Expel the Papal Nuncio: that was the call made in the Dáil last week by Waterford Deputy John Halligan, a call he has not been alone in making.
The ‘Rome Rule’ which Ulster Unionists rallied against during the age of Parnell, which so heavily influenced the scripting of Bunreacht na hÉireann, is gone, and, in all likelihood, gone forever.
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Catholic Church’s ruling elite remains a few centuries behind the thinking of civil society in 2011: that the Vatican’s way remains the only way.
Theirs is a reality far removed from that which faces curates and parish priests around the country: a diminishing flock, comforting those who have lost loved ones through suicide, drugs, alcohol, etc.
One can’t imagine the Pope or any of his predecessors undertaking the sort of work which Father Peter McVerry first began with the homeless of Dublin 30 years ago.
One can’t imagine many of those within the vast confines of St Peter’s addressing the issue of suicide with the sensitivity and humanity of Fr Iggy O’Donovan.
One can’t imagine the robed princes of Christendom rolling up their sleeves and trekking high into the mountains of Pakistan to assist earthquake survivors as Portlaw’s Fr Liam O’Callaghan did.
Nor can one imagine a senior cleric taking to the dock to publicly identify some of Dublin’s most violent criminals, as another Portlaw man, Fr Seamus Ahearne, did in 2006. All four are good men, great men even – they also happen to be priests.
They’re also in touch with the often grim reality of life in the communities they serve; as opposed to being ensconced in a Renaissance palace, where the inhabitants’ mindset are as aged as its marble halls.
Bashing the Roman Catholic Church is nothing new. A lot of the criticism that has come its way is merited while some comment represents nothing more than populist bandwagon hopping.
To denounce an entire institution is, in most instances, illogical – you might as well declare that all politicians are corrupt or that all fathers have no interest in how their children are raised.
For every Ray Burke-type in the land, I’ll give you many multiples of noble, well-intended and wholly admirable public servants: Brian Lenihan, Garrett Fitzgerald, Jim Kemmy, John Hume, etc.
For every useless layabout who foregoes his responsibilities as a parent, I’ll show you thousands of devoted, loving, compassionate fathers who safeguard and protect their children while supporting their hard-working wives. We all know such individuals.
That the Vatican, as Enda Kenny told the Dáil last week adopted a “calculated, withering position” viewed through “the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer” as evidenced in the Cloyne Report, is undisputed.
But what we cannot do, what we must not do as a society, is to cast a shroud over all men of the cloth. The overwhelming majority of priests have not abused children. Fact.
Their good works and commitment to community will never win the sort of headlines ensured by the acts of their disgraced, nefarious colleagues; such is the nature of news.
Mr Kenny’s historic speech, one which will be recalled by historians and theologians in the decades to come, didn’t shirk from the State’s failure to protect its most precious and vulnerable assets.
And it was only right and proper that he acknowledged the blind eye turned by political officialdom while children were violated when putatively under its protection.
“The unseemly bickering between the (previous) Minister for Children and the HSE over the statutory powers to deal with extra-familial abuse, the failure to produce legislation to enable the exchange of soft information as promised after the Ferns Enquiry, and the long period of confusion and disjointed responsibility for child protection with the HSE, as reported by the Commission, are simply not acceptable in a society which values children and their safety.”
Mr Kenny’s deeds must now be backed by the actions of the Government he leads. The words of Wednesday last cannot and must not prove another false dawn when it comes to child protection. The law of the land, as opposed to the law of any church, is the ultimate authority which citizens and the religious must offer primacy to.
The Taoiseach’s speech also referenced the “good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity, even their sanity, as they work so hard to be the keepers of the Church’s light and goodness within their parishes, communities, the human heart.”
While entirely removed from the nightmare that so many abuse victims have lived with since childhood and will probably carry with them until death, such priests must also feel a sense of grave betrayal.
Their disgust at the Vatican’s obfuscation and complete disconnect from reality is one which many will carry privately and painfully while they fulfil their daily duties.
And while they go about their business, and while abuse survivors who have spoken out maintain their magnificent dignity; it is now incumbent that the State protects its children in the way it always ought to have.
That’s the least the children of Ireland, be they of previous generations or as of yet unborn, deserve. Children first – not Church, not State. And may that be the case for all the lifetimes to follow.