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t was an inspired choice of Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor to take with him on his apostolic visitation to Ireland in the wake of the child-abuse scandals the for- mer president of the (British) Royal College of Psychiatrists, Baroness (Sheila) Hollins. In the light of the numerous cases of abuse by priests and nuns, this is tacit acknowledgement that the primary concern in the Church has rightly become the emo- tional wellbeing of victims. And the example that has struck Baroness Hollins is of victims helping victims. “I think there is a lesson here for us: that those who have experienced abuse are our essential teachers,” she said in an address to a service of penitence and healing in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Giving a central place to victims, and to victims helping vic- tims, is not a comfortable choice for the Catholic Church. The organisations that represent them are often unyielding in their outrage, most of all at the internal culture which promoted the marginalisation of victims and collusion in cover-up among clerics. Some of the public meetings that Cardinal Murphy- O’Connor convened in the last few weeks in Ireland have been turbulent. This is healthy. Unless the church authorities in Ireland really take on board the anger of their people there is little chance of moving on. But cathartic anger and per- sonal healing, however important, do not go far enough. The structures of clericalism remain. Something else Baroness Hollins said in Armagh is significant: “Sexual abuse is almost always perpetrated by people who are in positions of power and authority, people whom the child or vulnerable adult

trusts.” How can they ever learn to trust again? she asked. The answer that her question invites is: by deliberately over- turning the pyramid of power and authority that is the Catholic Church’s dominant feature, and not just in Ireland. The Church has to take seriously the often repeated platitude that the laity is the primary witness to the Gospel in modern society, and not just as dutiful infantry commanded by mighty episcopal generals. Or, as Fr Timothy Radcliffe put it in an address to clergy of Dublin Archdiocese last year: “We shall only really address this crisis if we learn from Jesus who is ‘gentle and lowly of heart’, and find ways of embodying authority which honour the equal dignity of all the baptised … Careful vetting of candidates for the priesthood and child-safety procedures are necessary, but they will not get to the root of the prob- lem.” There had to be an end to the “culture of control”, with its climate of “stiff clericalism and authoritarianism”. Part of the paradox is that the very people who administer such a destructive system are often personally humble and devout. This suggests that the focus needs to be on structural failings as much on personal ones, even to the extent of ask- ing whether the Church’s internal architecture has become the kind of “structure of sin” that Pope John Paul II warned about in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (a thought that would probably have horrified him). Unless the apostolic visitation to Ireland – and the Vatican in its response to it – is prepared to address such painful possibilities, whatever waves it has caused will quickly fade away leaving things much as they were before.


s the BBC announces nearly 1,000 job losses, the battle has hotted up for control of one of its chief rivals, Sky. Rupert Murdoch has flown unexpect- edly to Britain to support News Corporation’s bid to acquire the 61 per cent of shares in the satellite broadcaster that it does not already own. A third of the lost BBC jobs will be at the BBC’s news website – which will no doubt please Mr Murdoch, as he regards its popular free service as unfairly under- mining subscription websites such as that run by Times Newspapers. The larger share of lost BBC jobs will be at the BBC World

Service, and amount to a deplorable act of cultural vandal- ism, triggered by a cut in government funding, against a broadcasting station still trusted around the world. Indeed, had some of its editorial values been present in Mr Murdoch’s most notorious broadcasting venture, Fox News in the United States, he might have found the critics of his fully owning Sky a little less vociferous. Fox is widely blamed for the atmosphere of poisonous right-wing rancour that has besmirched American politics since the election of Barack Obama. Once he fully owned Sky, say those critics, what would be to stop it having an equally toxic effect in Britain? At present the statutory regulator Ofcom requires impar-

tiality, and Ofcom –like the BBC website –is one of the Murdoch empire’s pet hates. Given his influence over Government, hardly less with the present one than its predecessor, people can be forgiven for thinking that what Rupert Murdoch wants, Rupert Murdoch gets. Full ownership of Sky, with his existing own- ership of The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sunand The News

2 | THE TABLET | 29 January 2011

of the World, would give him control of more than half of the British news media. This is why Ofcom has recommended a full investigation by the Competition Commission into the impact of the Sky purchase by News Corporation, with spe- cial reference to plurality. That could kill it. What can happen when arrogant news organisations grow overmighty is well illustrated by Mr Murdoch’s other current British headache, the phone-hacking scandal at The News of the World. It has already seen two people sent to prison. As ever, attention focuses more on efforts to cover up wrongdo- ing than on the wrongdoing itself, which mainly lies in the area of celebrity gossip. But the scandal has just cost the job of David Cameron’s chief media adviser, Andy Coulson, who has denied under oath knowing anything about a practice that others say was widespread on the paper he used to edit. The initial failure of the Metropolitan Police to pursue allegations to the point where further prosecutions were possible under- mined public confidence, particularly when it was claimed that The News and the World and certain members of the police had forged too cosy a relationship. The announcement this week that Scotland Yard is to launch a new criminal investi- gation in the light of “significant new information” it has received may go some way to restoring that confidence. Mr Murdoch is no monster. Journalism and broadcasting owe him a lot; he is also a generous philanthropist. But his success has brought him power and political influence beyond what is healthy for any one man, and he has used it to his own advantage. By his own lights that is legitimate; but that does not make it in the public interest.

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