Nuala O’Loan accuses Irish media of virulent anti-Catholic bias
‘It was, of course, the media which ultimately forced the Church and state authorities to begin to deal with child sexual abuse’
Mon, Apr 18, 2016
Patsy McGarry in Boston
Baroness Nuala O’Loan: “Journalists seem, on occasion, to have abandoned the careful, nuanced use of language in favour of wild sweeping assertions.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
The media has been criticised at a conference in Boston for contributing to the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Speaking in Boston College at the weekend, Baroness Nuala O’Loan said “in a country in which the media was once sympathetic to the Catholic Church, it is now aggressively hostile”.
“Papers like The Irish Times now run columns in which things are said about and imputed to Catholics which would not be tolerated in the context of Islam or Judaism, or of homosexuals or humanists,” the former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland said.
“Journalists seem, on occasion, to have abandoned the careful, nuanced use of language in favour of wild sweeping assertions which fuel the lack of understanding of what Catholicism is about, and encourage virulent anti-Catholicism,” she said.
She was at the “Faith in the Future: Religion in Ireland in the 21st century” conference organised by Boston College’s centre for Irish programmes.
“Easy assumptions are made and generalities are the order of the day. For the most part people do not challenge some of the wilder statements, such as those about paedophile priests or widespread savagery in Catholic schools, possibly because they do not want to be seen to do so,” she said.
She acknowledged that it was the media which ultimately forced the Church and State authorities to begin to deal with child sexual abuse. “It became open season for the media though. This led to a situation of profound injustice, as the normal protections of the law, in terms of the assumption of innocence until guilt was proved were abandoned. The victim had to be believed, so the priest must be lying in his denials. Some were, but some weren’t lying. Men who had done no wrong were not, and in some cases still are not, properly treated during the period of investigation.
“We saw in 2011 the easy assumptions and failure to carry out proper checks by RTÉ which broadcast a dreadful programme containing entirely unfounded allegations that a Mill Hill priest, Fr Kevin Reynolds, had fathered a child in Kenya with a woman who was a minor at the time. Fr Reynolds withdrew from ministry protesting his innocence. After the broadcast, the child, now grown up, wrote to Fr Reynolds stating that she was not his child and ultimately both she and he had DNA tests which showed that he was not the father of the child. RTÉ paid massive damages. Fr Reynolds, after what was undoubtedly a very difficult period, returned to ministry.”
On the contribution of politics to the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland, she noted how “2011 saw government which had failed itself to provide for the protection of children, announce the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican, and Enda Kenny speaking in the Dáil said, the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
“The same could have been said of government, which had been aware of these things. He went on ‘After the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic . . . as little as three years ago, not three decades ago’.”
That was, she said: “A charge which was not justified. The Irish Government reopened its embassy in November 2014. This is symptomatic of much that happens. Careful, nuanced use of language, seems to have been abandoned in favour of wild, sweeping assertions which fuel the lack of understanding of what Catholicism is about, encourage virulent anti-Catholicism, and which would not be tolerated in the context of Islam or Judaism, or of homosexuals or humanists.”
She continued that:“Those who articulate Catholic teaching on the family or in the sexual context are often portrayed as naive, confused, refusing to accept reality and even cruel. This rejection does not to apply to Catholic social teaching, which seems still to be embraced. And for the most part ordinary people do not challenge some of the wilder statements, possibly because they do not want to be seen to do so; they instinctively keep their heads below the parapet.
“And the reality is that people are right in thinking that it can be dangerous to raise your voice in Ireland to challenge false assertions. During the same sex marriage campaign people like Breda O’Brien and David Quinn were repeatedly and viciously attacked for proclaiming views which are consistent with church teaching. Blessed are the persecuted!”