Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

As Catholics lose faith, there is still one saviour to turn to Bitter legacy: thousands of Irish children suffered in Church-run institutions; (below) Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin

Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph

The reason the Catholic Church finds it so difficult to face up to the child-abuse scandal in the present is that it's had it too easy in the past.

It has been allowed to interpret the silence of society as sanction for its sins. Now it's bewildered to find itself besieged by mass anger.

If it has a saviour to turn to, it's surely Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin - seemingly the only bishop, even at this stage, to face up to the sheer awfulness of the revelations tumbling out from the evidence of victims and from diocesan and institutional archives.

Dr Martin was, predictably, the Church's designated flak-catcher at yesterday's launch of Amnesty's study of how the abuse could have continued unchecked for so long. No other senior Church figure would have had credibility in the eyes of the mass of Catholic people.

Amnesty commissioned the study, In Plain Sight, in the wake of the series of mind-churning reports on abuse in the dioceses of Dublin, Wicklow (Ferns) and Cork (Cloyne), as well as in 250 Church-run industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels.

One of the questions raised by the results is for how much longer the Church will have credibility in the eyes of Dr Martin.

Last week, the archbishop said that Catholics have been writing to him in increasing numbers "saying that they want to be Irish Catholics and not Roman Catholics and some even ask me to break away from Rome and become the leader of an 'Irish' Church".

Strangely, this remark didn't incite any serious hullabaloo within the hierarchy.

Perhaps they have become used to Dr Martin's idiosyncratic interventions. Or, perhaps, in contrast to their standard reaction to revelations of child rape, they were struck dumb.

On a number of recent occasions, Dr Martin has seemed to come close to suggesting that it might be no bad thing if a bishop or two were to face criminal charges for their sins of omission over child sex abuse.

In April, he told a conference at the Marquette University in Milwaukee that he "cannot accept a situation that no one need assume accountability" for the crime-spree against children revealed in the 2009 Murphy Report.

This should not happen, he went on, "in the face of the terrible damage that was done to children in the church of Christ in Dublin and in the face of how that damage was addressed".

His point was that the damage had scarcely been addressed at all:

"The responses seemed to be saying that it was all due to others, or at most it was due to some sort of systems' fault in the diocesan administration. Within days of the first ritualistic expressions of regret at what the report revealed, people were quickly encountering a church of silence. No one was accountable."

Dr Martin's response to the Cloyne report in July went further. The report had bluntly suggested that Bishop John Magee and Monsignor Dennis O'Callaghan - the man responsible for implementing child-protection guidelines in the diocese - had, with others, "positively lied", "positively misled" and "deliberately misled" the civil authorities and had felt encouraged so to do by a letter sent to every Irish bishop by papal nuncio Archbishop Luciano Storero warning that any policy of "making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory" would give rise "to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature".

Invited onto RTE news to respond to Taoiseach Enda Kenny's retaliatory attack on the Vatican, Dr Martin, apparently close to tears, declared himself "angry, ashamed and appalled" and asked: "What do you do when you have groups, whether in the Vatican or in Ireland, who ... simply refuse to understand? What sort of cabal is this that there is in Cloyne?"

Far from joining some of his fellow bishops in hitting back at Kenny, he remarked of Church leaders that: "The statement in today's Dail should teach them a lesson."

There can be little doubt that very senior figures in the Vatican are even now considering how Dr Martin might be taught a lesson. But they will be considering, too, whether they'd get away with it. Once upon a time, Irish Catholics lived in fear of the Vatican's displeasure. Now it's the other way around. Dr Martin seems the only bishop speaking the language of the disillusioned faithful. There is no telling what this will lead to.

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