Every once in a while large organisations with international clout and mega-billion budgets, which bestride our societies like Colossi, reveal their feet of clay, and their heads of – well if not clay then certainly some base metal. These immense juggernauts which gather up so much passion, resources, time and human energy, suddenly spew out their harvest, and whilst convulsing, the command centre desperately seeks to keep its balance and authority.
Two such Colossi this last fortnight have suffered such implosion. One is the epitome of the capitalist phenomenon of unfettered growth ‘giving the people’ in their purchasing millions, what they supposedly wanted and reaping the benefits in a multi-billion pound empire. The other has had incontrovertible power and authority over millions of faithful Catholics across the world, and multi-billion pounds of real estate, but its days of holding sway over the hearts and minds of four million Irish men and women could well be numbered.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, this last week faced unprecedented attack and criticism from a government report which found one of the dioceses, the diocese of Cloyne in direct contravention of the stated policy of the church to co-operate fully with police investigations of alleged child abuses in the diocese. Stung undoubtedly by the swingeing remarks by Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the negligence of the Church authorities and leadership to address the appalling cover up of sexual abuse by priests and those placed by the Church in authority over children in its institutions, Archbishop Diarmuid, claimed that there was cabal in his own Archdiocese and in the Vatican which was failing to drive through the reforms in procedures, which the Irish Bishops’ conference has ratified and for which he has pastoral oversight. Key individuals, including the Bishop of Cloyne, have failed to fully cooperate with government prosecutors and investigators, preferring to protect the institution according to the old rules, not recognising that the order of play has fundamentally altered.
Across the water in Westminster a similar attempt was being launched by Robert Maxwell, to save the nerve centre, as he bewailed the failure of those whom he had appointed to uphold the standards and values which News International required from their employees. A foam based custard pie thrown by one of the audience, was the vote of no confidence expressed more eloquently, but less democratically, than a thousand words of fresh copy.
The point is this. Institutions as Mary Douglas reminds us in her wonderfully adroit exposition of How Institutions Think, have hidden sequences which catch individuals in their traps and hurl them down paths they never chose. It is all part of the latent power of groups and the ways in which individuals collude with the wider organisation’s themes and cohesive values in order to maintain the group’s unity and identity.
In the Catholic Church in Ireland this has meant that child abusing priests have been protected against prosecution for the sake of maintaining a myth of rectitude and the unbroken interlinked chain of power of priest, bishop, cardinal, pope and ultimately God. At the News of the World it has meant that hacking or accessing information which would give advantage over and against its opposition and maintain high volumes of sales allegedly became an accepted mode of behaviour.
Whether prosecuting a campaign to out paedophiles in British communities, or simply acquiring yet another piece of juicy political, royal or celebrity gossip and enabling an embarrassing photo opportunity, the journalistic end started to justify the means. And so a form of journalism emerged which placed those who practiced it and those who consented to its practice, clearly in a rat trap.
And those caught in a trap and hurled down the path have been senior directors and executives. Down this last fortnight have hurtled Andy Coulson, Rebecca Brook, and eight other reporters associated with the News of the World. But also down go the wider employee base of the paper which after one hundred and sixty years precipitously ceased production – caught in the after shock of the revelations, as the Colossus starts to crumble. At this point, with extraordinary Chutzpah the command centre steps forward. ‘I think’ said Rupert Murdoch to the parliamentary committee convened to investigate the crisis ‘“that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up.”
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin obviously thinks the same. However whether he will be able to clean this particular cess pit of buried difficult, embarrassing and criminal behaviour is uncertain. Unfortunately for the Archbishop, like his fellow beleaguered multi billionaire leader of News International, much of the current trouble has happened on his watch. Archbishop Martin’s discomfiture with the criticisms made this week by the Taoiseach have stung him into an outburst at members of his own clergy, the retired Bishop of Cloyne and some of the entrenched protectionist culture practiced in Rome.
When Archbishop Rowan Williams made direct criticisms of the Irish Catholic Church and its inability to grip the issue of child abuse last year Archbishop Martin was reported to have “rarely felt personally so discouraged”. At that point Archbishop Martin had said that those working to renew the church did not deserve the remarks, which “will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further”. Of course any criticism is disheartening, but the report produced by the independent panel of investigators this Wednesday showed that the collegial prompt from Lambeth was in order.
Now the only way forward for Murdoch and Martin is apparently to shake the dust of their amputated feet of clay from under them and seek to put as much distance from their corrupted limbs and torsos as Colossal brass necks will permit. Whether the strategy will work for either of them – only time and tide will tell. For the sake of Milly Dowler’s parents and family, and for over 13,000 children and adults who have filed cases against the Irish Church since the Catholic Church began the process of reporting such cases to the Police in January 1996 it is to be hoped that the process of clarification is carried through thoroughly.
Last Wednesday’s lacerating 341 page government report on numerous cover ups of paedophilia by Catholic priests between 1996-2009 in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, will take some digesting. Whether the command centre of News International or the Irish Catholic juggernaut can be overhauled to be seen as roadworthy, fit and safe to travel on in the future will be a task for government, law enforcement and the judiciary to enable. But ultimately it is you and I, the readers, purchasers, parishioners, and congregations to decide.