It’s a measure of how unique the Catholic Church is as an institution that this Pope who’s on his way to Ireland is referred to as a radical tearing up the old values – maybe at times even too militant – because he’s opposed to all child abuse. Presumably, when he announced this policy, a room of cardinals gasped, “What? We’re not allowed to do any”.

As ever when someone tries to change things too quickly, there are moderate voices who suggest a slower pace of change. Maybe they would prefer a workable compromise, such as restricting paedophilia to twice a week except for Easter. But this Pope is an extremist, ignoring centuries of tradition to announce opposition to all of it at once, like a papal Che Guevara.

He’s even going to offer “a prayer and fasting” in Ireland, as a “penitential exercise”. Because when an institution sexually abuses children on an industrial scale, you won’t win back trust easily. You need to demonstrate you truly understand the scale of what you’ve inflicted, by going without breakfast one morning.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that in Ireland the church was guilty of “torture and other cruel or degrading treatment” and “the sale of children, trafficking and abduction”. Yes, but instead of dwelling on the negative, let’s think of the good things they’ve done.

To be fair, the UN committee accepted the church in Ireland did other things as well. It also set up laundries to which unmarried mothers were sent, where “girls placed in those institutions were forced to work in slavery-like conditions and often subjected to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment as well as physical and sexual abuse”. I expect the altright people will say, “Yes, but if you ban this, you’ll end up with men not even being allowed to flirt.”

It’s easy to see the flaws in this behaviour, but maybe we should accept this was a different generation with different values. Back then nobody saw anything wrong with torture and inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment. Everyone did it, sometimes as a treat for your birthday.

The UN report went on: “Unmarried girls who gave birth before entering or while incarcerated in the laundries had their babies forcibly removed from them.”Obviously the Catholic Church didn’t have time to look into any of this, as they had to attend to the more serious problem of boys wanking. They can’t do everything at once, can they?

So they set about investigating the matter themselves, which seemed the best way to go about things. They didn’t go to any outside authorities, possibly because they weren’t aware any of this behaviour was against the law. The priests were probably asked by the cardinal, “Now Father, when you were child-trafficking this morning, you didn’t break the speed limit did you?”

And if they believed the laws of the land were being upheld, they could deal with these matters internally. Maybe they considered putting skunk in the incense so the priests would be too dozy to abuse anyone.

The Church did take one measure, which was to ensure any priest who was known to have abused children was moved to another area. Then he could start all over again, which is the sort of new challenge they must have appreciated in a stressful job like that. Jimmy Savile must have watched all this in admiration, thinking, “I am a mere amateur.”

Now the Catholic Church insists it’s doing all it can to make up for this record. They state proudly that the incidents are greatly reduced, and that’s something we can all identify with. We all love to tell everyone when we manage to abuse less children than we used to; it’s the same sense of achievement as when you’ve lost five pounds on a diet. “I only ruined three kids’ lives this month!” you cheer, and have a glass of wine to celebrate.

Not only that, but they’re going to investigate fully how it can have happened. And it is a mystery. They’ll all be thinking: “I don’t understand it. We abused children over decades, covered it up systematically, and somehow that led to a systematic cover-up of our abuse of children.”

It’s a method that should be employed when other scandals happen, such as how things were robbed in the heist of Hatton Garden. Instead of charging the robbers, the police should just ask the thieves to investigate how on earth such an awful thing could have happened.

I wonder if it’s possible that something in the nature of the job of Catholic priest is linked to this sort of behaviour. It may just be that some aspects of the job, in which you’re ordered to be celibate, or face a punishment of burning in unimaginable agony for eternity because any sexual thoughts you ever had make you guilty of dirty, filthy, unspeakable sin, while simultaneously believing you’re the divine guardian of every child in the area, whose salvation from misery depends on their relationship with you might make your head go funny in certain ways.

Still, the Catholic Church is skilled at making heartfelt apologies. In 1633 they arrested Galileo for making discoveries that didn’t fit with the Church’s idea of the planets, and threatened to torture him, so he withdrew his theories.

This might explain the torture they were doing in Ireland: all the women in the homes kept discovering planets and this was ruining the Vatican’s astronomical charts.

But also, the Pope officially apologised for Galileo’s arrest in 1992. So you can understand those who say it’s best not to make a fuss, as in 359 years they’ll get round to saying sorry properly anyway.

The Independent