Yesterday, I, like so many others, tweeted a link to Rosita Boland’s remarkable interview with Ann Lovett’s former boyfriend Ricky McDonnell. I wrote: The Catholic Church’s weaponising of silence has devastated so many lives across this country. Anyone who doubts they are an empire of misogyny, as Mary McAleese so aptly put it, needs to read this.
I want to say a few words about what a weaponised silence is, and how it works. Silence can confer absence, a lack, a kind of emptiness. However, we can also understand silence as productive; sometimes by not saying something, we in fact say it all. It is silence which gives stigma its deadly weight; it is silence that erases and contains uncomfortable histories. In silence, we find complicity; silence is the bedfellow of the blind eye and the squinting window.
Over the twentieth century, silence was both part-cause and repository for the horrors inflicted by the Church, State and communities of Ireland against their most vulnerable. The suffering of girls like Ann Lovett was met with silence, denied by silence. This was not a silence of peace or reflection or healing. This was a silence cultivated to intimidate, indoctrinate, and for the worst offenders, devastate. It was weaponised, and would have remained so were it not for the bravery of victims who refused to be subsumed by its weight.
In a country so scarred by silence, conversations and truth-telling are a spoken revolution, forming the thousand tiny cracks that eventually fracture the whole. Enforced silence is a way to keep people from each other, to lock them into their individual suffering, sure in their shame that no one else could possibly understand. Incredible things happen when people refuse to be imprisoned this way. They are happening right now, a glorious, cathartic rabble of pain and hope and grief, shredding old ligatures, flooding our collective consciousness, bringing, at last, the light.