Tuesday 22 October 2019

Cardinal tries to promote secrecy

Cardinal Desmond Connell has struck a damaging blow against his own church by launching a High Court action to prevent thousands of documents being studied by the commission investigating child abuse by Catholic priests.

Cardinal Connell's motives may be based on narrow legal interpretations, or even his own interpretations of his moral obligations, but they are wholly wrong.

He cannot escape the strong possibility that the outcome of his actions and of those who support him could be to conceal the full extent of the abuse carried out by his priests and covered up by his church. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland is still on probation and its good faith cannot be taken for granted. For years it chose to live in denial, turning a blind eye to the abuse and the abusers in its midst, or even worse, lending support and succour to men who should have been serving their time in jails, not parishes.

The Church now pleads forgiveness for its sins, but it takes far more than words to heal the suffering and to repair the shattered trust.

The victims of clerical abuse need to see that the Church is prepared to assist fully the workings of the Commission of Investigation. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin understands that need and has proved an admirable leader within the Church. He has recognised that openness is essential if the Church is to rebuild its relationship with its followers, and he has decided to co-operate fully with the Commission.

Cardinal Connell, however, threatens to undo all of Archbishop Martin's good work. His court action is a throwback to the days of unaccountability and clerical disdain for proper scrutiny of its affairs.

He must accept that there can be no compromise in the search for truth and no hiding place for those who used the cloak of authority given to them by the church to prey on vulnerable children.

What, we must ask, is Cardinal Connell trying to hide? The Commission is not sitting in public session and the documents in question will not be made public unless they are relevant to the Commission's inquiries.

If they contain evidence of abuse, or of cover up, then they must form part of the Commission's legitimate investigation. No legal nicety, no ethical debate about confidentiality, can be allowed to prevent the abusers of children from facing justice. This cannot be negotiable: the Cardinal must accept that the Church's responsibility to the children who were brutalised by his priests far exceeds the Church's responsibility to those who brutalised them.

His action is particularly damaging to the Church's credibility: how can it claim remorse while seeking to prevent the truth from being known? It will fuel suspicions that the Church has never fully understood the gravity of what it allowed to happen and has never fully repented. If so, then the crisis that engulfed it through the Nineties will never abate and the Church's steady demise in this country will not be reversed. Archbishop Martin has made real progress in transforming the way in which the Catholic Church is perceived, but his work is severely compromised by the Cardinal's ill-advised intervention. Deeds, not words, are what matter and Cardinal Connell's High Court action shows that secrecy, not openness, remains the Church's watchword.

It is a real shame, and it sets back the Church's rehabilitation indefinitely.

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