Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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February 17, 2010


My post of 12-28-2009, Sentire cum Ecclesia, described the anger amidst the faithful of the Church in Ireland after publication a month earlier of a report of a governmental investigation of the Archdiocese of Dublin about clergy sexual abuse of children. The report documented the secret reassignments of miscreant clergy by Dublin's three archbishops, prior to the present incumbant, Martin Diarmuid, and the involvement of five, then auxiliary bishops, in covering up the abuse. All were specifically named; the three archbishops, now retired, and the five, now bishops in their own right. Four of the five quickly resigned under public pressure and as suggested by the current archbishop, Diarmuid Martin. Bishop James Moriarty, on resigning, declared that the report "is about how the leadership of the Archdiocese failed over many decades to respond properly to criminal acts against children...With the benefit of hindsight, I accept that from the time I became auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture". That "prevailing culture", described in the report, was to protect the Church and "to avoid scandal" at all costs, even to concealing criminal acts of the clergy that wrecked incalculable damage on children.

That "prevailing culture" appears to have held, and still holds, sway in the Vatican. The Commission of Investigation had written to Ireland's papal nuncio and to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, requesting whatever abuse documents were in their possession. Neither the nuncio or the CDF made any response. Later, a draft copy of the Report was sent to the nuncio for comment, since he was mentioned in it. Again, the nuncio did not reply.

After the Commission Report was published, the nuncio, Archbishop Guiseppi Leanza met on Dec. 8, 2009 with the Irish Foreign Affairs minister, condemned the abuse, and said that he should have responded but that he had thought that the correspondence was only for information purposes. The Irish Times of 2-4-2010 reported that the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, piqued at the nuncio's failure to respond, had invited him to a meeting to discuss Ireland's "general relationship with the Vatican state and the nuncio's role here, including the issues that arose in connection with the Murphy report". On 2-12-2010, the nuncio advised the Committee that he refused to meet with it, saying that it was not the practice of the nuncio to meet with parliamentary committees.

On February 15-16, 2010, twenty four Irish bishops met with B16 and key members of the Curia. At the close of the two day meeting, Benedict issued a brief statement of some forty typed lines. Key items included the following:

*together all recognized that the failure of church authorities in dealing with sex abuse had caused a breakdown in trust in church leadership.

*the meeting, open and frank, provided guidance and support to the bishops for their dioceses.

* bishops reported that lay people, priests, and religious were outraged at the disclosures in the report.

*bishops reported that thousands of lay people were now involved in seeing that children were protected.

*The bishops were committed to cooperate with the statutory and other official regulations about children.

*For the pope's part, he condemned abuse as a crime and a sin and it "wounds the dignity of the human person".

*Benedict urged the bishops to address the problem "with determination and resolve...honesty and courage".

* The bishops should speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps to be taken.

* The "weakening of faith" is a significant factor in the abuse crisis.

* There is need for deeper theological reflection and adequate preparation of candidates for priesthood.

After the two day meeting, a Father Frederick Lombardi, a Vatican spokesperson, stated that "the meeting had had a good result" but, when taking questions from the Vatican press corps, his responses were hardly satisfactory. "Why did the pope not invite victims to come and see him?"
"There was no mention of victims because that was not part of the meeting. This is only a first step." "Why did the nuncio refuse to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee?" "I'm not an expert in these matter. But the nuncio has rules that he must follow." "Why did the pope not call on Galway's Bishop Drennan to resign as had the other four bishops named in the report?" "There was no mention of resignations. That was not part of the meeting. Resignations go before the Congregation of Bishops. Ultimately it is up to the pope. I am limited in my answers as I was not present at the meetings."

After the Vatican statement was issued, the press reported widespread anger among victims' groups, the public at large, and in opinion columns. "It was a meeting resulting in empty words, nothing specific or concrete." "The pope punished no one. Resignations were not even mentioned." "A monument to the victims is already planned. We should invite the pope to unveil it." "We should get rid of the nuncio." There was particular anger at the pope's suggestion that "a weakness of faith was a significant factor" in the abuse crisis.

It seems clear that the meeting was a public relations disaster. The bishops pledged to cooperate with the civil investigation; the pope did not. He left unanswered why the nuncio and the CDF refused to cooperate and why he did not address the issue. The pope left unanswered why he accepted Bishop Donal Murray's resignation and not the resignations of Bishops JamesMoriarty, Eaman Walsh, and Raymond Field and why he said nothing about Bishop Drennan's refusal to resign. The pope called for unity among the bishops in addressing the crisis. This was aimed at the tension between Archbishop Martin and many of the other bishops. Martin, long in the Vatican diplomatic service, had the view that the Church must come to terms with modern demands for openness, transparency, and discussion. He wrote and spoke frequently of the need for these qualities in today's church.This differed significantly from the long history in Ireland of an autocratic church, sometimes brutally so, and did not sit well with all the bishops. The chief cause of the tension was Martin's suggestion that those bishops involved in the cover-ups should resign!

The pope's lack of specificity and concrete measures was evident in his generalized calls for "courage", "resolve", "determination", and "honesty". The emptiness of words was also in evidence in the statement of Cardinal Daly, the primate of Ireland, that the meeting gave the bishops "new courage"! It is clear that an opportunity has been lost. Bishop Moriarty, in resigning, said that he "should have challenged the prevailing culture". It is also clear that "the prevailing culture" that caused the abuse crisis in the United States, in Ireland, now bursting in Germany, and who knows where else, is alive and well in the Vatican of Benedict XVI. The only hero appearing amid the smoke and mirrors of the "prevailing culture" seems to be Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.


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