Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mary Kenny’s new book whitewashes the sins of the Catholic Church (Op-Ed)

 The Way We Were - Columba Books

In her new book, Mary Kenny – my fellow member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement – upbraids me for criticising the Catholic Church: I had two priests and a nun in my family. Tsk!

It feels like a strange admonishment, since the zeitgeist dictates only people from within a culture can critique it, but it fits with Mary’s system here: everything the church did in Ireland was basically grand, and anyone criticising it is flawed. Her “proofs” – people and events – isolated from their context and politics, must all march to the rat-tat-tat of Mary’s drum.

So, the church/state relationship wasn’t a toxic pact but a “marriage”. Who cares that the church, given control of social and educational affairs by Parnell in return for its support in the national struggle, developed a regime so repressive that 1950s Ireland had, per head of population, more people incarcerated in institutions run by the church, than the Soviet Union?

A regime where Mother and Baby Homes were filled by Irish families, so ashamed of their pregnant daughters that they exposed them, and their grandchildren, to brutality, adoption without trace to America, or to lifelong servitude in a Magdalene laundry?

That such viciousness arose from brainwashing by the church is not mentioned.

It was a regime where girls and their families were denounced from the altar, Archbishop McQuaid had spies in maternity hospitals so that no “illegitimate” baby escaped the church’s clutches, and “saintly” Eamon De Valera’s son, a gynaecologist, personally assisted in the adoption of babies to the US.

Even the deeply flawed report of 2021 on Mother and Baby Homes admits to 9,000 baby deaths at the hands of the nuns – meaning the real number must be multiples of that. Hundreds of thousands of young Irish girls, and boys, had their lives destroyed in institutions overseen by the church hierarchy. But Kenny’s interpretation is that it was the church selflessly clearing up society’s messes.

Then comes the contraception train (here inexplicably re-named the “condom train”) which Mary claims to be too bored to even think about anymore. Far from being a brilliant ‘up yours’ to church and state, she now sees it as a “lark”, a “prank” – and anyway we all know the pill was always legal, really. She herself had received this “packaged anovulant” from a GP.

When the Pope (“this poor crushed, beaten man”) came visiting, he was made to apologise for what the church had done. Apologise! Though Mary doesn’t mention he wasn’t “poor, crushed, beaten” or apologetic enough to cough up the €3.1bn his church still owes victims of abuse.

And so, on Mary merrily goes with her bucket of whitewash. In the Bible according to Mary, Savita didn’t die because of the 8th Amendment, that gave a foetus equal status to its mother, she died of sepsis. End of.

And again, according to Mary, Philomena Lee had a hard time of course, the nuns lying to her and her son for 50 years as each of them begged for information, with Philomena only finding her son in his grave the nuns had made him pay for.

But no, this was not cruelty on the nuns’ part, says Mary; it was Philomena’s family’s fault for putting her into a Mother and Baby Home in the first place. See?

And, Mary assures us the famous drag queen Danny La Rue was a “lifelong Catholic from Cork” who didn’t come out as gay because he was too “discreet”. Which is a scream, as the truth is he didn’t come out because doing so in the 1960s would have been career suicide.

As for Seán MacBride, here re-cast as a saint, of course Mary tells us he didn’t backstab Noel Browne, the man responsible for the best TB eradication programme in Europe, who when he tried to bring in free health care for mothers and children aged up to 16, terrified the church and medical elite so comprehensively he had to be got rid of.

And for all those doubters in the back row, Mary breezily assures us, “for long centuries” Christianity has been “the soul of Ireland”. Without it, civilisation falls, and we’ll all end up eating smashed avocados on toast, chanting ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries’ at the last nun.

Those wondering how this once brilliant, feisty feminist transmogrified into a prim apologist for Catholicism won’t find all the answers here – but there are some clues. When Mary left Dublin to re-join Fleet Street she was, she explains, “lost” and this was a “career misstep”. As she writes here, she “wasn’t experienced enough to do the London job”.

Is it presumptuous to conclude that, with whip-smart feminists then two a penny in the UK, maybe Catholicism gave her a tribe?

It makes me so angry. And so sad.

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