The new archbishop of Westminster says it took ‘courage’ for clergy involved in child abuse to confront their actions.

I find that absolutely extraordinary. The vanity of it, the self-love and self-absorption, the misdirection, the narcissism, the callousness – it’s just staggering. Courage! Courage forsooth! What courage?! The subject here is six decades of gross abuse and exploitation of generation after generation of children by adult nuns and priests; what does that have to do with courage?! It doesn’t take courage for a grown-up well-fed strong adult to bully and starve and torture and shame a child. On the contrary, as we all know, or ought to, large strong people tormenting smaller weaker people is the very opposite of courage. The Catholic church condoned and concealed this kind of behavior for decade after decade after decade – it is much too late for it to talk about its own courage now. It’s also completely beside the point and inappropriate, since the Catholic church is not the victim here: the church is the ruthless savage heartless squalid perpetrator. This is absolutely not the moment for it to be patting itself on the back for finally, under duress, kicking and screaming, and with a guarantee of no names named and thus no prosecutions, being exposed by an independent report. Where does the courage enter into it? The report was not the Church’s idea or its doing; the Church pulled the sharpest teeth from the report with a lawsuit; the report has now appeared and the Church stands exposed as having run a hideous child-torture factory for a century and a half. Some clergy are now – now that there is no escaping it – saying that it was all very naughty. Is that the courage Vincent is talking about? Just saying, in response to a report, ‘Ah yes, that was bad’? Does it not occur to him that courage would have been to do something about it while it was still going on? Or, failing that, does it not occur to him that he should not be wasting his sympathy on the perpetrators right now?

Well it probably does now that people are pointing it out to him, but it didn’t occur to him last night, and that tells you a lot about the terrible vanity and self-satisfaction of the clerical mind. This is interesting because part of the Catholic church’s self-image at this time is that it is the great defender of the weak and vulnerable and disregarded – such as the aborted fetus and the comatose adult in a permanent vegetative state. Well – where was its concern and compassion for the weak and vulnerable and disregarded in Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s and up through the 1980s?

Really – where was it? You can’t get much more weak and vulnerable and disregarded than a baby or toddler who is forcibly taken from its mother and imprisoned in a brutal institution and then treated like shit for 14 or 16 years. Can you? Yet those are the very people that the Catholic church in Ireland singled out for savage punishment, deprivation of every kind, and a constant barrage of insults and humiliation. They were told their mothers were dead, or that they didn’t want them. They were put to work farming or making rosaries, and the church pocketed the money made.

So talking about courage now is both absurd and disgusting. It reminds me of what Hannah Arendt says about Himmler in Eichmann in Jerusalem:

The member of the Nazi hierarchy most gifted at solving problems of conscience was Himmler. He coined slogans…catch phrases which Eichmann called ‘winged words’ and the judges ’empty talk’…Eichmann remembered only one of them and kept repeating it: “These are battles which future generations will not have to fight again,” alluding to the “battles” against women, children, old people, and other “useless mouths.”

It’s repulsively understandable, what the archbishop said. He was thinking about people like him – colleagues – fellow clerics. He was sympathizing with their situation. But that’s just what’s so repulsive. They’re not the victims here, just as Himmler and Eichmann were not the victims in Nazi Germany. The archbishop shouldn’t be worrying about people like him, because he should be so frantic with grief and shame at what was done to some thirty thousand children that he can’t think about anything else. But he’s not – he’s not the least bit frantic with grief and shame – he has the presence of mind and the placid quotidian selfishness to think about the people he’s familiar with.

So next time a Catholic starts ranting about the fetus, you just start intoning ‘Artane, Goldenbridge, Letterfrack…’

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