Watching the tail end of that documentary the other night on Michael Cleary – dead priest of the Dublin diocese and member of the All Priests’ Show – made it clear to me that I am getting old. I don’t remember much about the guy to be honest because he made absolutely no impact on Cork in the 1970s and 1980s. He represents a tradition which felt at home with being media stars and doing a great cover-up job of colleagues’ pederasty. While Mary Raftery does a great job in cataloguing another side of Michael Cleary in today’s Irish Times – he’s not my father so he doesn’t deserve the monicker here – a woman I know recalled yesterday how he had been very good to her son when he was younger. He had been supportive of her family when that same young man died in the 1980s. And she knew that one of the kids she saw running around his house in north Dublin was one of his.
Most of us tolerated this – all of this. The silence over child abuse, the institutionalisation of violence in ‘the big house’, the symbolic and actual violence perpetrated in covering up the abuse of power, the cringing deference, fawning and the altar-rail licking. Our past is exactly that – our past. It’s an ambivalent past – full of contradiction. Good education provision, shame about the child abuse. They ran clean hospitals, pity about the doctors who colluded in carrying out symphysiotomies. If you are a recent arrival back in or to Ireland, it may not be your past.
Just over 88% of the population of the Republic designate themselves as Catholic. Are you uncomfortable with that? Tick another box in the Census the next time. If you’re not, start asking hard questions of the local Catholic bishop. If you don’t ask yourself the hard questions, you are little better than Cleary.