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The sectarianism that dare speak its name

Joe Craig

1st April 2004

The Belfast nationalist newspaper, the ‘Irish News,’ has columnists who regularly cheer-lead the peace process and the Sinn Fein leadership.  They represent a sort of second editorial content in the paper that rewards the republicans with praise as they beat a path to the constitutional nationalist politics that the ‘Irish News’ owners have always stood for.  Long forgotten is the bitter opposition to physical force republicanism that led them to stop insertion of memorial notices for dead IRA activists.

This has often taken the form of proclamation of renewed nationalist confidence that largely feeds off the crumbs from the British table and fantasies about the future – joint sovereignty when the unionists say no, Catholics out-breeding Protestants, a united Ireland by 2016 etc.  It rests on a catholic middle class that demands equal respect for its prejudices and confusion among catholic workers that the gains of the middle class and prominent Sinn Feiners are their gains also.

At bottom lies a growth of sectarianism that is all the more noticeable for its previous minor role when compared to the rabid bigotry of orangeism.  Rarely is this expressed explicitly in the vulgar fashion of unionist bigotry but now and then it exposes itself without realising it has done so.  Today was one such occasion.

The columnist Jude Collins embarked on a rather pointless discussion about how all organisations look after their own and that this is all very much as it should be.  Regular readers of his column will quickly have appreciated that the point of the column was going to be a defence of either Sinn Fein, who have had to rubbish criticism from former members, or the Catholic Church.  Jude has taken on the latter task before and it is on taking up the cudgels again that the mask slips.

It is easily missed.  He says that some Catholics may not be contributing to recent appeals by clergy in some dioceses ‘for major financial donations.’  This is because some ‘have greeted the appeal with scepticism or even anger, claiming that the money will end up meeting or helping meet the expenses involved in cases of clerical sexual abuse.’  Is it wrong to use the money for this purpose?  Not according to Jude.

‘If they did, it would be a commendable position to adopt.  Why?  Because the Catholic Church is an organisation, just like political parties…the members of any organisation have a right to expect that their organisation will support them in their hour of need, and that includes rotten clerical members as well as righteous lay ones.’

There we have it.  My church right or wrong.

Jude appears not to have noticed that the Church authorities have done their best to cover up their vile deeds and have adopted policies of moving abusers around the country that could almost be calculated to increase the scope of abuse and minimise its disclosure.  In fact ‘most organisations…are not protective enough’ he says, implying the church may not have done enough to protect its abusers.

Financially supporting the Church is simply a matter of supporting the organisation you belong to.  Except of course that he goes so far as to say that Catholics have an obligation to support the abusers, not just the ‘righteous.’

Of course he doesn’t explain just what the nature of the obligation to support child-abusing clergy is.  We are expected just to pass over this remark without digesting its import.  Despite claiming the Catholic Church is just like political parties (and I thought it claimed rather greater authority) I doubt he would be so forgiving of parties who had committed such crimes and then tried to cover them up.

However before you get indignant he tells us that ‘if that’s a stone you’re carrying, maybe better check your own perfection first before you lob it.’  You’re not perfect so don’t criticise the Church for not being so.  A better way of letting authority off the hook could hardly be imagined although its not one he usually endorses when it comes to the practices of unionists and the British government.

This is a debating tactic used by Jude Collins before.  The fact that such transparent sleights of hand are used to offer support to the perpetrators of such wretched acts says a lot about what passes for enlightened comment in the North’s sick sectarian society.  But perhaps his complaint also indicates that not everyone is buying it.




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