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Defiant Martin shrugs off his critics in clergy

A DEFIANT Archbishop of Dublin has shrugged off mounting criticism from priests of him being "a divisive" figure for fully accepting the Murphy report's damning findings of cover-ups of paedophile priests.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was responding publicly for the first time to criticism that has been building since a meeting of priests in Dublin only days after the publication of the report on November 26 last.

"I believe my reaction was to recognise something terrible happened on our watch," Dr Martin said in an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent yesterday.

"We got it spectacularly wrong," he added. "We have to admit that, and admit it unconditionally."

The archbishop also broke his self-imposed silence to speak about his expectations of the outcome of next week's summit meeting in Rome of the Irish Episcopal Conference with Pope Benedict XVI and leading members of his Curia -- the papal government or civil service.

"I hope it is a time when the Bishops' Conference will be united about a programme for the future so that we can really have an Irish Church that is very different from the one we have experienced," he said.

Referring to the extraordinary summit, which will be held next Monday and Tuesday, February 15 and 16, Dr Martin said that on Monday morning each bishop will have a seven-minute private audience with the Pope before meeting the heads of the main departments in the Roman civil service. But he revealed he had "no idea of the agenda" for the Rome summit.

"I have received nothing since the beginning," he said, a reference to the original summons to Rome issued by Pope Benedict in early December to discuss the fall-out from the Murphy report and to chart a reform programme of change for the Irish Church.

And Dr Martin emphatically dismissed media reports that he had been heavily involved in the drafting of a Lenten Pastoral letter that Pope Benedict will address to the Catholic community in Ireland.

"I am certainly not drafting the letter," he said.

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Dr Martin also revealed he had been busily engaged in low-key consultations ahead of the Rome special summit.

"I have consulted with victims of clerical child sex abuse," he said, declining to give details about these contacts and their advice on the way forward.

"They have been private conversations," said the former Roman diplomat, who took over the scandal-ridden diocese from Cardinal Desmond Connell in 2004.

"I have been holding meetings with priests and various people, too, but I'm not doing it in a huge, open way.

"I have also encouraged parishes and pastoral councils in the archdiocese to put in writing to me (about reform and change) and I am analysing the responses.

"If we had more of that, we would have a Church that would be strong," he added.

Asked if he was ruling out, in this reform process, the convening of a national pastoral assembly or synod of bishops, priests and laity, he said: "Let's get to see what the aim of the renewal is and find the best means when we are clear about the type of renewal we want."

Dr Martin said he had been heartened by the spirit of the lay organisation Viatores Christi -- Travellers for Christ -- whose 50th anniversary he celebrated yesterday at a Mass in their headquarters on New Cabra Road, Phibsboro, Dublin, which he also blessed.

Founded in 1960 by UCD students who had participated in volunteer work during their summer holidays, this lay missionary movement has sent more than 2,000 Irish Catholics to take up longer-term voluntary work overseas.

"I think that Viatores Christi is an example of how, when people put the care of Christ in first place, you will attract the idealism of young people," said Dr Martin.

"As I said in my homily, when Jesus calls to conversion he does so not by threatening nor by punishing, but by allowing us to experience the lavishness of his love."

Among those whom the archbishop met was Maeve Bracken, a former adviser to then Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh, who was on assignment with Viatores Christi in Haiti when the earthquake struck. She told Dr Martin of her wish to return to an orphanage close to Port-au-Prince once she has received paramedical training.