicated its duties to protect children from sexual and physical abuse.
The Catholic Church couldn't have gotten away with their horrific behaviour in relation to child abuse without the power the Irish people and State gave them.
The Government should indeed expel the Papal Nuncio, as the Irish people would have lost their deference to the Church a lot sooner if it hadn't covered up most of its crimes.
It should pursue the Church for half the cost of compensation for victims. If the Church pleads a lack of funds to pay up, I know of three massive houses plus extensive grounds it owns in the parish I'm from, Clondalkin village, alone, which even in today's market could fetch well over a million euros.
The Irish people and State are liable for the rest of the compensation as they are ultimately responsible for the protection of the children of the nation.