Irish church welcomes Pope's abuse tribunal
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has welcomed Pope Francis's announcement of a new Vatican department to deal with bishops accused of covering up or not preventing child sexual abuse by clerics.
Speaking in Maynooth yesterday at the conclusion of the Irish bishops' summer meeting, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he welcomed "any decision by the Holy Father to hold all of us accountable".
The new Vatican tribunal will operate within the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
It is seen as a fruit of recommendations made by the Vatican's Commission for the Protection of Minors, whose members include well-known Dublin abuse survivor Marie Collins.
The Catholic primate said he believed the Pope was signalling that everyone in society is accountable when it comes to an issue as serious as child safeguarding and that a bishop's office "should not protect them".
He underlined that this new tribunal was "not a substitute for the criminal justice system" and that bishops are "still primarily accountable to the State, the police and the criminal justice system".
The new Vatican body is being established in response to a canonical gap, Dr Martin said, as well as to establish a good juridical system within the church for dealing with safeguarding procedures.
Asked if the new tribunal should be able to act retrospectively against bishops, including Irish bishops, who mishandled abuse allegations, Dr Martin said: "I think that justice is indeed retrospective when it comes to something like child safeguarding.
"Just because something happened a long time ago doesn't mean that you are not accountable for it now."
He added that he would be "very supportive of any initiative which will continue to send out the message that the church is not a safe place for people who abuse children".
The Catholic bishops discussed a range of issues over their three-day meeting, including the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the outcome of the marriage referendum.
On the church's role in solemnising marriages for the State, Dr Martin said the bishops did not yet feel ready to take a decision, as the legislation had yet to be published.
"We'll monitor the situation to see if it is possible for us to continue. I am hopeful that it will be possible," he commented.
The Archbishop added: "the question is - does the State wish us to continue to do so and will it be constitutional for us to do so?
"Those are questions that haven't been answered yet," he said.