'I hoped to hear contrition, but there was nothing'
Published 18/02/2010 | 05:00
HE WAS determined to keep his Ash Wednesday promise. That meant being at UCD's chapel on its Belfield campus.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin comes here every year and yesterday was no different as the students queued to get their foreheads smudged with black ashes.
But there are signs that the constant focus on him, the unwritten belief that he is now the true mouthpiece of the church, has rattled the 64-year-old prelate.
With photographers gathered at the front of the little chapel in cold sunshine, Dr Martin entered by a back door.
Inside the packed chapel, he told the students, as well as younger children and grandparents, that the Lenten message was about repentance.
Just back from Rome and the two-day meeting with the Pope, Dr Martin's homily was inextricably linked to the church's deep crisis of faith. He also had pointed words aimed at his colleagues, especially those, such as Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan, who cling to office.
"Repent and believe the Gospel is a call to the members, the structures and the leaders of the church, who have also in many ways been unfaithful to their calling and have allowed personal and institutional reputations to influence their decisions," said Dr Martin.
He flinched as photographers who had been allowed inside snapped away. Soon, they were moved outside for a planned question and answer session.
A sign on the door advertised another Q&A session with the archbishop next week.
The words read: "Our Church -- do we need to begin again?" Some of the students certainly thought so.
Dr Martin might be the face of a more understanding church but some believed they had heard nothing new.
"I was hoping to hear some sense of contrition, an apology. But there was nothing, so I am disappointed," said one student.
"Let's wait and see. The victims have suffered so much, so an apology would never go far enough anyway," he added.
Dr Martin spent a few minutes on the steps of the little chapel, greeting students and exchanging pleasantries.
It was all very polite. Then it was time to face the questions.
Why had he missed the press conference in Rome? Was the Pope angry; did he really get it? Did he really understand the anger and pain of the survivors?
"Yes," said Dr Martin. "I am angry; he (the Pope) is angry too," he insisted.
A persistent woman from the BBC, in her plummy Beeb tones, demanded to know from him "what was in the Vatican files?" Dr Martin told her that he didn't know.
She came at him again. Did he know the whereabouts of a particular paedophile priest?
"No, I don't," said the bishop, now a little weary.
"I do!", she replied.
His advice was for her to inform the gardai. Things had changed for the better, he said. Things would keep changing.
The meeting in Rome was just the start of the process.