Martin McGuinness has a history of making us suffer for his religion. During last year’s presidential-election campaign, the former IRA chief went ballistic after a Prime Time debate in which RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan asked him a perfectly reasonable question about his oft-proclaimed devotion to Catholic teaching. “How do you square with your God the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?” wondered O’Callaghan.
Given his vast experience in deciding what constitutes a legitimate target, McGuinness evidently felt on home ground when he angrily declared any questioning of his faith to be “disgraceful”. In one of the campaign’s most chilling incidents, the Sinn Féin candidate demanded a private word with O’Callaghan after the programme, thereby offering the broadcaster a moment of cloistered quiet in which he could examine her conscience.
When it comes to religion, it seems, McGuinness holds certain truths to be self-evident. He may have blood on his hands but there can be no arguing with the sincerity of his belief that he has God on his side.
The righteous indignation with which McGuinness greets even the mildest challenge to his avowed standing as a good Catholic was on display again last week. Endlessly preoccupied with the tortuous theology of their tribal quarrel, politicians in the North have been much slower to confront the implications of the clerical child-abuse revelations than their southern counterparts.
Now that the party has belatedly awoken to the public anger aroused by this issue, however, Sinn Féin seems acutely determined to align itself with the victims.
Speaking in the Northern Assembly, Deputy First Minister McGuinness invited admiration for his refusal to be “silenced” about the shameful conduct of the Catholic church, and the Vatican in particular. He reserved special scorn for what he described as an “attempt to deflect attention from the failings of the Catholic hierarchy”.
At the height of the mounting calls for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, Bishop McKeown had pointedly suggested that some of those throwing stones at the Catholic Church were taking aim from inside a glasshouse.
“People in paramilitary organisations did terrible things to some children and some hid crimes against children when they occurred among their supporters,” he wrote.
McGuinness may well be right; Bishop McKeon was probably trying to muddy the waters. Leaving aside his motivation for making the point at this juncture, however, there is no denying that the bishop was speaking nothing less than the gospel truth.
It should go without saying but it clearly doesn’t: the IRA inflicted infinitely more misery and abuse on Irish children than the Catholic Church. Condemnation of the hopelessly inadequate manner in which Brady, then a 36-year-old priest, handled a 1975 child-abuse inquiry is entirely justified from just about any quarter. But, when representatives of Sinn Féin join the chorus of disapproval, it is reasonable to ask what the head honchos of the Republican movement were up to at that particular time.
McGuinness’ inability to acknowledge the beam in his own eye speaks volumes. By loudly advertising his refusal to be silent — even for a minute’s reflection — he exhibits the kind of pious arrogance that was once the preserve of the most autocratic Catholic bishops.
In McGuinness and Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin boasts the most ostentatiously religious leadership of any mainstream political party on this island (unionist parties included). Yet the ease with which these self-styled Holy Joes resort to bluster and doublespeak when speaking about what they claim are their most fundamental beliefs is breathtaking.
By default rather than merit, Sinn Féin seems set to become the Republic’s most powerful party of protest. Anyone who wishes to savour a taste of what life would be like under a Shinner-led regime should contemplate the myriad hypocrisies of the party’s stance on the clerical child-abuse scandal.
Some day soon, we may find ourselves yearning for the good old days when “Christian soldiers” was just a figure of speech.