Abuse: The Irish Forcing a Response From Rome

The impressive thing about the Irish abuse drama is how inexorably the public reaction is forcing responses from higher up the command chain, with increasing levels of disclosure.  First the bishops’ own Ryan report into the original extent of abuse, then the government initiated Murphy report into the bishops’ decades of neglect and cover-up, now a growing swell of public reaction, which finally is heading in the right direction – demanding accountability from those responsible, and explanations from the Vatican. I am not aware of anything on this scale of public response anywhere else.

I do not have space to offer a comprehensive run-down, so in summary only, these are some of the key recent developments:


Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Martin of Dublin, who (in my eyes) grows in stature every day, has written to all the former auxiliary bishops of Dublin who were implicated in the Murphy report and are still serving elsewhere. He has made it clear he is “not satisfied” with the responses.

Dr Martin has publicly called for the resignations of the implicated bishops. He has been supported in this by a published letter from a respected theologian, Dr Twoomey, who is a regular theological associate of Pope Benedict XVI.  I would assume that Dr Twoomey’s views are influential. Meanwhile, Bishop Murray of Limerick has told his diocese that he will travel to the Vatican , where he will tender his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI, ahead of ahead of the visit by other senior clerics later this week.  As far as I know, this is the first time anywhere, that a bishop is resigning for his failure adequately to deal with the problem, rahter than for his own sexual peccadilloes.  Will there be more?

The full conference of Irish bishops will be meeting on Wednesday to discuss and respond to the Murphy report. 

The Murphy report heavily criticised the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Leanza, for his total lack of co-operation during its investigation.  The Vatican response was that the approaches by the commission were not made through the correct diplomatic channels. The head of the Irish church, Cardinal Brady, has said Archbishop  Leanza should have responded, onetheless, thelling the Irish Times,

“it was unfortunate that requests from the [Murphy] commission didn’t get the courtesy of a reply” from the Vatican. “They should have,” he said.

Now, the Irish government is responding with the most correct diplomatic channels possible.  The Foreign Minister has invited Leanza to a meeting.  I love this picture of Leanza:  stony-faced, staring away from the camera, unwilling to acknowledge the problem he knows he faces.  This particular picture may have noting to do with his current difficulties, but so what:  it sums up the Vatican situation beautifully.

So, the Irish government are taking this matter directly to the Vatican representative. The head of the Irish church, Cardinal Brady, is going one step further:  he is off to Rome, to discuss this directly with Pope Benedict himself. Do not expect a sudden Damascene conversion, here. Benedict will not suddenly recognise the widely acknowledged role of the institutional church structure and practices in the causes.  He will not suddenly announce an end to compulsory celibacy, or the democratisation of church structures, or an end to the seminary training system, or begin active recruiting of openly gay candidate priests – although he needs to do so, sooner or later. But he will be forced to listen, and may begin to reverse the culture of secrecy that has underpinned the decades of cover-ups.

Meanwhile, ordinary Catholics are formulating their own responses. A group of lay people are organising demonstrations of protest outside the residence of the Papal nuncio.  There have been calls for “industrial action” – specifying a day for all Catholics to withhold contributions to the collection plates.  And most damaging of all, in record numbers, thousands of Catholics are renouncing their church affiliation, in a formal procedure that ensures the church authorities know of their actions.

However the Vatican decides to respond, there can be no doubt that they will know very clearly the depth of the anger in the church, and the damage done to it, by this scandal.

Now imagine:  clerical abuse, and the associated cover-ups, were not limited to Ireland. This was just the first country where government became involved in a full scale inquiry into the bishops’ response.  Already, there are moves afoot for the Northern Ireland assembly to repeat the process for their territory.  Consider the impact if the USA for instance, and other countries could similarly institute formal investigations into the actions (or inactions) of their own bishops, and in time make similar calls on the Vatican for explanation.

Then, finally, we might begin to get the response from church authorities we should have had right from the start.


Footnote:  With all attention focused on the abuse story, let us not forget that this bastion of Catholicism is set to become the latest European country with wide-ranging civil union legislation, likely to become law later this month, with cross-party suuport in parliament, and only token opposition.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Ireland, once a Catholic bastion, promises civil unions for same-sex couples

Dublin, Ireland – As the United States engages in a heated debate over gay marriage, European Union countries are rapidly striding toward total recognition of same-sex civil unions, if not marriage. The most recent example is Ireland.Last Thursday saw Ireland become the latest country to edge toward marriage equality for homosexual couples. The Irish parliament read and debated the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, introduced by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

Despite Ireland’s socially conservative image, opposition to the bill is virtually non-existent and will likely pass into law this month with widespread support from opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour as well as the governing coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

If passed, the bill would see Ireland join a club of nine EU members that officially recognize civil unions. In addition, a further four EU countries – Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – fully recognize same-sex marriages.

The Irish bill would grant same-sex couples rights in relation to domestic violence, residential tenancies, succession, refugee law, pensions, medical care, and equal access to state benefits and immigration.


Minister Ahern has told the few dissenters in his Fianna Fáil party that he would not allow the bill to be reworded to include a “freedom of conscience” amendment that would see businesses, organizations, and individuals who objected to homosexuality choose to treat gays in a civil union as singles.

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