Sunday 18 November 2018

Martin rebukes bishop over child abuse gaffe

Angry archbishop hits out at prelate who praised priests

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols gives a 'thumbs-up' during his installation in London yesterday. His comments on the abuse report angered Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

John Cooney, Shane Phelan and Shane Hickey

THE Archbishop of Dublin last night issued an unprecedented public rebuke to the head of the Catholic Church in England for praising "the courage" of Irish pervert priests in "confronting" their actions.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described as "unhelpful" comments made by the new Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.

The comments were also angrily condemned by victims in the wake of the major report on decades of abuse.

Dr Martin distanced himself completely from Archbishop Nichols' clumsy intervention.

"His comments, as reported, have not been helpful," Archbishop Martin told the Irish Independent.

"My thoughts and anger are entirely on the side of victims," he added.

"They are the real heroes of this story by finding the courage to come forward".

Archbishop Nichols made his controversial defence of the Irish clergy on BBC Radio Five Live in response to the shocking findings of the Ryan Commission report, which officially recorded that clerical sexual abuse was "endemic" in children's institutions run by the religious orders.

In an interview broadcast ahead of his installation yesterday as Archbishop of Westminster, Dr Nichols said: "It is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses.

"That is certainly true of anyone who's deceived themselves that all they've been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children."

The strong rebuttal of Archbishop Nichols' comments came as a row continued to rage over the 'sweetheart' deal between the Government and 18 religious orders which allows the Catholic Church to escape 90pc of the cost of compensating abuse victims.

The Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI) insisted the orders had no plans to increase the compensation paid above the €128m agreed with then Education Minister Michael Woods in 2002.

Mr Woods also claimed last night that the agreement --which will involve taxpayers being stung for over €1bn -- was "as good a deal as the government could get at that time".

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe last night categorically ruled out any renegotiation.

And in a statement to the Irish Independent, the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI) said: "As far as we are aware none of the congregations concerned plan to revisit the terms of the agreement made in good faith."

It added that "that the vast majority" of the €128m sum -- made up of cash and property --had been paid, with the remainder delayed due to outstanding legal work on some property transfers.

The Irish Independent has learned separately that of 63 properties to be handed over, some 19 have yet to be processed--meaning €36m remains due to the State.

Cardinal Sean Brady, who represented the Irish bishops at Archbishop Nichols' installation at Westminster Cathedral yesterday, could not be contacted.


But a spokesman for the cardinal pointed out that an official of the Westminster archdiocese had moved quickly to clarify Dr Nichols' remarks and defuse a potential full-scale row with the Irish bishops.

A spokesman for the Westminster archdiocese said Archbishop Nichols, who is expected to be named a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, "unequivocally condemned all abuse, and his heart goes out to all those who have been abused".

The spokesman added that Archbishop Nichols believed that "the perpetrators of abuse should be held to account, and where the offences demand such action the perpetrator should face legal and police processes."

Archbishop Nichols' comments were also condemned by support group Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA).

"Rubbish is too kind a word for what the archbishop has said. It is the verbiage of unreason, and it leaves me cold," said SOCA's English spokesman Patrick Walsh.

John Kelly, SOCA's Dublin co-ordinator, said preparations were being made to take the case of the Irish abuse victims to Rome by direct appeal to Pope Benedict for his personal intervention on their behalf.

"We call upon Pope Benedict XVI to convene a special consistory court to fully investigate the activities of the Catholic religious orders in Ireland," Mr Kelly said.

Yesterday was a public holiday in Italy and there was no comment from the Vatican on either the Ryan report or Archbishop Nichols' comments.

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