Another opinion piece for our passive voice file: Marie Murray, "The passive voice is the penultimate weapon of denial", The Irish Times, 7/31/2009:
The passive voice is especially useful where apologies are required: personal apologies for what people have done personally. Because instead of having to say, “I’m sorry”, the passive voice allows a culprit to say “It is regrettable”. Instead of saying “I made a mistake” the abstract term “mistakes happened” can be evoked.
On the basis of the examples provided, it seems that Ms. Murray, who is "the director of student counselling services in UCD", subscribes to the now-dominant view that passive voice means "unclear about agency, and especially about blame". It's interesting to see that this new meaning has become international, and that the traditional interpretation of grammatical terminology has apparently not survived even in Ireland, where the government subcontracts primary and secondary education to the Catholic Church.
The essay doesn't identify the ultimate weapon of denial, suggesting that Murray is also among those who have adopted the new meaning of penultimate as "especially or intensely ultimate". She strengthens this impression by asserting that "of all the duplicitous linguistic devices designed to deny civil rights to citizens, the passive voice is supreme".
Ironically, Murray herself uses the passive voice frequently, in entirely appropriate ways, e.g. the bold-face verb groups in the quote below:
It is time to speak out against the passive voice. It is time to insist that it is not used when people are asked questions about their personal responsibility or the responsibility of the institutions they represent.
Or this passage:
Repetition of unreality is a powerful denial of reality. Repetition weakens resistance, dismantles resolve and assumes a veracity against which there is little defence. The most courageous and loquacious may try to challenge it, but they are defeated by the impenetrability of the passive voice.
Actually, that last sentence might be better in the active voice:
…but the impenetrability of the passive voice defeats them.
If so, however, it's not because the passive version leaves any doubt about who's to blame. Either way, it's clear that the writer believes that the passive voice is at fault. And that equality of clarity underlines the fact that she's wrong.