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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

The devil at the heart of the Irish Catholic Church

800 rapists and/or abusers within 200 religious schools and “care” institutions in Ireland. (My paraphrase of a statistic given in the Report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse – Mr. Justice Ryan - 2009)

Readers may wish to go this YouTube clip where a victim of Irish religious sex abusers describes his ordeal in gripping and heart breaking detail:

All cultures have devils and bogeymen. These are not just some product of a passing bad dream but real live powers of darkness that are able to intervene directly in the lives of humans so as to inflict pain or oppression on them and turn them away from the good. In broad cultural terms, the devil represents the dark side of a struggle between day and night, between good and evil, between hope and despair. This myth, or if you like this metaphor for the capacity for evil within man, has been with us since we first started to tell stories.

The devil and his cohorts is a particularly strong feature of Irish culture and I am not referring here to a weird guy with red horns in his head but a real physical power which can appear, or be “felt”, in a variety of guises. Even fairies have a dark side. Every Irish person knows that fairies are not the chortling, skipping emerald green caricatures of Hollywood myth. Fairies steal your kids, sour your milk; give you dropsy; they are often just bad news and harbingers of bad luck. Go on be honest. Would you chop down a “Fairy Ring”?

One of the most graphic and, to me, terrifying tales concerning “An Droch Rud” – The Bad Thing - comes in the short stories of Seosamh Mac Grianna. The story is called “Bíonn Súil le Muir ach Ní bhíonn Súil le hUaigh”, which can be translated as You May Expect the Return of Sailors but Not Of the Dead. The story is included in Mac Grianna’s “An Grá agus An Gruaim” and can be read in half an hour or less. It tells the tale of an old woman, seanBhríd Nic Suibhne, and how she buried every member of her family, except a seven year old foster child called Síle who was the redeeming light of the old woman’s life. But Síle, too, is taken from her and the only solace that seanBhríd has left is that Síle promises to come back to visit her after her death. The place for the rendezvous was to be a spot on the beach where she used to build sandcastles. A place called Carraig an Róin – Seal Rock.

After Síle’s death, SeanBhríd goes to the beach at the appointed hour but is forced to wait until darkness has almost descended before the child appears to her. To my mind, Mac Grianna’s description of Síle’s apparent appearance is one of the most believable, poignant and eerie passages in all of Irish literature. For in its atmosphere, touched by the cool “feothan” – breeze - that suddenly arises and the fragrance that fills the air, as if the gates of heaven had been opened, it carries seanBhríd’s hopes with it and yet there is a hint of menace that the reader does not pick up properly until it is an afterthought. The vision of Síle that suddenly confronts seanBhríd provokes not a cry of joy from her but a “cliseadh” - a whimper. The cliseadh is left there in the reader's mind whilst the poor old woman convinces herself that Síle has returned.

A few days later comes the terrifying denouement on the strand when seanBhríd has been convinced to draw a circle in the sand, say the rosary as the vision appears, and invite the spirit of Síle into the circle. The whole village is assembled by the shore yet they see nothing. They only hear Bríd saying the rosary, but Bríd herself was also praying that her little Sile would be sent to her and not the devil. Little Síle steps to the very edge of Bríd's prayer circle but will not close with her mother. Bríd is obliged to ask in the name of Christ The Lord – “Cé thú féin?” – Who are you?- and the vision answers – “Is mé an DIABHAL” - I am the DEVIL. The old woman then orders him back to the very depths of hell, with which there a flash of blue and a thunder clap and the evil spirit is gone.

When I read the passage described above for the first time, I was rooted to my seat, and still today it has a dramatic effect upon me. For me, and many people like me, the Bad Thing, is real; it has tangible power and it must be fought against, just as seannBhríd fought against it, despite her desperate desire to commune with her daughter once again. Old Bríd was nothing short of heroic.

But you do not need to have Irish Catholic sensibilities to be affected by, and understand the power of the Dark One in our lives. Nor do you need to turn to old sagas and folk tales to understand the power of the myth and its reality in people's modern day lives. Take the late Stanley Kubrick's last film “Eyes Wide Shut”. The more receptive viewers of this film recognised that it was not just about the break up of a marriage (the marriage of the two leads, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, was actually collapsing as filming was taking place); nor is just about the ravages of temptation and seduction, although these are central themes in the film. “Eyes Wide Shut” is also about the choices people make in their lives. Choices for the darkness or light, for evil or good. The scenes showing a Black Mass (wrongly called a sex cult by most critics) are testimony to this as any former or practising Catholic will recognise.

An even better example of a non religious analysis of evil is David Lynch’s cult television series “Twin Peaks”. Twin Peaks, first and foremost, is about child abuse and the evil that adults allow into their hearts when engaging in the corrupting of our innocents. The “Bob” figure in Lynch’s series is the devil. End of story. At one point in “Twin Peaks”, an air force colonel who comes in to investigate the paranormal happenings in this remote mountain area says something along the lines of —“my greatest fear is the possibility that love may not be enough”. In other words that evil may always prevail over good.

Thus, there is no doubt that most people accept some idea of there being some kind of dark force in our lives, and given this, I find it extraordinary that nobody has mentioned the devil in relation to the new horrors we have discovered about clerical and religious abuse in Ireland. See, for example, the report in the Irish Times

My point here is not that anyone of us actually has to believe in the devil but that the Catholic church believes very strongly in the devil. The most important sacrament in the Catholic faith is baptism. Baptism is not primarily about giving a name to a child but about purification and the renouncing of the devil. It is a mistake, in my view, not to investigate the Church on the basis of its own theology.

Is it the view of the Catholic Hierarchy that their priests, nuns, and lay religious who engaged in these unspeakable acts against children were acting in concert with the devil, or were at least carrying out the devil’s work? This argument may not excite the minds of atheists but it is of central importance to the Church because it then has to explain in theological terms how Christ’s Church became a vehicle for the Anti-Christ. To my knowledge, this question has never been put to a religious authority, either in Ireland or Rome.

It is my belief that if the Catholic Church is investigated theologically so as to discover why it has produced such an horrendously large number of abusers and torturers of children, its profane pursuit and wielding of celibate male power, for the sake of power, will be revealed as a primary cause of its abject fall from a State of Grace. This negation of Christ’s teachings (aligned to a Jansenist doctrine that sees human beings as essentially perverse and unable to voluntarily act for the good) is the essential fault line in the Catholic hierarchy’s religious philosophy. This same male celibate hierarchy has also created a priesthood which often displays a complete inability to understand basic human relations and holds a disgust for bodily functions, sexual attraction and sexual acts. It is in this context that the Church’s insistence on strict dogma where things like contraception and divorce are concerned must be seen and understood; whereas this same Church will conspire and protect the ghouls who attacked our children.

The best description of the consequences of this warped view of human beings comes in Doris Lessing's introduction to Tolstoy's “Kreutzer Sonata” (Modern Library, Paperback Edition 2003), a brilliantly bitter short story which reveals Tolstoy’s latter day conversion to celibacy due to his failure to control either his lust, or his distrust of women in low cut dresses:

“Christianity's great contribution to human happiness has been a hatred of the body and of the flesh - distrust of women, dislike of sex. In this it is unlike the two other Middle Eastern religions. Judaism, far from denouncing sex, prescribes lovemaking for the faithful on their Sabbath, thus sanctifying and celebrating sex. lslam is not a puritan religion. Not in Judaism and lslam do we find celibate priests who use nuns or their housekeepers as their mistresses, or are driven to sex with little boys.”

Yes, of course, the secular world must investigate and hopefully punish those responsible for these heinous crimes against defenceless and trusting children, who usually of course came from poor backgrounds, but those of us who still profess some kind of faith want to go much further than that. The Catholic Church, and more particularly the Irish Catholic church, must be held to account on the basic flaws in its teachings and practise which have allowed the devil to reign in the once sacred tabernacle. It seems to me that the Irish church has no choice but to go back to the ancient idea of Pobal Dé - the People of God - and renounce once and for all its imperious, avaricious and sinful past.

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Title: The devil at the heart of the Irish Catholic Church
Date posted: 27 May '09 - 18:52
Filed under: General
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