YOU DO not have to travel very far to see things rather differently. Having been on holiday in Donegal for a fortnight I have followed the Roman Catholic Church's sex-abuse crisis, and the meeting between the US cardinals and the Pope, through the Irish newspapers which, thanks to the country's Catholic legacy, are far more sophisticated in their analysis than is the British press. It has been an instructive exercise.
On the one hand the Irish papers, while not exactly deferential, are far more prepared to listen to the Church's account. It was interesting, for example, to learn from Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry at Dublin's Mater Hospital, writing in The Irish Times, that until 1986 there were only 13 papers on paedophilia listed in peer-reviewed psychiatric journals. The fact gave some credibility to the Pope's recent statement that "a generalised lack of knowledge of the nature of the problem led bishops to make decisions which subsequent events showed to be wrong".
But the Irish media are also better at looking beyond the sensation of the scandal to ask detailed questions about how the Church should now change. How will it handle new claims of old abuse? How full will its co-operation be with the civil authorities? How will it approach new cases of clerical sex abuse? How will it better prepare seminarians? Above all, will it show a proper sense of contrition?
The signs coming out of Rome have not been encouraging. In the final statement on their meeting the Pope and cardinals pointed out that all the complaints against US priests involved adolescents "and therefore were not true cases of paedophilia". It was a curious distinction, which seemed to imply that the behaviour of offenders had somehow not been that bad really. That impression was reinforced by later comments. "It's not truly a paedophile-type problem but a homosexual-type problem," said Cardinal Adam Maida, of Detroit. "Same-sex abuse of minors is more offensive than heterosexual abuse of minors," said Cardinal Francis George, of Chicago.
These ageing cardinals seem to be making it up as they go along, and with distinctions based more in theology - and a reactionary interpretation of it, at that - than in the insights of clinical psychology or contemporary instincts about accountability and transparency. It is all part of a growing climate in Rome that those with homosexual orientation, celibate or not, should be screened out of the priesthood. The scent of a witch hunt is in the air. There may be, as the Pope has said, no scientific link shown between paedophilia and celibacy, but nor is there between child abuse and homosexuality. …