In 1980, the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey of Ireland considered giving British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a gift inscribed with the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace”, which she had recited in front of 10 Downing Street after taking power.
He settled instead on the now infamous teapot for the Iron Lady which was just as well as two years later her lofty Franciscan aspirations went down to the bottom of the South Atlantic Ocean, along with the lives of 323 Argentine sailors on board the General Belgrano, a war crime by any standard.
Francis of Assisi was not just an advocate of peace, his life was a poetic demonstration that there is freedom and happiness in seeking less, rather than more, a lesson lost on Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative party cabinet and Mr Haughey and much of the Irish political establishment.
A year before he met Thatcher, Haughey had become Taoiseach and had over £1million in debt with AIB which wrote some of it off. It wasn’t until the Moriarty Tribunal in 2000 that Charvet shirts and expensive dinners at Le Coq Hardi became household talking points and the unaccounted for millions.
And, now, with the Mahon Report, we have another generation of politicians mired down in dodgy dealings and unexplained payments. And, of course, they all contest the findings and will fight to clear their names. We heard the same from Church leaders who ‘didn’t know’ or ‘weren’t aware’.
When Yeats wrote about ‘‘Christ and Caesar being hand in glove’’, he really captured our political and religious culture, which we now know was not just flawed, it was rotten.
McCracken, Moriarty, Mahon, Murphy are like the four horsemen of Judgement Day standing in evidence against the politicians who acted like ancient Irish chieftains and Churchmen who thought themselves as removed as Tara’s High Priests.
One commentator referred to some Irish and British politicians as having their “snouts in the trough so deeply you could only see the soles of their Gucci shoes”.
The problem for both State and Church is the absence of any credible watchdog on overall operations. No one, it seems, guards the guardians, the anchor of any real democracy and a concept in the Church which died with the early Christians.
When the Eastern bloc countries had to clean up corruption to gain access to the EU, and high standards were put in place, had Ireland been tested on them, it would probably have not passed.
And, yet, as a nation don’t we share the blame for this corrupt culture? Being kicked out of a political party is hardly sufficient punishment for taking money that is not yours to take. Yet, the same shisters could get good odds on topping the poll at the next election.
One had only to listen to the vox pops after the Mahon Report was released: “Bertie was good to us in our hour of need” went the now familiar refrain.
There is a certain idiocy in many Irish voters who rather than seeing a politician’s help as the exercise of his duty as an elected official of the State, they equate it to the beneficence of a tribal chieftain who has reached into his own pocket for their good. These are likely the same people who decry the property tax as unfair but will vote again for politicians who have cost the State millions of taxpayers money in tribunals. In Ireland, everyone’s personal dilemna takes precedence over patriotic duty.
For the rest, apathy towards politics and religion means just walking away from it all, as if democracy was not worth fighting for or the Church worth reforming. These people are as selfish as those fools who vote for dodgy politicians because they bought them a pint once and patted them on the head.
In their Lenten reflection, bizarrely issued a week before Easter, (not so bizarre really as it patently is a box ticking exercise for the Visitation Report whose 200 pages remain secret) the bishops quote Pope Benedict asking a penetrating question:
“Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ?”
They have not grown tired of faith in Christ but tired and apathetic of a faith that in one generation preached hell and damnation and placed impossible burdens on a largely poor and uneducated populace, and then almost overnight decided that God was actually a loving, caring, touchy-feely God as the old Church institutions collapsed and new reform failed to materialise.
Older people were left confused while the youth were bemused at best. And, yes, the heartlands of Christianity are bored by 17 years of revelations of cover-up and denial of child abuse.
Bored by a Church leadership that continues to think the exclusion of lay men and women from real decision-making is still acceptable. And, yes, they are bored and apathetic to a political culture that harbours the corrupt and refuses to create any meaningful independent watchdog to ensure that this can’t happen again.
Faith in Jesus Christ will not be helped by a 7.5-page synopsis of a 200-page report and a ‘trust us’ appeal by the bishops on reform when trust is lost. It will not be helped by Cardinal Seán Brady saying at the weekend that he ‘presumed’ the culture of clericalism played a part in the abuse crisis. Presumed? There was no presumption in the Murphy Report!
Faith in Jesus Christ is not helped by the fact that many of the bishops have not seen the full Visitation Report, and we are to believe that the bishops will implement the reform outlined in detail in the 200 pages we are not allowed see? Jesus wept.
But there will be a significant minority who will happily ‘leave it to father’ and go on their merry way and the elites in Church and State will dust themselves off and continue with business as usual. Wasn’t it ever so? Sure it took 30 years to find out what discussions Charlie Haughey had with the London ambassador about a suitable gift for Mrs Thatcher; 15 years for the Mahon Report, and we’ve been hearing about clerical abuse since the early 1990s.
Cover-up and secrecy are deeply woven into our culture. Without the media, as flawed as it is, the corrupt in this country would have got away with their schemes and probably would have got their wish for a civic honours list and would be sitting pretty as venerable citizens of this little State while the rest of us tip the cap to them. Wasn’t it ever so with human nature many say, but no, it wasn’t for this as Yeats pointed out that the Wild Geese spread the grey wing upon every tide.
The delirium of the brave is dead and gone, the romantics quietly nurse their pints in quiet bars while the increasingly apathetic electorate and nominal Catholics watch Celebrity Masterchef and Downton Abbey, perhaps subliminally yearning for an era before fast food that, despite its own failings had honour and patriotism in abundance.
Speroforum columnist Garry O'Sullivan is the editor of the Irish Catholic, which has the largest circulation of any Catholic publication in the Republic of Ireland.