The sexual abuse of children is akin to and inseparable from slavery, and thus sadly has molested human civilization for millennia. The past forty years have witnessed a cascade of revelations that have shaken religious, media, business, higher education, and now political organizations worldwide. As painful as have been these revelations, they can be among the most positive advances in human history if in the end they reduce the scourge of abuse. The abused ones who come forward are the heroes whom history should honor and remember.
For the past five years in Ireland, and especially the past few months, the child sex abuse accusations brought forth by the courageous and determined Mairia Cahill (born in 1981 in West Belfast), the grandniece of the former chief of staff of the IRA and herself the former National Secretary of Ogra Shinn Féin, have rocked the Sinn Fein party with greater intensity. Ms. Cahill (pronounced, caa’-hill, with emphasis on the first syllable) claimed to have been abused as a teen by an IRA member at a safe house, and to have been subjected to continual mistreatment by the IRA when she came forward with her accusations. In addition, Ms. Cahill claimed that the IRA simply “exiled” this alleged abuser south to the Republic of Ireland after forcing her to confront her alleged abuser in an IRA-staged extra-legal trial. Ms. Cahill furthermore has claimed that on numerous occasions the IRA secretly exiled sexual abusers to the south of Ireland, and perhaps executed some, and that Sinn Fein has systematically covered up these extra-legal actions for years.
Ms. Cahill has taken a growing, public role in the political arena with her accusations (you can skip to minute 4:05 for her own remarks) —
Sinn Fein for its part began first to respond, like religious and other leaders facing similar accusations, with outright denial, then an appeal for people to come forward with information, then apology, and most recently, their call for an all-Ireland “sex abuse initiative.”
Contrast the decisive statements of Sinn Fein politician Mary Lou McDonald against clergy sex abuse in 2009 —
with Ms. McDonald’s own positively “episcopal” statements about accusations of abuse late in 2014 —
In the past week, another victim claiming similar IRA abuse and coverup, Paudie McGahon, 40, came forward–
–causing a second shoe to drop for Sinn Fein.
There are numerous videos online of interviews and statements by Ms. Cahill, perhaps the longest and most dramatic being from the BBC Spotlight NI program late in 2014 —
I pray for Ms. Cahill’s safety, and for healing and even joy for her and other victims. She continues to put herself at great risk on behalf of others. Her presence of mind and spirit are indeed admirable, and are an example of the grand and good gifts that the Irish people give to the world.
Professor Liam Kennedy of Queen’s University Belfast has called for a wider inquiry into the abuse, both physical and sexual, of children by paramilitary groups, estimating five hundred such cases —
Such inquiries can contribute to what St. John Paul II called the “healing of memories.”
I offer only a theory in reflection: My theory is that the culture of abuse is historically paired with the culture of slavery. Dublin was used as a slave-trade center centuries ago by the Norse. I wonder if patterns of sexual abuse might be traced across millennia from similar ancient, slave-trading ports, which may have established patterns of sick behavior that hid within the more advanced culture that grew over such ancient ills. Abuse and organizations tending toward secrecy made and do make a deadly pair, and can perpetuate the abuse. Happily, the extraordinary witness of Ms. Cahill gives us hope that abuse is foreign to civilization, and not intrinsic to it.
A podcast of the completed talk will be posted here. For more about St. Katharine Drexel, please visit the website of the order she founded, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
I chose the subtitle “Friend of the Oppressed,” because it recalls the book on St. Katharine Drexel by African American Catholic author Ellen Tarry, 1906-2008, one of the founding co-directors of Friendship House, Chicago in 1942.
One use of political partisanship is to stand apart from history and to judge it, as one intellectually and morally superior to the mistakes of others. This I call the practice of identity maintenance, and it often leads to no good purpose and to the social pursuit of political illusion.
But one’s own life can change, and sometimes the world can change, when one is compromised by love and engaged by humility to accept the fact of one’s predicament, to cease standing apart, and to remain standing in. While standing in, one can try to shape apparent madness into some form of sanity, to turn despair into joy, even for the briefest of moments.
Jesus called us to carry our cross daily. This force of this call is echoed in the writings of Shakespeare, of Tolstoy, of Dostoyevsky, of Undset, of Pasternak, and of Faulkner.
We live, and love, and die at a particular place, at a particular time. We can accept this particular place and time, and try to do something with it, or else live in illusion.
Love and humility are not so much about being right, but about being alive and sharing life’s burden and predicament for the benefit of others.
Jesus Christ transformed the family by making the marital relationship permanent in Matthew 19: 3-12, and by drawing all to spiritual kinship by calling all, including families, to hear and to keep the Word of God in Mark 3:31-35 and in Luke 11:27-28.
A family joins Christ’s family, becoming His brothers and sisters, when they do the will of God. A family may be a wonderful family, but they might not be joined to Christ’s family unless they hear His Word and keep it.
Christian families are therefore called not only to be family to each other, but to be members of Christ’s family.
The 20th century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), best known in the English-speaking world for his writings on human intimacy and personality, aesthetics, ethics, and the liturgy, was also an active and determined opponent of the National Socialist or Nazi movement from its early days in the 1920s.
When Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, von Hildebrand, who had a decade earlier been condemned to death by the first Nazi thugs, left the country, and eventually settled in Vienna, where he led, through his journal Der Christliche Ständestaat (the Christian Corporative State, a concept that drew its inspiration from Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno) and his partnership the soon-to-be-assassinated Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, an intellectual resistance to Nazism and especially to anti-Semitism, until von Hildebrand was again forced to flee Austria as Hitler’s Anschluss absorbed that country in 1938.
While reviews of My Battle Against Hitler have focused on von Hildebrand’s adventurous fight with and narrow escapes from Nazism, I urge readers to study his 1930s essays collected as a group in this memoir. While it is fun to learn how von Hildebrand and his friends tricked the Nazis into allowing his furniture to be shipped from Munich to Vienna after his flight from Germany, and sobering to read how many were taken in by the Nazis, it is better to read the focused, insightful, and passionate words of von Hildebrand written at the time against the steady advance of anti-Semitism and Nazism.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), once the teenage student paramour of philosopher and later sometime Nazi Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), achieved fame in 1963 with her coining of the phrase “banality of evil” in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. Yet von Hildebrand’s November 10, 1935 Der Christliche Ständestaat essay, translated as “The Danger of Becoming Morally Blunted,” contemporaneously described this blunting process as it was happening decades before Arendt. This essay alone is worth the price of My Battle Against Hitler, since it describes how moral compromise can weaken us all. The power of anti-Semitism as a moral anesthetic that deadens resistance to violent extremism is very much still at work today, whether in the Middle East, in Russia, or in First World cultural elites.
My compliments to John Henry Crosby, Alice von Hildebrand, John F. Crosby, and all those from the Hildebrand Project who spent the decade necessary to bring this book to English-language readers.
I understand that the Hildebrand Project intends to eventually post all the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand online. I especially look forward to more Der Christliche Ständestaat essays, and especially to an English translation of his Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft: Untersuchungen über Wesen und Wert der Gemeinschaft, or The Metaphysics of Community.
Christians who remove the corpus, or body of Christ, from the crucifix, leaving only the cross, commit the same offence that Peter did when denying the sufferings of Christ in Matthew 16:21-23, for which Christ said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Some non-Catholic Christians who prefer the cross without the body are like Muslims in this respect, in that they deny the reality of the sufferings of Christ.
Some Christians who are scandalized by the wealth and misconduct of the Church leave it after they see Rome or the residence of a wealthy clergyman. But few who carry the Cross following the suffering Christ, and stand at the foot of his Cross, walk away from Christ and His Church.