Second Opinion: The Catholic hierarchy still doesn’t get child abuse

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The church’s obsession with normal sexual activity engendered a warped view of sexual abuse within the hierarchy

The evidence of Cardinal Seán Brady, retired Archbishop of Armagh, to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge, Co Down, cannot be taken seriously. Or else he still doesn’t get child abuse. He used the word “scandal” to describe the cover-up of Fr Brendan Smyth’s abuse. This use of language means that Cardinal Brady sees sexual abuse as a moral issue, not a crime.
His claim that the Catholic Church hierarchy did not understand paedophilia is irrelevant, and a distraction. No one needs to understand paedophilia to realise that sexual assaults on children are criminal acts. Child abuse is like domestic violence and adult rape. Such crimes are always about the abuse of power and using fear to get what you want. Child abusers do it because they can, not because they have irresistible urges.

Cardinal Brady also claimed that the hierarchy did not understand the effect of sexual abuse on children. What part of raping and buggering girls and boys did they not understand? What effect did they think these criminal acts would have on children? When adult women and men are raped, the consequences are catastrophic. How much worse must it be for children? With rape and buggery there would have been injuries. Yet Cardinal Brady asked the two boys who had been abused by Smyth whether they “liked” what was done to them. When gathering evidence during the canonical inquiry in 1975 he ought to have known that children were at risk of serious harm. Swearing witnesses to secrecy is akin to aiding and abetting these crimes and left hundreds more children at risk of rape. Let’s hope that those in the church who are now charged with safeguarding children have a better understanding of the law.

Laws dealing with sexual assaults on minors go back nearly two centuries. The Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 covered rape and sexual assaults of girls and boys. “Whosoever shall be guilty of the crime of rape . . . shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for life” and “persons convicted of aggravated assaults on females and boys under 14 years of age may be imprisoned or fined”. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1935 also covered sexual abuse. “Any person who unlawfully and carnally knows any girl under the age of 15 shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable on conviction thereof to penal servitude for life.” Buggery of boys was also covered and attracted a sentence of life imprisonment. These Acts were updated and strengthened by the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990. The new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will provide greater protection for children when it is finally enacted.

The inquiry has highlighted the reluctance of people in authority to blow the whistle. Fr William Fitzgerald, who also gave evidence, served with Smyth at Kilnacrott Abbey, and warned him to stay away from altar boys. Fr Fitzgerald knew the effect of sexual abuse on children, yet did not go to the Garda. When interviewed on RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime programme he said he did not make the link between the abuse and the need for Smyth to be dealt with by the law. In fact, the only way to stop child abuse is through the criminal justice system. Perpetrators must be caught and punished. Psychiatrists are not needed. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition, 2014), the bible of the American Psychiatric Association, notes that “most people with [paedophilic disorder] do not have a mental disorder”.

Since the Inquisition, the church has been policing the sexual behaviour of consenting adults, with disastrous consequences for the health of Irish people. This obsession with normal sexual activity engendered a warped view of sexual abuse within the hierarchy. It is time to debunk some of the myths surrounding sexual abuse and view it as a heinous crime, not a behavioural problem that needs treatment. Sexual abuse is still happening and children need the law on their side.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland annual report for 2014 estimates that “four out of five victims of sexual violence, including children, will not access justice”. Only one- third of survivors report to the Garda and only a few of these cases ever see the inside of a courtroom. Survivors must feel very bitter now that they know the Garda was informed about Smyth’s criminal activities in the 1970s and did nothing. Survivors will probably sue the State, and the taxpayer will, as usual, end up paying the bill for the incompetence of people in authority.

drjackyjones@gmail.com

Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of the Healthy Ireland Council.

Source: Irish Times