Catholic Priests Played a Part in IRA Killings, New BBC Documentary Reveals

Imagine: You’re a priest. A group of Catholic terrorists has kidnapped another victim who they believe is a traitor. After a few days of violent interrogation, they’re ready to kill him and “disappear” his body. The devout kidnappers ask you to come to their hideout to give the victim his last rites; they say that now that they’re done with him, they don’t mind him going to heaven.

Do you go?

Morally, it isn’t a black-and-white issue.

Remember, it is your belief that if you do what’s asked, you’ll save a man’s eternal soul. You’ll also buy influence with the terrorists, potentially giving you a chance to affect the outcome of future kidnappings.

But you also know that by providing your religious services, you’ll be making it easier for the captors to pull the trigger — and visit deep, prolonged anguish upon the murdered man’s family, who will probably never find out what happened to him. Plus, you’ll make it easier for the gang to kill future victims.

And there’s this:

[T]he ritual of bringing a priest to a person under interrogation might be an act of mental torture; an attempt to convince the person that he, or she, really is about to die, turn the screw a bit further before pulling the trigger, in the hope of exacting a confession.

A new BBC documentary, The Disappeared, looks back on the handiwork of the IRA — and that of local clergy – during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

The Belfast Telegraph has a fair summing-up of the moral dilemma faced by the priests. If you’d been in their shoes, what would you have done?

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Mick

    If you’d been in their shoes, what would you have done?

    Call the police.

    If I am ever captured, the thing that would keep me going is the thought that my capture has been reported and the police are searching for me.

    • keddaw

      “Call the police”

      Fucking genius. It’s not like those bar stewards were in on any of it, was it? Or the priest had access to communicate with the relevant ‘clean’ authorities even if he knew who they were.

      • Guest

        The police of the day in Northern Ireland were every bit as dirty as the IRA kidnappers.

        • McFidget

          Some certainly were. But the vast majority joined up to protect people during a time of extreme unrest, knowingly making themselves a target, knowing they could be targeted by a sniper in the streets of Belfast, knowing their families could be attacked simply because they want to help make things a little better. I know a fair few men who where police officers at the time. Brave men who risked everything. I’ve met several who have lost limbs in explosions. The ignorant blanket statement you are making disgusts me. I am literally shaking in anger.

        • McFidget

          How would you feel if I pointed to the worst examples of conduct in the US army (there are quite a few) and said that they are no better than the terrorists they fight. That is what you just did.

          • Artor

            Look at the history of the Troubles in say, Belfast, and tell me that his statement wasn’t accurate. Sure, some of the Garda were decent cops, but would you know which ones?

            • David Pearce

              Ummm, there wouldn’t have been many Garda in Belfast – the Garda are the Republic of Ireland’s police force, Belfast is in Northern Ireland – still part of the UK, which of course was one of the roots of the troubles going back about 500 years.

              I’m no expert, (a kiwi living on the other side of the world from it all!) but I suspect as a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland, the local law enforcement (which included the British Army along with the Royal Ulster Constabulary) may have been viewed as occupiers at the very least, if not outright the enemy. Also, as I understand it, the IRA was often the de facto law enforcement in Catholic enclaves. All of that probably adds several layers of complexity to the dilemma of a priest finding himself in such a position.

            • McFidget

              Oh please educate me on the history of my home country. You must know so much as you’re one of the few people I’ve met who know that Belfast is part of the Republic. Most people are so stupid they actually think that it’s part of the UK and has police instead of Gardai.

      • Mick

        “Fucking genius.”
        Thank you. Not many people acknowledge the fact.

        And if you do hear that I am in trouble please call the police first chance you get. I would appreciate your help – even if you think it won’t really be helpful.

      • Guest

        Yeah bad choice there given the police were scum too. Best option, go to the kidnapping with a knife or a gun or worst comes to worst a bomb (you’ll lose the victim but you’ll kill IRA scum).

      • mywall

        Yeah, pigs were corrupt. Best option would be to take a gun/knife/petrol can; remove some sectarians from the world.

  • Brian Westley

    If Fr McCoy had refused to provide Extreme Unction for Mr Molloy, he would have felt he was denying him God’s grace.

    If he had left the house where Molloy was awaiting death and called the police to try to prevent the murder, then the IRA would have been obliged, in its own security interests, to avoid bringing priests in to comfort others.

    Further victims would have been dispatched unshriven. That’s the Catholic way of viewing the problem.

    So, he didn’t try to stop the murder of Mr. Molloy so future murder victims could still get his church’s hocus-pocus before they too, were murdered.

    Another good example of how religion makes people incredibly stupid.

    • Christian Kemp

      I think we are forgetting just how ruthless the IRA was, if the priest had gone to the police. It would have likely ended in his and extra policemen death. So while I do not condone complicity, I think it is best to view this in a broader sense.

      The IRA can be equated to the Taliban of today minus the suicide bombings, but bombings non the less. So I am not sure if it was a choice.

      • FlyingFree333

        You just argued that you shouldn’t call the police to stop a murder because the police might get hurt. THAT’S WHAT THE POLICE ARE FOR!

        • Christian Kemp

          I am just saying that the IRA is a terrorist organization,and everything is not always so clear cut when you are dealing with an organisation that would/could/can kill your family and other people you know if you say anything to cause problems for them. I am not sure if you were brought up in the UK,but most people from the UK would tell you these were very problematic times. They even stopped having trash cans in London due to bombing threats.

          • rufus_t

            Or rather the old style heavy cast iron bins, which would break apart creating additional shrapnel if a bomb was planted in them.

    • mywall

      Also worth noting, Northern Ireland was/is largely catholic vs protestant. Having a catholic priest do ceremonies before the murder means they were getting the “wrong” hocus pocus.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    I think I’d rather enjoy torturing a confession from a priest, actually.

    • Sids

      I wouldn’t.

    • Matt D

      Surely there’s room for more empathy in those Pantaloons?

      • Mr. Pantaloons

        Plenty. Obviously, I spoke in haste and should have elaborated that my idea of torture mostly involves making them read the book of James at gunpoint, especially the bit about teachers being judged more harshly. The bit where Jesus advocates drowning child abusers would be thrown in liberally. We’ll either get a confession or an apostate eventually.

        But really, I have very little empathy for people whose occupation, one selected so often by apparent divine calling, by definition makes them complicit in much worse crimes across humanity than anything I could do to them individually.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Isn’t there a pill for psychopaths?

  • DougI

    So, in Ireland, Catholic priests have been involved in terrorism, murder, slavery and child rape but blasphemy is considered a harsh crime.

  • Bear Millotts

    Man A is kidnapped and tortured by a group of thugs. Another person, Man B, is taken to where Man A is being held to talk to him but does not reveal the identities of the kidnappers to the authorities. Man A is murdered by the thugs. Again, Man B does not report this to the police.

    Everywhere except Ireland, Man B would be charged with accessory to kidnap and murder.

    In Ireland, Man B isn’t punished if he’s a priest.

    Hitchens was right-religion makes people do horrible, immoral things.

    • Holytape

      I hate to defend a priest, but I think the situation isn’t as clear as you put it.
      Let’s call the thug, Man C.

      Man C belongs to a larger group, Group C. Man B does not know who else belongs to Group C. But there is a likelihood that some of the police are also members of Group C. If Man B tells the police about Man A, but the police officer is a part of Group C, not only does Man C not get punished, but Man A and Man B are likely to be tortured and killed. Or even if the police officer is not a member of group C, and Man A is saved and man C is arrested, there are other members of group C to worry about. Man A and Man B still would probably be tortured and be killed by other members of group C. Not only that, but group C may kill friends and family of Man B to send a message to the larger community.
      Religion does make people to horrible things. And the Catholic Church has done truly horrendous deeds, (Hiding pedophiles, Magdalene Laundries, ect..) But I don’t think this case is one of them. Personally, I don’t know if I would have gone to the police, knowing that there is a good chance that either myself or my family would end up dead. I would like to say that I would, but that would be false bravado.

      • Bear Millotts

        So, immoral and scared to stand up for what is right. I totally understand.

        Next time I see a crime, should I think: why should I bother sticking my neck out for justice? The criminal probably has friends in the police and I’ll just end up dead.

        Or should I think: this is wrong. If it happened to me, would I want someone to step forward to seek justice for me? If laws and justice and a civil society mean nothing, why don’t I just go live in Somalia?

        So when do you do the right thing? Only if you’re guaranteed not being murdered for it? Let the gangs rule the streets, the mafia rule everything else?

        Oh, and why should the priest fear for his life? After all, he has gawd on his side.

        • Holytape

          Again, listen to the sound of the point flying over your head. The point was it wasn’t religion that made the priest do what he did, it was fear and intimidation. And in the context of his situation, it was an understandable choice.

          We live in a society where the police are pretty honest. You report a crime to them and their usually going to do something about it. At the very least, they won’t put your life at risk. That was not the case in Northern Ireland. We should judge the theoretical priest actions not in the case of American society, but in the context of his situation.

          So, imagine this. You witness me commit a grievous crime. I just killed someone. You also know that I belong to an organization that has strong connection to local politicians and to the police. You know of past instances where the police either turned a blind eye to my organization, or even participated in my organizations criminal actions. You also know, that my organization wouldn’t think twice about killing you, your family and your loved one, if you cross us. You know this because we have done it to others. Would you still report crime, if the most likely outcome is that I walk away scott-free and you and your family ends up in a shallow grave? Maybe you would, but most people who say they would are full of shit.

          P.S. Look at your Somalia quote. In this hypothetical case, the priest was living in ‘Somalia’ where laws, justice and a civil society were being bombed to hell.

          • Bear Millotts

            Again, listen to the sound of the point flying over your head: in any other Western Democracy, he would face conspiracy, kidnapping and murder charges for his complicity in the kidnap and murder of another person.

            And it *was* the religion that made the priest do what he did: his concern over the “immortal soul” of an “unshriven man,” as if that’s a real thing. That *is* the point!

            How many of these executions would he have joined without that impetus, if the corrupt belief did not exist? None! The bad guys would have murdered without him being there.

            This corrupt belief lead and fueled the priest’s presence and his desired participation, from the kidnappers and executioners belief in Xianity that prompted them to summon a priest for last rites to the priest’s own beliefs that he had a service to perform.

  • Cake

    This isn’t even a choice for me.
    I call the authorities.
    I will not take action that furthers the torture of Anyone.
    The perpetrators deserve no comfort from me and their actions have made me their enemy.

  • rufus_t

    This does assume that the priest that you are imagining that you are does not have any links to the above mentioned Catholic terrorists.
    This has not necessarily proved to be the case.
    (declaration of interest: I am substantially biased against the IRA under any/all circumstances, with what I think is very good reason)

  • JWH

    Ultimately …. I think I would have to give the man his final sacraments.

  • Whatastupidquestion

    what I would gave done? Isn’t it obvious? Go there, try your best to convince them to release the victim alive. If I get out alive, talk to the police and help them find the murderers.
    Requires courage, yes. I don’t know if I would have it.