Media Bias and the Church in Ireland

Authored By: ZENIT


Media Bias and the Church in Ireland

Part 1Irish Journalist Gives Perspective on Public Opinion and the Abuse Crisis

By Ann Schneible

DUBLIN, Ireland, 11 JUNE 2012 (ZENIT)
In a country where the Church has been under attack, both by the secular media without and from clerical corruption within, Catholics from around the world have gathered together this week to celebrate the Eucharist in Dublin, Ireland.

Speaking in the context of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, David Quinn, who is director of the Iona Institute and a freelance contributor to the Irish Independent and the Irish Catholic, spoke with ZENIT about the crisis in the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the public perception of the Church as has been generated by the secular media. Quinn is one of the speakers at the Congress.

ZENIT: Some have said that the clerical abuse crisis was symptomatic of decades of neglect on the part of the Church. Could you explain this?

Quinn: After independence in 1922, Ireland had a way of asserting its independence visibly, and it decided that a good way to do that was to become ultra-Catholic in terms of identity. Nationalism and Catholicism got merged, and the Catholic Church became extremely powerful politically and socially, and sometimes authoritarian. This, even without the scandals, caused a backlash which began to gather steam from about the 1960s on. Part of the over-reaction against the authoritarianism of the past is bishops who were essentially scared to exercise authority at all. 

The scandals will be part of that. For example, the report of the Dublin Diocese which was commissioned by the government, called the Murphy report, found that one of the reasons — contrary to popular belief — why the scandals escalated, was because of the abandonment of Canon Law; that basically they stopped using the punitive and disciplinary aspects of Canon Law. They decided, instead, to be "pastoral," which meant that they decided to see the priest as the victim of his impulses and would send him off to therapy rather than punish him, and regard him as "sick" rather than as an offender. 

Then of course, we have very poor catechetics, very poor liturgy, and just an avoidance of anything controversial: the quiet life above all. It was essentially the emergence of a kind of "I’m okay, you're okay" religion, based on the idea that the goal of life is to be nice to people, and not be very demanding beyond that. 

ZENIT: Is the abuse scandal the center of the media's focus in Ireland in regards to the Church?

Quinn: Obviously, any coverage and commentary on the Church in the last 20 years has been very dominated by the abuse scandals. Now the abuse scandals, in fact, peaked between 1965 and 1985; that's when most of them happened. And this is, in fact, the period where Canon Law was abandoned, and things went out of control; not only were they not going to the police, they were not even internally handling it properly. But, these cases came to light later… In the 1990s, what was going on in the 1970s and 1980s came to light. And we are still living with the incredibly awful legacy of that period. 

Your average member of the public, I would say, thinks that the scandals are still happening, that the Church still does not have proper child protective procedures in place, has no awareness that the scandals peaked in that 20-year period — which is now quite a long time ago. In fact, the Iona Institute, which I run, commissioned an opinion poll and discovered the average member of the Irish public believes that one in four priests has abused a child, which is an overestimation of a factor of maybe 8 to 1 thereabouts. So, they are looking at priests, and if they see a hundred of them they think twenty-five of them have abused a child. And they probably think that the average age of the child is about five. There is no proper understanding of it, and there is no interest on the part of the general media in bringing about a proper understanding either. 

We see a huge double standard in terms of coverage when some other organization is found to have a catastrophic child protective failure, there is never the same amount of coverage, and never the same amount of outrage. People say we expect a higher standard of the Church. My response to that is: "Fine, but can you at least get half as outraged about state failings as about Church failings? Because you don't get even 10% as outraged."  I have to say that with a certain amount of hesitancy because the Church deserves a lot of what it has got, a lot of the criticism it has received. But there is no doubt as to the double-standard being applied as well.
Part 2Irish Journalist Gives Perspective on Public Opinion and the Abuse Crisis

By Ann Schneible

DUBLIN, Ireland, 12 JUNE 2012 (ZENIT)
Against the anti-Catholicism of the secular media, the Catholic Church in Ireland nonetheless is working toward lasting renewal.

David Quinn, who spoke today at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress under way in Dublin this week, is director of the Iona Institute and a freelance contributor to the Irish Independent and the Irish Catholic. He spoke with ZENIT a few days ago about the crisis in the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the public perception of the Church generated by the secular media.

ZENIT: What sort of media coverage will the Eucharistic Congress be receiving on the part of the secular media?

Quinn: My own paper, the Irish Independent, for example, produced a 20-page supplement a few days ago; the Irish Times this week is running a six-part series about the state of the Church in Ireland. Of course, the profile of the Church is none too flattering, and it's kind of a New York Times-style agenda in that: "if only you would become more liberal everything would be fine." In other words, "if only you conform to the magisterium of the Irish Times." The Irish Times, like the New York Times, is a jealous god that will have no rivals. It sees itself as the sole source of authority, not the Church. It wants the Church to bend to its will, and it gets extremely impatient that it won't. Therefore, it is hypercritical all the time.

Nonetheless, the Eucharistic Congress is getting coverage. In fact, the Irish Times poll has revealed — and this is not the first poll that has revealed this — that an awful lot of Catholics have no idea what the Church believes, or if they do know what it believes, they don't believe it themselves. But that's the same in America, and the same in other countries; there has been a failure to teach as well, or teach wrong doctrine over the last 40 years also.

ZENIT: Though taking place amid the current scandals of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the Eucharistic Congress is not intended to focus primarily on the crisis, but on the center of the Catholic faith which is the Eucharist. Is it possible to redirect public opinion to this Eucharistic center of the Catholic faith, and if so, what would need to be done to make that happen?

Quinn: One of the comparisons being made between today's Eucharistic Congress is with the Eucharistic Congress of 1932, where a million people turned out, and it was seen as a huge source of Irish pride. It was only 10 years after independence, so people were still fervent about a new nation, and the opportunity to assert their Catholicism again. If you take that as the starting point, and you end up at a finish point where maybe 80,000 attend the final Mass compared to the million, there will be no hope of getting anything like that; it would be less than 10%.

Can they get people to focus on the Eucharist? Hopefully they can get ordinary Catholics focused on the Eucharist. But one of the problems is that because of the low morality of the Irish Church, there has been little enthusiasm about the Eucharistic Congress.

Now, it remains to be seen what will happen when it actually begins. As we know, when the Pope went to Britain in September 2010 there was a lot of negativity in the lead-up, and in the end it was a fantastic success. Then of course the Pope was there, so that is obviously a big advantage. I know when the last Eucharistic Congress happened in Quebec a few years ago, initially plenty of negativity — Quebec is extremely secular — and in the end it was judged to be a success because lots of very upbeat, positive, enthusiastic young Catholics turned up, including from overseas. This hasn't been seen in Ireland in years. So I would hope that one of the things we see is a lot of overseas Catholics actually on the street, visibly and manifestly Catholic; such a thing won't have been seen in Dublin in a very long time, and it would be interesting to see what effect that will have on public perception.

ZENIT: Taking the current attitude of the secular media in Ireland towards the Catholic Church as case in point, is it possible for Catholic journalism to emerge as real competitors against the secular media?

Quinn: Not easily. Obviously, the Catholic media in Ireland consists of a couple of papers which would sell a fraction of what secular papers would sell. There is a very small Christian radio station, and really in terms of Catholic or Christian media, that's pretty much it. I just don't see really meaningful competition enough with the secular media from the Christian media in Ireland, unfortunately.

What the Catholic media can obviously do is present the other side of the story, and correct the errors of secular media in terms of coverage, try to teach the Catholic faith, cover stories that the secular media won't go near. At least, you are teaching a portion of the Catholic faith as it actually is on a day-to-day or a weekly basis.

Speaking for myself, apart from the Irish Catholic, I've been writing columns in the mainstream media for 18 years, from the Sunday Times, Irish Independent, and so on. I would do a lot of radio in particular, a little bit of television. In terms of Catholic commentators, I suppose I'm one of the main ones, along with people like Breda O’Brien who writes for the Irish Times. There are three or four of us who would do a lot of work in the secular media, taking part in debates, and trying to counter what we would see as the imbalance of the Irish media. In fact, the Irish media is heavily imbalanced when it comes to coverage of the Catholic Church. I think it's hostile, and when it is not hostile it is deeply ignorant; it just doesn't understand, it doesn't know what it is covering. I contrast with Britain before the Pope came; there were papers who were anti-Pope and those that were pro-Pope. In Ireland, all the papers are anti-Pope, without exception. There is not a paper in Ireland that the Catholic Church can count on to be sympathetic, and so therefore it comes down to small Catholic press, and a handful of journalists who work in the secular media to try and provide balance, which is essentially an impossible task. For every one opportunity the likes of myself or Breda O’Brien would have, the critics would have 10 opportunities.

ZENIT: What needs to happen to bring about renewal within the Church in Ireland?

Quinn: In terms of renewal of the Church in Ireland, we are at an absolutely crucial phase. There are quite a number of dioceses that are either vacant or are soon to be vacant. There is a successor to Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh to be appointed in the next few months; as successor, he won't take over immediately, he will be a coadjutor. It is crucial that he be got right, because obviously the two most important dioceses are Dublin and Armagh, so we are going to need leadership from them. But even with the other smaller diocese, it is crucial that we get good leadership from them too.

The most important Church leader in Ireland right now, in my opinion, is the new nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown. He, of course, worked with Cardinal Ratzinger as he was for quite a number of years in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was sent over to Ireland on a specific mission. He's practically a missionary, in my view. His job is to help renew the faith in Ireland. And maybe after autumn, we will get to see the first of the new bishops appointed, and probably about a year from now we will have a good idea whether we are going to get bishops of the caliber that we need.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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