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Fergus Finlay’s call to ban religious orders is unhinged

Personally speaking, I go back and forth on whether the death penalty is justified for the most heinous crimes. It’s genuinely a tough one. I see the pros and the cons for each position, and it’s something I’ve grappled with from time to time.

However, if anything was going to knock me off the fence on the issue, it would probably be stories like the ones we heard from Blackrock College recently about the sickening and depraved abuse of underaged students at the hands of Catholic clergy.

As most of us have heard by now, there were 57 allegations of sexual abuse made against individuals who worked at Blackrock, and 233 complaints against 77 priests. This represents literally hundreds of people who have had their lives systematically destroyed over the course of years by the appalling abuse of men of the cloth. If just one of those claims was true, let alone all of them, it should go without saying that it is an utter abomination.

As a devout Catholic myself, stories like this remind me of the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 18:6, where he said, referring to children: “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

The position of the Man Upstairs, then, as I understand it as a Catholic, is that those who abuse or corrupt the innocence of children would be better off dead compared to what He has in store for them. And when you see the impact that such crimes have on the victims, it’s hard to argue with that being anything less than perfect divine justice.

But while everyone has rightly and appropriately reacted with fury to the news, as they should, some appear to have gone far beyond simply being outraged at a crime. Some seem to have tipped over into using this opportunity to launch an unhinged attack on the entire Catholic religion in general, in a way that they would never do for any other faith.

Enter the Irish Examiner’s Fergus Finlay, in his piece this week entitled “Why do we still allow religious orders to exist?”

As the piece reads:

“Why do we still allow these religious orders to exist? They are nothing more than vehicles for corruption and abuse, and they need to be shut down…They should not be allowed to incorporate themselves as companies or as charities. They should not be allowed to be heard in the courts. They should never be allowed to present to the Houses of the Oireachtas or to lobby the government. They should under no circumstances be allowed to collect money from the public…They should not be allowed to own property in the name of the order, nor to buy and sell property. They should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to run any entity — school, hospital, or any other institution — that is funded in whole or in part by the State.”

Finlay adds:

“I know good and decent people who are members of religious orders — my late brother, whom I loved — was one, and I have other relatives I’ve written about before. But I don’t know any religious order that is capable of refuting the accusation that it is, in its essence, a corrupt and secret society.”

Now it goes without saying that if you took this exact article, and instead subbed out “Catholic” and “sex abuse” for “Muslim” and “terrorism,” there’d be an Irish Examiner piece up within the hour – possibly written by Fergus Finlay – denouncing you for “painting a whole religious group with a broad brush.” They’d describe you as a small-minded bigot and a fascist, and heap scorn and abuse on you to no end – and we all know that’s true, including the Examiner themselves.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter is, it is bordering on deranged and insanity to want to deprive all religious organisations – even ones that have done nothing wrong – of their most basic rights.

For example, Finlay said that religious orders “should not be allowed to be heard in the courts.”

I’m actually not aware of any other group in society that isn’t allowed to speak in court. Serial killers, child molesters and terrorists are allowed to speak in court. Drug dealing torturers and axe murderers can speak in court. So the idea that all Catholic religious orders should be banned from speaking, even including perfectly innocent ones that are not guilty of any crime, is nothing short of psychotic.

One could also point to the fact that Finlay said he doesn’t believe that these Catholic groups should be allowed to raise money from the public.

To be clear, nobody is forced to donate to the church at gunpoint – it is one hundred percent voluntary and optional, and can be done by choice if people so wish. So this proposal is basically tantamount to some old granny wanting to give a tenner to a religious group to go towards charitable works, and Fergus Finlay barges in between them to stop the transaction, simply because he doesn’t like that the group exists.

It’s also fairly extreme that he says they should not be allowed to own property of any kind.

Again, as mentioned earlier: if you were a terrorist psychopath who blew up a children’s hospital and then got out of prison, you would be allowed to own property. If you could raise the money to purchase a house, you would be allowed to do so by law. But apparently law-abiding Catholic institutions can’t, in this journalist’s mind, simply because of guilt by association.

All of this effectively adds up to a kind of hateful, anti-religious authoritarianism that would make Joseph Stalin blush. It is an absolutely insane proposal, with no sense of reason or proportionality, and the fact that it actually made it to print in a mainstream paper is astonishing.

Articles like this, and statements by TDs like Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin calling for the state to seize Church property, represent absolutely unfounded attacks against the vast bulk of religious people who were every bit as sickened by these atrocities as the rest of society.

Take Fr. Paddy McCafferty as a prime example, who was a victim of said abuse himself, and yet chose to go on and become a priest regardless because of his love for the Catholic faith.

There are many people who don’t identify the warmth and love they find in the Church with some of the sick deviants who might inhabit it. There isn’t an organisation on earth which is free from corruption of this sort – from teachers, to politicians, to doctors, to journalists. Wherever there are human beings, there are those who will prey on the weak and innocent. And it’s the job of decent people to root out said scum and punish them accordingly – not to launch blunderbuss attacks on entire sections of society who had no hand in any crime.

Articles like this would never be allowed to be written about any other faith, and the fact that this sort of rhetoric is so openly accepted shows an ugliness and intolerance that lies just under the surface of our society.



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