The more things change, the more they stay the same — 1500 years after they were expelled from this country, exiled snakes and their descendants have broken their silence on the move by Welsh churchman St Patrick to drive them from this country.
Much of what is known about the departure of the snakes is shrouded in mystery, in myth and in rumour. Some say there were never any snakes, some say it never happened, but now the silence has been broken and we can confirm just how their ostracisation became complete.
In documents released this week, it is believed that St Patrick (then a lowly Fr Patrick ) met with the snakes in a formal setting to see if they could explain why they should be allowed remain in Ireland, even if he knew that he wasn’t really going to accommodate them no matter how worthy their argument. It must be noted that at this meeting, Fr Patrick was merely a recording secretary and was not making any of the big decisions.
The second time he met them, Fr Patrick was on his own. He was still recording the notes of the meeting, but this time, surprisingly for a lowly priest, he was asking the questions. He told the snakes that they were to sign a confidentiality agreement about the plan to make them extinct. Fr Patrick knew that despite the protestations of the snakes that they be allowed stay in Ireland, they were not going to be granted the right to stay. He knew that for the good of the country, you could not have reptiles like these going around biting and poisoning everyone.
And so they were all rounded up one Saturday and driven over to Larne and from there they were brought to mainland Europe, where the climate would suit them better and where they were more likely to bite heathens or suntanned Catholics who were beyond temptation.
Fr Patrick had done a good job and he did not have any guilt about what he had done. And was rewarded with sainthood for his endeavours. Later when it was pointed out that what he had done was wrong, he said that “I was only doing the best for the country, and by the rules at the time, I had to drive them from Ireland. I know now that there are new guidelines for dealing with making species extinct now and that in hindsight, I may regret what I did.” Under these new guidelines , church people are not allowed make species extinct. Instead, if a church person now fears that this is about to happen, he is obliged to report it to the wildlife services who will take it from there.
Fast forward 1500 years and we find out that the actions which allegedly drove the snakes from Ireland are still being used in church circles. Lowly church people are being used to suss out vulnerable child rape victims, intimidate them with stiff church formality, threaten them with excommunication and social ostracisation if they tell a word to the services they need. Ignore their obvious counselling and comforting needs. Then 30 years later, when playing ball has been rewarded with high office, you can say sorry, but I was only following orders.
But it’s too late for redemption now. It was wrong to expel snakes and it is even more wrong to abdicate social, moral and Christian responsibilities and to allow vulnerable children who had been raped to be abused a second time by such a process. It is time now for us to know how many other bishops played along with this process on the road to high office in every diocese in Ireland. If the Cardinal is guilty, I am sure he is not alone.