Irish Bishops’ Resignations Over Abuse: 1 Accepted, 4 (5?) to go.

One of the big disappointments of the pope’s “pastoral” letter to Irish Catholics, was that it contained no reference at all to the resignations of four bishops in the wake of the Murphy report on the cover-ups in Dublin. (A fifth bishop refused to resign, insisting that he had done “nothing wrong”.) In an under-reported press-conference at the time the pastoral letter was released, the obvious question was asked, “What about the resignations?” The only response was that they would be dealt with “in time” by the “appropriate Vatican department”. How long does it take, I wondered, to accept a resignation? The answer may have come this morning: a year.

In a matter entirely unrelated to the Murphy report and the Dublin diocese, Bishop John Magee, formerly of the Cloyne diocese, quit the day-to day running of his diocese a year ago, in March 2009. It has taken the Vatican a full year to accept his resignation. If this is a reliable guide to form, we might expect the acceptance of the four resignations arising from the Dublin Murphy report early in 20011. How long it will take to get rid of the one who is in denial, or of Benedict himself who has overseen the whole sorry mess, is anybody’s guess.

Vatican accepts resignation of Irish Catholic bishop John Magee

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who was once the personal secretary to three popes, it was announced today.

The papacy said Bishop John Magee was stepping down over his mishandling of allegations of clerical sex abuse in his Irish diocese.

Although Magee quit the day-to-day running of parishes across rural Cork last March, it has taken the Vatican bureaucracy a year to formally confirm his resignation.

The cleric, originally from Northern Ireland, faced scathing criticism after the church’s watchdog found he had taken minimal action over accusations against two of his priests.

He served as personal assistant to Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II in Rome.

There have been many calls for Magee’s resignation since the report into the Cloyne diocese earlier this year.

The announcement of his official resignation was made in statement released through the Irish Catholic Bishops’ conference.

Read the full report at the Guardian

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Reclaiming Our Consciences

At NCR Online, Joan Chittister has a thoughtful reflection on the Irish Bishops’ Vatican visit – from a perspective inside Ireland.  After noting that there are fundamental differences between the responses of people in Ireland and America, where the response was  that “people picketed churches, signed petitions, demonstrated outside chanceries, and formed protest groups”, in Ireland the response appeared much more low-key – but in fact was deep, and may well be far more significant for the future of the Church, over the longer term.

In Ireland the gulf got wider and deeper by the day. It felt like the massive turning of a silent back against the bell towers and statues and holy water fonts behind it. No major public protests occurred. “Not at all,” as they are fond of saying. But the situation moved at the upper echelon of the country relatively quietly but like a glacier. Slowly but inexorably.

A country which, until recently, checked its constitution against “the teachings of the church” and had, therefore, allowed no contraceptives to be sold within its boundaries, unleashed its entire legal and political system against the storm.

They broke a hundred years of silence about the abuse of unwed mothers in the so-called “Magdalene Launderies.” They investigated the treatment of orphaned or homeless children in the “industrial schools” of the country where physical abuse had long been common. The government itself took public responsibility for having failed to monitor these state-owned but church-run programs. And they assessed compensatory damages, the results of which are still under review in the national parliament.

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Irish Demand for Democracy – in Church.

The Irish Catholic Church, compared with other countries, has been notable for its belated response to the problem of clerical abuse.  Like other countries, for decades the bishops responded by cover-ups and denial.  Once finally forced out from cover, though, they have done more than any other country to finally deal appropriately with the problem.  the Ryan report, in its comprehensiveness and brutal honesty began the process.  That prompted a response from government, which launched a follow-up into the cover-ups by the bishops.  Teh public outcry, coupled with the firm resolve and frank apologies from the present Archbishop of Dublin, has led to more hand-wringing from Pope Benedict, who has promised a “pastoral letter” (as if that would help).  More usefully, four of the five bishops implicated in the Murphy report have been forced to resign, in what is for the church, a remarkable demonstration of accountability.(The fifth bishop insists he will not resign.  We shall see how long he can last, against the determination of archbishop Martin to scrub the barrel clean)

Equally impressive has been the response of the Irish public, who are finally beginning to ask the questions, and demand the responses, which really get to the real heart of the problem;  the fundamental causes.  Fr Timothy Radcliffe, in a recent address in Dublin, raised one issue:  that of the culture in the church obsessive control.  ow an opinon piece in the Irish Independent raises another, and proposes a remedy:  the church needs to introduce internal democracy.

Of course it should – as should church structures all around the world. (Not in the same form as parliamentary democracy,  not with equal votes for all:  but some form of democracy and shared decision taking is of crucial importance – just as it was for the early church at the very beginning.

Here is an extract from the piece in the Irish Independent, following the funeral of the former Primate of all-Ireland, Cardinal Daly.

Scandals must kickstart new era for Church

Observing the procession of aged men in their ceremonial robes, chatting among themselves as if at a clerical old boys’ reunion, I had an acute sense that the Catholic laity, be they of pious disposition or a la carte-minded, must mobilise to take control away from the ordained ministers who betrayed them and chart a new reform path for their Church.

The People of God, as the Church was defined by the Second Vatican Council, need to dismantle the clericalist pyramid of command structures that have dominated the mind-set since the First Vatican Council in 1870. That council lumbered the centralised system from Rome with the unverifiable dogma of papal infallibility and embedded a culture of unquestioning loyalty by a docile laity to a command system from the top down of Pope, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, not forgetting the Irish tradition of the infallibility of the parish priest.

The laity in Ireland must speak out now and demand a more democratic rather than medievalist church. Otherwise they will be expected to follow the paternalistic route which Pope Benedict plans to announce in his pre-Lenten pastoral letter to the Irish that will be interpreted as the mandate for church governance that is to be implemented by the two principal leaders of the Irish Church, Cardinal Brady and the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.

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Pope Shares “Outrage, Shame” at Murphy Report.What About the Blame?

The headlines suggest that Pope Benedict XVI, following his meeting yesterday with the two leading Irish prelates concerned, has made a strong and welcome response to the Irish abused scandal.   Closer analysis shows how inadequate this suggestion really is.  He has spoken of his outrage over the original abuses, and about the inadequate response of the Irish Church. This is nowhere near enough.  This is not about just the Irish church, not about responding to specific abuses, nor even about better governance.  Reorganising the Irish church, without restructuring the entire Catholic establishment, rules and culture, just won’t cut it.  Nor has he said anything by way of apology for his own contribution to the problem, which has been substantial.

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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.  Read the rest of this entry »

From the Dublin Cover-up to the Vatican Cover-up

The Irish Murphy report into clerical abuse in Dublin was a governmental investigation into the Irish bishops’ cover-up of the original crimes.  In the US, a vigorous press has done a great job of exposing corresponding cover-ups by the American bishops.  But who is to investigate the most important cover-up of all, that by the Vatican?  The Vatican’s obsession with control is well-known, and is agreed to be one of the key causes behind the problem of abuse itself.  It is inconceivable that the commitment to secrecy by local bishops could be just local decisions: they had to be acting under instruction form the Vatican, and the evidence is now coming to light.

Back in 2003, the Guardian /Observer newspaper in the UK, and CBS News in the USA, carried reports of an astonishing Vatican strategy going back almost half a century, to a directive prepared as far back as 1962 by the Vatican’s Holy Office.

It’s not immediately clear whether this document is still relevant, but it clearly deserves attention. However, two guiding principles contained in these instructions, and two not ably absent, have so characterised the response from the church that we must conclude that the its spirit, if not every detailed procedure, continues to dominate church thinking and procedure.

The first of the principles contained therein is emphasised right from the first lines:  “diligently stored in the secret archives of the curia as strictly confidsential”.

Note, please, that this instruction applies to secrecy over the procedures to be applied.  Even more serious is the insistence, disclosed later in the document,  of secrecy over the content of the investigations.

Because, however, what is treated in these cases has to have a degree of care and observance so that those same matters be pursued in a most secretive way, and after,…… they are to be restrained by a perpetual silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1867, n14), each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way … is to observe the strictest secret.

How strictly secret, exactly?  Judge that from the penalty:

“under the penalty of excommunication latae sentential, ipso facto and without any declaration [of such a penalty] having been incurred …”

There.  This crime of breaking the oath of silence is so grave, so beyond excuse, that the penalty is automatic excommunication!  Pretty serious then, just for disclosing ing information.  You would think then, that the actula crimes that this document discusses must be more serious still, calling for a much more serious penalty (burning at the stake perhaps?) Wrong.  (We’ll get to that later.)

On whom does the responsibility of this grave oath fall?  On every person involved.  Elsewhere, it is repeatedly stressed that because of the gravity of these matters, only priests, preferably senior priests of mature years, should be involved in the investigation, and that the local ordinary should not delegate responsibility to any other person, except for very specific, occasional tasks.  Indeed, the only non-cleric who will be routinely admitted, is the complainant. But s/he too, is required to take this oath of secrecy – and will be liable to excommunication if the vow is broken.

That was the seriousness of secrecy required in 1962.  Have things changed, as the bishops claimed?

Well, the entire motivation for the Irish Murphy report was precisely the evidence that there had been a major cover-up by four Dublin archbishops preceding Dr Martin.  The first three did absolutely nothing to investigate or act on the problem, except to take out insurance.  The fourth, Archbishop Connell, made some perfunctory investigations – too little, too late was the verdict- and testified that for him, the biggest crisis on his watch was the demand to hand over his confidential files.

The Murphy commission requested information from the Vatican to assist in their investigation – and got no response.  Further requests were put to the papal nuncio in Dublin – and got no response.  On completion of the draft report, a copy was provided to the nuncio early this year – and got no response.  The official reason given after final publication, was that the request “should have been submitted through the proper diplomatic channels”.  I thought the whole point of the office of papal nuncio is that he is the diplomatic representative? If there had been a breach of procedure, could he not have simply clarified the correct procedure to secure a response?  Or was there, as I strongly suspect, simply no possible approach that could have obtained any response, over a determination by the Vatican to maintain their commitment to secrecy?

In the US, the commitment to secrecy is well known, as was shown most recently by the Bishop of Bridgeport’s determination to fight through the courts to maintain his secrets.

The second notable principle contained in the report is a clear concern to protect the rights of the accused priest.  It has been claimed that this concern lies at the heart of the concern for secrecy (Ha!), and the detailed procedures make provision for the equivalent of legal counsel, for an opportunity to deal with the allegations by a sacramental act of confession, by carefully detailed attention to procedure, including the preparation of a detailed statement of the allegations against him, and by ensuring that the only people involved in the investigation are themselves mature priests.

How has this concern, from half a century ago, been “superceded” today?  The Murphy report spells out how some offenders were explicitly told by their religious “superiors” to disregard the statements or blame of lay professionals, as only the verdict of fellow clergy counted..  In the vast majority of cases, the only “penalties” incurred, even by repeat offenders, were a transfer to a fresh jurisdiction, or possibly to “administrative leave”.  Similar examples of concern for the offenders is well –known from the US.

What is missing from the report?

Most conspicuously, any concern for the rights or welfare of the complainant.

In the entire 35 page document, the primary references to the complainant is that s/he should also be subject to the oath of secrecy, and that the main “witness” in the proceedings should be a person (ideally, one again, a priest) who knows both the accused and the accuser, to act as character witness for both.  I may have missed something in 35 odd pages of turgid legalistic text, but I found no reference to any form of legal representation, so suggestion of assistance in negotiating the unfamiliar world of priestly language, environment and procedures, nor any hint of help in dealing with possible hurt or trauma that may have been inflicted.  In many cases, there does not even seem to have been any recognition that injury may have occurred: the concern is more with the priest’s violation of his priestly office, than with any hurt done to the complainant.

How has this attitude been updated, over the last 50 years?

The Murphy report clearly describes the lack of attention paid in the past to the welfare of the victims.  The US John Jay study is silent on the matter- but as I noted in my own response to the report, this is the point.  It discusses the financial cost to the church, but completely ignores the human cost to the victims. This complete lack of concern for the victims has been widely reported on, in the US and elsewhere, and is neatly summed up by the response to one complainant that her sin “could be absolved”, and the remark by one offender that it had been just a bit of “innocent pleasure”.

Finally, also totally absent for the 1962 document is any reference to secular law or civil prosecution. The text bristles with references to clauses in canon law, and with detailed specifications of procedures to be followed – but never a word on the response to dealing with what in at least some cases, could be clear and serious criminal offences.

The extreme reluctance of the church authorities to turn their findings over to the police is well known.

So it is entirely possible that the 1962mtext on detailed procedures may have been superceded.  It would be surprising if it had not been – the language and some of those detailed procedures are clearly very dated. However, it is clear that the underlying spirit and tone are very much in force.  This was effectively made clear in 2001, in a document expanding on a text by Pope John Paul II, and which appears to be the basis of the “new regulations” described by the US bishops. This lette re-emphasised the requirement for secrecy, calling for internal investigation only. Who wrote it? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the CDF:

Joseph Ratzinger was not only complicit in the cover up of child rape committed by priests, but as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he actively continued the church policy of secrecy and obstruction of justice. He was one of its chief architects for twenty years.

(“millstones and glass houses, Pam’s house blend”)

On gay marriage, on “cohabitation”, on contraception, the church freely sets itself up as our moral guardians.  ON questions of abuse – sexual and physical abuse of chidren, sexual abuse of young and older adults, emotional abuse of us all, and above all, abuse of trust:

“Quis custodes custodiet?”

Who is guarding the guards?