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Empathy for Irish priests

  • 17 March 2010

On a brief winter visit to Ireland, I paid close attention to the attitude of locals to the Murphy and Ryan reports into the abuse of children. The common thread was anger at the apparent arrogance of the Church leaders, the dodging and weaving and obfuscation.

They pointed in particular to the use by the previous Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, of the concept of 'mental reservation' after he was found out in a public lie, and to the attitude of the papal nuncio who stood on his diplomatic dignity by refusing to answer correspondence from the Murphy tribunal because it did not come through the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For the older generation among whom I spent most of my time, the revelations did not appear to have affected their core religious belief or practice. In two separate households where I stayed, I accompanied a member to a weekday morning Mass and was surprised to find the church car park almost one third full, very much what I might have expected 30 years ago if you could imagine the cars replaced by bicycles.

There were no young people in the pews, and it would appear that their generation is lost to the Church.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the current leader in Dublin, is a minor hero to the ordinary people. He has faced up to the wrongs of the past and his reaction is accepted as sincere. 'Efforts made to "protect the Church" and to "avoid scandal" have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today ... As Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin I offer to each and every survivor, my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them.'

In May last year after the publication of the Ryan report into abuse in institutions run by religious orders, Martin condemned the way those groups were dealing with their responsibilities. After the release of the Murphy report in November, he supported demands in the media for the resignation of those who were auxiliary bishops of Dublin at the time the abuses were occurring. Four of those have now resigned, but their tardiness in doing so has suggested that their action was a result of public pressure rather than personal conviction.

Martin, born and educated in Dublin — De La Salle and Marist Brothers — was a Vatican diplomat for more than 30 years before