16 July 2011
Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Sunday 17 July 2011
Only a few months ago, here in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral, we celebrated a liturgy of lament and repentance reflecting on the shattering facts regarding the wide-ranging abuse of children by priests and religious in this diocese and about the manner in which the Church in this diocese responded to that abuse.
It was for me a moment of hope. The liturgy had been prepared by survivors of abuse and survivors took part in the carrying out of the liturgy. Courageously, men and women who had been abused spoke out about their hurt and their hopes. It was a moment which I know brought healing to many and gave them renewed strength in themselves and some sense of renewed hope in the Church which had not believed them or had even betrayed them. At that liturgy I saw many faces that I knew in tears; I watched others whose names I will never know sit alone in silence and sadness.
My first thoughts on reading the Cloyne report went back to that liturgy and to those who organized it and took part in it. I asked myself: what are they thinking today? Are they asking themselves if that entire liturgy was just an empty show? Were they being used just to boost the image of the Church? Were their renewed hopes just another illusion about a Church which seems unable to reform itself? Was their hurt just being further compounded?
As I reflected, the first emotion that came to me was one of anger:
• anger at what had happened in the diocese of Cloyne and at response – or non-response – that was made to children whose lives had been ruptured by abuse;
• anger at the fact that children had been put at risk well after agreed guidelines were in place which were approved by all the Irish bishops;
• anger at how thousands of men and women in this diocese of Dublin must feel, who have invested time and training to ensure that the Church they love and hope can be different would truly be a safe place for children;
• anger at the fact that there were in Cloyne – and perhaps elsewhere – individuals who placed their own views above the safeguarding of children, and seemingly without any second thought placed themselves outside and above the regime of safeguarding to which their diocese and the Irish bishops had committed themselves.
Paradoxically, appealing somehow to their own interpretation of Canon Law they had put themselves even above and beyond the norms which the current Pope himself has promulgated for the entire Church.
Some years ago I was criticized in some Church circles for speaking of strong forces still present in the Church which “would prefer that the truth did not emerge”. “There are signs”, I said, “of subconscious denial on the part of many about the extent of the abuse which occurred within the Church of Jesus Christ in Ireland and how it was covered up. There are other signs of rejection of a sense of responsibility for what had happened. There are worrying signs that despite solid regulations and norms these are not being followed with the rigour required”.
Much has, thank God, been undertaken within the Catholic Church to address the facts of the past and to improve safeguarding procedures. The Catholic Church in Ireland is a much safer place today than it was even in the recent past.
Much is being said, on the other hand, that despite words the Church has not learned the lessons. Both statements are true. At our liturgy of lament and reconciliation I stressed that that event was only a first step. “It would be easy for all of us”, I said, ”to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also ‘that is that now’, ‘it’s over’, ‘now we can get back to normal’”. I repeat once again what I said on that occasion “The Church can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be”.
That is a challenge not just for bishops and Church leaders. It is a challenge for all. Obviously in this diocese it is a challenge to me personally. I know my own inadequacies and I do not wish to present myself as being better or more expert than anyone else. Like all of us, I need to have the courage to address my responsibilities with the utmost honesty day by day.
All of us need to have in place systems of verification and review which help us to identify mistakes made or areas where more can be done or things can be done better. We need to continue to build a cooperative climate where all the institutions of the Church work in a constructive way together and with the institutions of the State, which bears the primary responsibility for child safeguarding in the country.
I thank the priests and lay persons in this diocese who have committed themselves to implementing our child safeguarding policies and I appeal to them not to be become frustrated or indifferent. The Church needs you. The children who frequent our Churches need you. Parents need to be reassured by your presence. Public recognition is due to the mobilisation within the Church of so many volunteers who are in the front line in our parishes and organizations in child safeguarding.
Those priests who have ministered untarnished and generously over years – indeed for an entire lifetime – should not be made scapegoats and objects of hate. Priests deserve recognition for the good they do and they need the support of their people. I appeal to those priests who have become demoralised and half-hearted not to give in to cynicism but to heed the Lord’s call to renewal and conversion.
However, those in Church and State who have acted wrongly or inadequately should assume accountability.
What is at stake here is not just the past, but the future of our children and our young people and the need to foster a healthy environment across the board in which our upcoming generations are cherished and can grow to maturity. This is a huge challenge and cannot be addressed in a patchwork manner. The early results of the most recent census indicate that there will be a significant growth in the numbers and the proportion of children and young people in our population in the coming years. This will inevitably require significant investment.
While recognising the challenges of our current economic crisis, our long-term economic planning cannot overlook the need to provide not just protection but also vision, hope and opportunity for this future generation. The Proclamation of 1916 contained a vision of solidarity and inclusivity which dreamt not just of the freedom for Ireland’s people, but also of their welfare; it hoped for “equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens”; it dreamt of a society “where all the children of the nation would be cherished”. These are perennial goals for our nation which must at all times be a clear focal point for future economic and social planning.
The same proclamation and vision of those who founded our republic recognised that religious and civil liberty of all was to be fostered. A republic is not indifferent to the faith of its citizens. A republic respects the specific rights of believers. It recognises the role of believers in contributing to the common good as they journey with others in search of that hope to which we are all called as human beings and believers.
Great damage has been done to the credibility of the Church in Ireland. Credibility will only be regained by the Church being more truly what the Church is. Renewal will not be the work of sleek public relations moves. Irish religious culture has radically changed and has changed irreversibly. There will be no true renewal in the Church until that fact is recognised.
The Church cannot continue to be present in society as it was in the past. That is not to say that the Church will be renewed by that changed culture or should simply adapt itself to the vision of that new culture. The Gospel reading reminds us that the Church lives its life in the midst of different cultures and indeed with the presence of sin in its own midst.
As believers we know that in the long-term Christ who sows the good seed in our midst will work tirelessly to see that those forces “that provoke offence and who do evil” will not prevail but will face judgement on their lives. It would however be false to interpret the Gospel reading as if we should simply sit back and allow good and evil to grow together in the hope that in the end the good will win out. It is reminding us that fidelity to the message of Jesus is the way in which we will ensure the victory of the good.
The Gospel reading cries out: “Listen”, anyone who has ears”. Rarely more often than in our day are we as believers called to listen, to take note, to be alert and on our guard, so that the virtuous life will shine through us in our world. To do that we must renew ourselves and, as the second reading reminds us, allow the spirit of God to put into our lives a goodness and a love that cannot be summed up in our words. It is only then if we love good that we will drive evil away from us.
Annette O Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin