‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word

As the scandals hit religions, politicians and bankers alike, Conor Murphy asks why so many public figures struggle to atone for their actions

When a politician calls an innocent politician a ‘pimp’ during an election and then calls himself a victim, we can sense something is wrong. When one of the worst rapists we have ever seen is allowed continue on as he likes, and his bosses only apologise three years after the story originally broke, we know something is wrong.There’s a famous story about a perfect scientist who, after seeing his life work being taken apart and destroyed for an hour by a younger colleague, went and genuinely thanked the upstart for teaching him something new. While the self-deprecating abilities of our brightest and best will never reach that level, we should hope they do better than they currently are doing. The elite and the famous have always found it hard to see fault in themselves while the rest of us are expected to be contrite if we screw up.It is in the most important of things that this trait hurts and destroys people’s lives and hopes for the future. The Catholic Church carries an arrogance one might expect from an organisation that believes itself hand-picked by God. But the breathtaking superiority complex displayed by Cardinal Seán Brady when he said he did nothing wrong by the day’s standards, when he refused to report the actions of a paedophile colleague, goes beyond a joke when ‘nothing wrong’ meant allowing a mass rapist continue on his merry way. The Church has been an incredibly slow learner of the painful lesson that the sooner it fully admits to everything it allowed be committed on children in their care, the sooner it can move on and try to salvage its creaky organisation. We must wonder if the Church will ever learn this lesson, or try merely to placate the angry mobs every time the drip feed of horror stories starts up again.The highest among us have the furthest to fall when they fail this test – and none more so than Seán Fitzpatrick, the shamed ex-head of Anglo Irish Bank, currently under investigation for fraud while loaning himself €87m from his own failing bank. Fitzpatrick acknowledged in an interview that it “would be very easy for me to say sorry”, but has failed to do so because (apparently) the bank’s problems had nothing to do with him.Firstly, the banks wouldn’t have been affected by the global crisis if it had not loaned millions to those with no money to repay it. Secondly, Fitzpatrick fully admits concealing his loans from the public during his eight-year tenure. He has no regret, and his bank – and our tax bill – suffers for it. As long as he, and bankers still in such organisations, accept these positions and don’t pay for their mistakes, how will the organisations learn to do things differently next time?We were given a lesson by junior minister Trevor Sargent, who resigned immediately once his name was tarnished, and before the tabloids had even gathered the breath to sling insults. This was sharply contrasted by Willie O’Dea, who screamed blue murder as Fianna Fáil desperately tried to stop a perjurer calling himself a ‘victim’. O’Dea has not clearly acknowledged his fault and has instead tried to portray his act as a misspoken word, rather than an attempt to criminalise his opponent in the eyes of the public.No matter what road we take in life, we will all make mistakes. The three-year-old who catches his finger in the door learns his lesson and grows as a person. Our whole society made mistakes by turning a blind eye to the clerical abuse of children when it happened – and again by ignoring not only the stupidity of bankers, but also the stupidity of the people who took loans when they had no means to repay them. The mistakes of the credit crunch were made by everyone in Ireland, and all of us must hold our hands up and show our leaders by example. All our leaders need learn is that regret is the sweetest of poisons.