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.

News editors wanted to find out where the two prelates would be over that first post-Ryan weekend. Church press officers were reluctant to divulge their engagements. Martin Long, the Bishops' media officer, did not disclose that both Brady and Martin would be attending a meeting of the Bishops' standing committee that Monday in Maynooth. So secretive were the media managers of the ecclesiastocrats that Archbishop Martin's press secretary, Annette O'Donnell, assured the Irish Independent that he would not comment on the report that weekend, nor give interviews.

Events were to take a different course. On the Sunday, Cardinal Brady's advisor, Fr Tim Bartlett, with his superior's advance knowledge, went live on BBC Ulster to voice his personal conviction that it was the moral duty of 18 religious congregations to pay substantially more into the infamous 2002 indemnity deal with the Ahern Government that capped their contribution at €138m, when the bill was heading towards €1.4bn.

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.

Calling for a new gesture from the religious orders that might include the opening of a trust fund for victims, the Archbishop wrote: "The Ryan report shocked me. But it did not totally surprise me."

Astonishingly, he wrote of how former Artane inmates from his boyhood attended his ordination, how as a student at Clonliffe College he had met former residents of industrial schools who spoke of their physical abuse; and of how, when on summer work at a hostel for prisoners in London, he met further hard-cases from the "university" of Artane.

These were gob-smacking revelations. It now transpired that Archbishop Martin was more aware of abuse than the general public was four decades ago. So why didn't he, other seminarians and social workers whom he claims also knew how bad conditions were, not speak out and do something about it at that time? Why did the young Martin not shout stop from the roof of Clonliffe College, instead of proceeding to climb the corporate ladder in the Vatican?

In response to the Irish Independent, Archbishop Martin has stood by his affirmation that the kind of anecdotal information about poor child care and physical abuse in Artane, about which he learned while a 20-year-old seminarian in the mid 1960s, was common knowledge and openly discussed at that time in social work, child care and probation circles.

He says he was never in possession of information which was in any way unique to him, and that it was the availability of such knowledge in professional circles -- including a report by chaplain Fr Henry Moore that was ordered by Archbishop McQuaid -- that led to the rapid downsizing and eventual closing of Artane in 1969.

According to Archbishop Martin, apart from a few media voices such as Michael Viney, the media ignored uncovering the abuses; and he recalls that Archbishop McQuaid met resistance to reform from inside government departments. However, Viney has thanked Archbishop Martin for his generous personal reference to him, and has reproached himself "for not digging deeper, and for remaining too content with describing systems rather than seeking out their victims".

Is a similar mea culpa owed by Archbishop Martin to the victims of Artane and other industrial schools for their 40 years of delayed justice?

Also in this Section

Classifieds

CarsIreland

Findajob

Apps

Now available on

Top Stories

Most Read

Independent Gallery

Your photos

Send us your weather photos promo

Celebrity News