7. Mar, 2018

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A few dawn raids on bishops' palaces wouldn't go amiss.

Catholic bishops above the law? Are they still too slippery to have their collars felt, even after revelation of the decades-long sexual rampage of Fr. Malachy Finnegan against boys at St. Colman’s college in Newry?

The most offensive aspect of the latest scandal lies in the protestations of Bishop John McAreavy that neither he nor his predecessor had realised they would be sharpening the suffering of the victims when, instead of reporting Finnegan to the police, they sang dumb and directed at least one of the boys away from counselling by health professionals into the hands of Church officials who could be counted on to cover up.

Even after he'd learnt of Finnegan's debauchery, McAreavy welcomed the predator onto the altar in full, ornate regalia to stand at his shoulder at formal ceremonies. Later, McAreavy presided at the sex-abuser’s own funeral mass.

Meanwhile, the airways have been clogged with claims that the revelations came as a shuddering surprise to Catholic clergy and to devout Catholics.

At a conservative estimate, tens of thousands of people in the North - hundreds of thousands across the island - were well aware of the horrors which were happening. It may have been talked about only in whispers. But it was talked about.

As Christy Moore said in his song about Anne Lovett - the 15-year-old from Granard in Longford who was found in January 1984 bleeding to death at a Marian shrine after giving birth to a still-born boy: “Everybody knew, nobody said.”

How come the RUC didn’t even record the complaint when one of Finnegan’s victims, Sean Faloon, summoned up the great courage which it took to go to the police station in Newry and made a statement naming Finnegan.

Finnegan was never questioned, much less charged. Sean's courage counted for northing compared to the institutional interests of the Church.

If the RUC was a sectarian force - and it was – how come it didn’t go for the Church’s throat? How come it averted its eyes and effectively aided the Church in covering up its crimes?

The answer lies in the curious and little-explored relationship between the Catholic and Unionist hierarchies.

The Catholic Church in the North - as distinct from the Catholic people - has never been discriminated against.

It is arguable that the most progressive Minister for Education in the North has been - there isn’t much competition - Lord Londonderry, appointed at the foundation of the State in 1921. He wanted to establish an integrated primary system. The bishops and their buddies at Stormont were having none of it. (The Protestant churches, too, wanted segregated schools.)

The Northern State, based on the perceived interests of one community only, was highly unstable from the outset. Nobody could be certain it would last very long. Catholics were being driven out of workplaces in Belfast, civil war loomed in the South.

It was in this situation that the Stormont regime and the Catholic bishops found common cause. An arrangement was made whereby, in effect, the Unionists undertook not to hinder the Church in controlling what was then called the “moral formation” of Catholic children - consolidating the grip of the Church on the minds of the congregation, beginning with the youngest and most vulnerable.

The old Jesuit slogan “Give us the child at seven [or six or five or four] and we will have him (sic.) for life” - is not far off the mark. Control of education, enmeshing parents as well as children in Church affairs, has been a huge factor in sustaining the Church as successive scandals have broken over its head.

In return, the bishops undertook to do all they could to put their followers off dangerous ideas and dissuade them from seriously challenging the State.

And thus it has been. The latitude shown by the secular authorities to the bishops in the South has been matched in the North.

As a result of the Finnegan scandal, calls have been coming thick and fast for a public inquiry into child abuse in Catholic schools. And why not? We have had public inquiries into far less serious matters. But a formal inquiry, with every interested party entitled to a legal team, would be an uncertain and roundabout way of seeking the truth. The process could take years, not months.

What should happen is the same as would happen if it were a sporting or cultural or trades union organisation which was in the frame. Arrest known suspects for questioning. Order production of all relevant records and papers. Interview victims. Lay charges.

It is against the law in Northern Ireland to fail to report a crime. McAreavy has been caught bang-to-rights. He should be charged without further ado.

This is what all political parties should be calling for. But only parties campaigning for complete separation of Church and State can shout that out loud.

Unionist parties won’t make the call. They’d understandably be accused of bashing the Catholics for sectarian reasons.

Nationalist parties will guard their tongues for fear of losing Catholic votes.

The Left should step forward and take the lead – No more collusion! Protect our children! Put the bishops in the dock!