Monday 30 May 2016

David Quinn: Time to commend Pope for response to abuse

Published 12/02/2010 | 05:00

Pope Benedict XVI will meet Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in Rome on Monday
Pope Benedict XVI will meet Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in Rome on Monday

We are led to believe that the Pope has said and done practically nothing about child abuse by priests. In actual fact, he has said and done quite a lot.

It is important to put this on the record ahead of the meeting between the Irish Catholic hierarchy and Pope Benedict XVI next week, because perceptions matter so much.

For example, in 2006 the Pope met with all of the Irish bishops in Rome, condemned the "egregious crime" of child abuse and told the bishops "to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it occurring again, to ensure principles of justice are fully respected, and above all to bring healing".

In 2008, he visited both the US and Australia. He spoke about child abuse while on the plane to America. He spoke about it in New York and Washington. He held a 25-minute meeting with abuse victims. He was praised in 'Time' magazine, and in lots of other media, for his "forthrightness on sexual abuse".

In Australia, he also condemned child abuse and met with more victims.

In 2008, he had a group of Canadian victims flown to Rome to meet with him.

The Pope met with Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to discuss child abuse following the publication of the Ryan report last summer.

He told them again to do everything possible to ensure that justice was done and said that the abuse could not reoccur.

Following the publication of the Murphy report, he again met Dr Brady and Dr Martin and again condemned clerical sex abusers for their betrayal of children.

Only this week, in a speech on the family, he said: "The church does not cease to condemn and will not cease to deplore and condemn" those who violate children.

Before becoming Pope, Benedict was responsible for releasing 'Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela'. Far from it ordering the 'cover-up' of abuse cases as some have alleged, this instruction fast-tracked the defrocking of priests found guilty of child abuse.

Hundreds of priests have now been 'defrocked', or laicised, because of it -- eight in the Ferns Diocese alone. Two more cases involving Ferns priests are pending.

All 10 of these cases are known to the civil authorities. The church procedure for laicising priests works in parallel to investigations by the civil authorities, not in opposition.

Ahead of the Rome meeting, something else needs to be put on the record -- namely that from around the mid-1990s, the Dublin Diocese began to deal with abuse allegations in a far better fashion than it had previously.

For this piece of information we can be thankful for the analysis of the Murphy report offered by Fr Padraig McCarthy in the current issue of 'The Furrow'.

His analysis shows "that of the 45 cases in which the report gives an assessment, handling by the church in 25 cases receives some sort of approval from the commission; 20 cases receive varying degrees of criticism".

Those 25 cases date from roughly the mid-1990s. Most people wrongly assume it is only in the last four or five years, not the last 14 or 15, that the diocese has begun to get things right.

We, and Rome, also need to be reminded of one of the key findings of the Murphy report, which is that one of the reasons abuse cases were so badly handled is that canon law had fallen into disuse in Ireland from around the 1960s.

If canon law had been properly used, offending clerics would have been removed from ministry in many cases instead of being sent off for therapy.

Let us also remind ourselves of who it was that threw canon law in the bin. It was liberal clergy who deemed it too 'legalistic' and who, even now, are presenting themselves as the saviours of the church.

What will come out of next week's meeting with the bishops? Hopefully, a sort of Marshall Plan for the church in Ireland.

The abuse scandals are only one part -- the worst part, obviously -- of a general crisis of faith and leadership in the Irish church.

The Vatican can help to address this by appointing stronger, more capable bishops, something the current selection process in this country is failing to do.

This process is overly reliant on the advice of other Irish bishops and priests and too often it has thrown up precisely the sort of men who stood by while canon law was thrown in the bin, and who then, hypocritically, hid behind it when their actions vis-a-vis the scandals were criticised.

Six dioceses in Ireland are either vacant or about to fall vacant. The present nuncio needs to be given a mission to put the right men in those dioceses.

By all means consult with the priests or the bishops, but if this consultation process is not producing names that will offer strong leadership on the national and diocesan stage, then either the nuncio or Rome need to come up with their own names.

This is the best thing the Pope can do for the beleaguered church in Ireland.

Irish Independent

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