Tuesday 27 January 2015

Why did Good Guy Diarmuid stay so silent for 40 years?

A vox pop of what Irish people really think about the moral authority exercised by the Catholic Bishops in handling clerical sex abuse scandals would find their Lordships struggling to avoid zero ratings -- with one notable exception: the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who would be instantly acclaimed "a good guy".

This "white knight" status enjoyed by the head of Ireland's largest and most important diocese contrasts starkly with the image of wolves in shepherds' clothes that are now tagged to his episcopal colleagues.

Only Cardinal Sean Brady, Bishop Eamonn Walsh -- the overseer of the State Inquiry in Ferns diocese -- and Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe, would also merit positive responses.

In 2003 Archbishop Martin returned to Dublin after 28 years as a career diplomat in the Vatican with a papal mandate to clean-up his native diocese's clerical sexual mess.

The appointment of such an experienced and worldly wise prelate was welcomed because he was not compromised by closeness to previous home-spun ecclesiastical regimes. Yet, he said he felt that he was not the right choice for the job as Ireland had changed so much in his absence.

But after an apprenticeship year he showed he was the right man, ordering an independent audit that confirmed paedophile priestly crime in the diocese was more pervasive than acknowledged by his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell.

A Ballyfermot boy, Archbishop Martin quickly built up a national reputation for being on the side of the victims by dint of his consistent determination to unearth the full extent of abuse by clergy of children -- and to expose cover-ups by his predecessors.

His declared guiding motivation was to put justice for victims, with whom he engaged in dialogue, above the embarrassment of his clergy to whom he appeared regally distant. He angered many of his priests for demanding that when fresh complaints were made, they should stand aside and move from their parish house until the outcome was known.

He pledged full co-operation with the Commission of Investigation led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, and he matched his words in early 2008 when he faced down a High Court challenge by Cardinal Connell to prevent him handing over documents which the Cardinal claimed were privileged.

The public watched agog at the unprecedented spectacle of a public power struggle between the two senior churchmen; Connell representing the old tradition of concealment, and Martin the new policy of openness.

In doing so, Diarmuid won the admiration of even the sternest critics of the Catholic Church. He followed this up with annual publication of statistics registering but not specifying complaints lodged against unnamed erring or suspect clerics.

In recent months, he has prepared the public for what he warns will be a shocking report. In frequent emotional outbursts of anger and disgust at the heinous rapes of children, he has said that he has friends with children and would kill anyone who tried to molest them; and he has spoken of how when he read the descriptions of bestial acts in 60,000 files, he threw the dossier on the floor. He has come to personify the nation's disgust at clerical child abuse.

Along with Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Martin expressed his revulsion on the day of the Ryan report's findings of the systematic physical, sexual and emotional abuse of thousands of children in industrial schools and reformatories run by religious orders.

When the public became outraged at the lukewarm response of seemingly uncontrite congregations via anodyne statements from public relations firms, attention switched to see if Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin would stand idly by and refuse to enter the fray against the orders who are accountable directly to Rome.

Next, up popped the recently appointed Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, formerly the Bishops' EU man in Brussels, to laud Fr Bartlett and to himself call for a multi-disciplinary examination of the causes of paedophile scandals. There to record the Bishop at a Mass in a remote Co Antrim parish was RTE's North Correspondent, Tommie Gorman, a friend from his days as EU Correspondent in Brussels. Mere coincidence!

Clearly, a media strategy had been hatched for Cardinal Brady to take centre stage next day at Maynooth. Remarkably, too, this was the first time that Archbishop Martin was not to the fore of progressive reaction to yet another appalling Church scandal.

Martin moved quickly to keep pace with the Ulster trio. He accepted a standing invitation from the Irish Times to write his thoughts on Ryan which were emblazoned on its Monday front page and avidly broadcast by his other favoured media artery, RTE.

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