One of Ireland's most influential columnists, and a long time critic of the the Catholic Church, has admitted that there is a culture of hostility in the Irish media towards religion.
In an interview with the Irish Catholic, Fintan O'Toole,
assistant editor for the Irish Times, said that the media's coverage of religion
was “snobbish and dismissive”.
And he accepted that people were “quite right to be upset about that and critical of the attitude - I think it is there”.
He said that a second problem with the Irish media's coverage of religion was a certain “dumbing down” regarding issues concerning values and morality.
Ireland needed, he
said “a healthy public arena in which the discussion of ideas in general is
Mr O'Toole also admitted that “it no longer takes any courage to attack the Church”.
He added that he had
“a lot of sympathy” with people who feel that religion is badly represented in
the Irish media.
He said: “In general, I don't think the complaint is inaccurate. I think it's a reasonably well-founded complaint that the media in general do not reflect that reality.”
And he acknowledged
that most Irish journalists tended to be less religious than the country as a
He admitted that the Irish Times had not made any conscious efforts to be more reflective of the views of Irish society at large for what he called “cultural” reasons.
He said that the
function of the Irish Times' had always been to operate in “an overwhelmingly
He said: “It's a fair point that, psychologically, the paper is probably still orientated in that way even though the society has changed completely and there is no longer this Catholic monolith to bang your head against- it no longer takes any courage to attack the Church.
“What was the Irish
Times' agenda is now pretty much mainstream
- it's broadly speaking where most of
the media is at.
“I think there's a very valid question to be asked of the paper, which is: 'Okay, you were brave and campaigning from a minority position back then, but is that valid in exactly the same way now?' and the answer it is it isn't.”
Mr O'Toole also
acknowledged the child abuse issue was being used to “get at Catholicism” and
that suggestions that Catholicism was innately linked to child abuse were
He said the issue “has nothing to do with Catholicism”.
He said that “a lot
of people have been trying to use this to get at Catholicism [by saying that]
it's fundamentally corrupt and therefore it leads to the abuse of
He said: “This is complete rubbish and it's demonstrably rubbish. Most child abuse happens within families and there are umpteen cases of Protestant orphanages.
“It has nothing
innately to do with Catholicism, it has to do with power.”
Meanwhile, a former member of the Ferns Inquiry and co-author of that 2005 report has said that the ''relentless media and political focus on Church-related abuse'' is obscuring the real problem of child neglect.
Dr Helen Buckley, who
is a senior research fellow in Trinity College's children's research centre,
told the Irish Catholic that while the child abuse issues raised in the Cloyne
and Dublin reports were serious, the focus was ''disproportionate'' and ''not
representative'' of the real problem of abuse in Ireland.
Dr Buckley said the majority of children suffer not from abuse but neglect and this is ''being marginalised due to the focus on Cloyne''.
She said as regards
child protection the ''biggest problem is not reporting but responding'' by the
State, and noted that ''people feel there's no point'' in reporting cases of
suspected abuse, because so many are screened out.
She cited a recent report which found that of some 24,000 recent reports to the HSE, about 90 per cent were screened out. She said the ''thresholds are very high''.
Dr Buckley said that ''while child abuse is an important issue, neglect is a much more widespread issue'' and said that programmes to support families, such as Springboard, are being cut.
She added that the
''media is preoccupied with issues that relate to sexuality and the Church''.
This media focus then provokes a ''political response'' focused on these
She said the ''media needs to engage with the real problem of child abuse'' and ''the biggest problem is the capacity of the system to respond'' to both neglect and abuse. However, she sees ''very little interest in that''.