Catholic Church damaged by the sins of the Fathers
The clerical sex abuse scandal gives fresh ammunition to secular critics of all churches, writes Religion Correspondent Alf McCreary
The devastating conclusions of the investigations into child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin will cause untold damage to a Roman Catholic Church already reeling under the criticism following similar reports in recent years.
The Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, has expressed his personal "shame and shock" at the findings and has offered his sympathies to the victims and their families.
The Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin also expressed his sympathy and sorrow at an emotional Press conference, but realistically underlined that no words of apology would ever be sufficient for the suffering and the trauma of those who were abused.
This is a story of cruelty to children which is not confined to the Archbdiocese of Dublin and the Irish Republic - and there has been much evidence of similar abuse north of the border and elsewhere.
However, these latest revelations strike a note of horror and disgust among people everywhere and it was significant that the story dominated not only the Irish media, but also most of the United Kingdom media as well.
Apart from the suffering of the children, which is inexcusable, there is also a sense of deep unease that successive archbishops of Dublin and the Garda in the Republic did nothing to help the innocent and defenceless young people who were being so abused.
A key sentence in the report which the Catholic Church will take a long time to live down - if ever - is that: "The Dublin Archdiocese's preoccupation in dealing with cases of child sex abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of assets."
Another damning revelation is the fact that the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio in Ireland ignored the investigating commission's request for information about child abuse which was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The silence from Rome on such an issue spoke volumes.
This latest report, however, was not just a condemnation of the Church, but also of the police who behaved as if the clerics were above the law. In real terms, it may well have cost a conscientious senior policeman his job to raise such issues in an Ireland where the Church, for so long, appeared to be beyond reproach as an institution for the faithful.
The stern words of the Republic's Justice Minister Dermot Ahern underline the abhorrence of the government and state at such protracted abuse of the innocents and it is imperative that the Republic's child-protection legislation is further strengthened and applied rigourously.
What does this all mean for the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland and worldwide?
The silence of the Vatican, as outlined in the Irish report, will give further ammunition to those people all over ther world who believe that the Church's first instinct has always been to cover up, rather than to protect the most vulnerable.
There will be continued demands for a contrite apology from Pope Benedict himself and this will still be a live issue when he visits Great Britain next year.
Some people believe that he should also come to Ireland to apologise in person, but the very thought of this might alarm those powerful Vatican officials who believe this could leave the Church and Pontiff even more vulnerable to public and media reaction.
In Ireland the situation seems to have gone from bad to worse.
With depressing regularity, Cardinal Brady and other senior clerics have been apologising profoundly for the sins of the fathers. The net result will be even fewer ordinations in a profession desperately in need of priests.
The Dublin scandal will also further demoralise the Catholic faithful, many of them in their mature years, and it will give the secular critics of all churches further ammunition. No wonder Archbishop Brady is so shocked and shameful. In expressing these emotions, he is speaking not only for Catholics, but for people of all faiths and of none.