The Pope has issued a pastoral letter this week. It concerns child abuse by Catholic priests. How can anyone take this letter seriously when the Vatican has sheltered Cardinal Bernard Law from accusations that he actively concealed child abusing priests when he was in charge in Boston, Massachusetts? When the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, played an active role, as a young man, in making sure that ten year old children were prevailed upon and frightened into swearing oaths to keep silent for ever about the fact that they had been sexually abused by a priest called Brendan Smyth?
Is it possible to feel anything but disgust not just for these criminal priests and their crimes but for the poisonous hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in covering them up?
It seems now to be normal in Britain for the guardians of public order to lie, to dissimulate, to prevaricate, to conceal their misdeeds without shame, hesitation or any need to explain or excuse their actions.
"Scotland Yard has not disciplined a single police officer for failing to display a badge number at least year's G20 protest" wrote the Guardian on 19th. March, despite the Met Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, promising that officers caught deliberately covering their badge numbers would be sacked.
As for Lord Ashcroft, words almost fail me. Ten years ago, he seems to have assured William Hague, the Leader of the Opposition, that he would become resident in the U.K. and pay tax here on all his earnings and he then re-negotiated the deal (with the apparent help of the Conservative Chief Whip) so that he gained all the benefits of a peerage without conforming to the assurances and meeting the obligations that he had accepted.
Is Lord Ashcroft contrite?
Are he and Mr. Hague in sackcloth and ashes together?
Not a bit of it.
"The intricacies of the (Ashcroft) affair," wrote the Guardian in a leader on 18th. March , "will leave many people lost. No rules, it seems were broken - only carefully walked around. No outright lies were told - only whole truths not spoken."
How very, superbly, British.
It makes me almost embarrassed to accuse Rome and the Pope of hypocrisy. Whitehall and Westminster could teach the Vatican more than a thing or two about concealing the truth and covering things up.
Another example from the Guardian, 17th. March, of the British talent for breaking the law whilst not admitting it, for penalising the whistleblower and not the wrong-doer:-
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, a lawyer and professional soldier, drew the attention of the commanding officer of a British regiment serving in Iraq to what his soldiers were doing to their prisoners, which appeared to this senior soldier-lawyer to be illegal under the terms of the Geneva conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights.
This resulted in a "massive" row.
Later, the Lieutenant Colonel "walked out of a meeting between British officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross after being told by a "political adviser" to keep his mouth shut."
"Mercer's protests about the unlawful treatment of Iraqis in British custody were so unwelcome within the Ministry of Defence that his boss, Martin Hemming, head of its legal service, threatened to report him to the Law Society," claimed the Guardian, summarising his evidence to the Baha Mousa inquiry.
How could a senior lawyer like Martin Hemmings set aside his over-riding obligation to probity, to rectitude, to the law itself, seemingly acting as if honesty and morality were simply negotiable commodities, to be used (or misused) in any way that might be convenient to those in charge?
Martin Hemming prepared statements for the Commons human rights committee which Mercer and General Robin Brims, commander of British troops in southern Iraw actually refused to sign because (it seems) they concealed the facts about the unlawful treatment to which Iraqi detainees were being subjected.
(Lieutenant Colonel Mercer is still serving in the Army.
I wonder what his prospects are now of making full Colonel?)
As another Guardian article suggested (also 17th. March), whistleblowers at Lehman Brothers (Matthew Lee) and at British Biotech (Andrew Millar) and at HBOS (Paul Moore) all lost their jobs when they advised their bosses that their respective companies might be guilty of false accounting, unethical behaviour and reckless lending.
Being right (as these three were) is no defence.
Being wrong allows complacency without compunction.
The more wrong you are, the more brass face you seem able to muster.
In this spirit, let us turn to Dame Eliza Manningham Buller, the former head of MI5.
She wrote to the Guardian on 15th. March stating carefully and precisely and very guardedly that she "did not know exactly what had been done specifically to Khalid Sheik Mohammed until after I retired."
In this way, she attempted to rebut the suggestion implied by the Guardian's careful research (published on 11th. March) that evidence of the Americans torturing prisoners (or outsourcing the torture of rendered prisoners) was available five years before Manningham Buller left MI5 in 2007.
Much of this evidence was published in very reputable newspapers, notably the New York Times.
Many of these accounts also suggested the MI5 or MI6 staff were close at hand when such torture occurred and had fed questions they wanted answered to the torturers or collaborated with torturers in other ways.
If Dame Eliza did not know about these accusations and these reports, she had kept herself in ignorance with extraordinary dedication.
Did she not read any newspapers at all while she was in charge of a major British security agency?