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 of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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