Reporting the Catholic Church's Scandal in Ireland: Hindered by Its Secrecy Culture, Irish Journalists Were Helped by Dogged Reporting from Britain. (Journalist's Trade)

By O'Reilly, Emily | Nieman Reports, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Reporting the Catholic Church's Scandal in Ireland: Hindered by Its Secrecy Culture, Irish Journalists Were Helped by Dogged Reporting from Britain. (Journalist's Trade)


O'Reilly, Emily, Nieman Reports


Some years ago, a reporter for the Irish national broadcasting channel, RTE, asked the then-Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, if the archdiocese had paid money to a named victim of clerical sex abuse. The archbishop denied the charge. Later it emerged that the archdiocese had advanced a "loan" to an abusing priest effectively to pay off one of his victims. Strictly speaking, the Cardinal was telling the truth: the archdiocese had not paid the money directly to the victim.

The Cardinal's deeply disingenuous reply would become a watershed for what would transpire in the years ahead--as the painstaking revelations of widespread clerical sexual abuse of children throughout Ireland emerged in the press, as did the attempts to cover up the scandal by some of the most senior members of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

A phenomenon of Irish journalism, and Irish life, is that our scandals are often first made public by reporters in another country, usually Britain. British TV stations beam into Ireland and are watched as easily and almost as regularly as the national channels. In the past 10 to 15 years, two of the biggest stories of corruption were broken by British TV stations. One concerned corrupt practices in the Irish beef industry; the other--clerical sex abuse--was brought to public attention in a series of documentaries.

The Irish media were no less avid than their British counterparts to get these stories out, but two things conspired against them doing so. The primary one was our libel laws. Irish courts demand high standards of proof when it comes to media allegations. Victims' stories, no matter how compelling, were not enough to beat the libel laws. Concepts of freedom of speech and fair comment are not as highly developed in this country as they are in the United States. The second was a sort of cultural censorship, an unwillingness by the news media in general to give the bad news until the populace has been adequately softened up in advance. Sexual deviancy within the priesthood had been whispered about for decades; yet during those years no reporter was prepared to go behind the whispers.

Irish Press Tell the Story

The Irish press began to more aggressively pursue this story around the mid-1990's. At that time, the church was already reeling from a series of scandals that in hindsight seem almost innocent: One concerned the fathering of a child by high-profile and popular Bishop Eamon Casey, the other concerned the fathering of another child by a high-profile Dublin priest. The fact that the media reported both stories proved that a massive sea change had taken place.

In 1994, for reasons too complicated to retell, the Irish government fell--in a very tangential way--over a scandal involving an abusing priest. The revelations that led to the controversy were revealed in a British TV documentary, which opened the floodgates in Ireland. One by one, victims emerged to tell their stories. Investigations were carried out, charges pressed, convictions secured. Once a conviction had been secured, the press at last were able to reveal what had happened and to dig deeper.

The reporting wasn't easy. The Catholic Church stonewalled, denied and hid behind canon law--the laws of the church that appear to bypass the norms of civil law but which in fact have no legal standing. But the media were emboldened by the fact that respect for the church--in the wake of a series of scandals--was collapsing. Culturally, it became much easier for journalists to break the bad news.

Yet the Irish media were still hindered by a secrecy culture. There was precious little access to court or other documents. Unlike The Boston Globe reporters, who were able to access a mountain of church documents and records, the Irish media had to rely on the testimony of victims, most of which, naturally, was uncorroborated. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reporting the Catholic Church's Scandal in Ireland: Hindered by Its Secrecy Culture, Irish Journalists Were Helped by Dogged Reporting from Britain. (Journalist's Trade)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.