Opinion article by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

25 Nov 2010

Opinion article by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

Speaking at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week 2009, I took the occasion to warn parishes that the publication of the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin would “shock people”.

Judge Yvonne Murphy’s Report was published some months later and to say that the reaction was one of shock would be a banal understatement.  People were horrified at the number of children who were abused.  People were angry about the manner with which the abuse was dealt by Church authorities.

One year later, I unequivocally repeat what I said on publication of the Report:  “the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood which survivors endured and the diocese failed in its responses to [survivors] when they had the courage to come forward, compounding the damage done to their innocence.   For that no words of apology will ever be sufficient”.

The diocese failed not just in its responses to victims and their families.  It failed itself and it failed society by trying to keep the evidence within its own structures.  I repeat again what I said one year ago: “The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful”.   The investigation of crime within society is the competence of An Garda Síochána.

Many survivors hoped that the publication of the Murphy Report would bring them finally to some sort of closure regarding their horrific experience.  For many this has sadly not been so.  The hurt done to a child through sexual abuse can last a lifetime.   That hurt can very quickly erupt again as further stories of abuse emerge or through insensitive comments or actions by Church authorities.

As I look back now one year later, I see more clearly that the catastrophic manner in which the abuse was dealt with was a symptom of a deeper malaise within the Irish Church.  The Church in Ireland had allowed itself to drift into a position where its role in society had grown beyond what is legitimate. It acted as a world apart.  It became self-centred.  It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathised with the hurt of children.

It also deluded itself about the faith of Irish people. It failed to recognise what radical evangelization of its structures and of its people actually meant.  It spoke of renewal but really did not change.  It failed adequately to recognise that renewal demands conversion.

As I look forward today, we need to sustain our robust child safeguarding norms and practices.  They will, however, only work in the context of a renewed Church.  The Church is not a vague moralising agency in society to which anyone can belong.   It is not there to provide some sort of spiritual comfort zone for all comers.  The message of Christ must be proclaimed with all its demands. Not to recognise that is to render that message ineffective. Allowing the sacramental life of the Church drift into some sort of vague social celebration is allowing the true identity of the Church to become distorted.  We urgently need new evangelization.

Certainly the Church is not just an elite of the perfect.  Many people with little education have a deeper insight into the message of Jesus Christ than some learned theologians or bishops.

In my encounters with survivors I have encountered insight into faith which leaves me humbled.  But perhaps humility is not the worst starting point for renewal of the Church and recognition of past wrongs.