Grasping the moral nettle
UNTIL yesterday, open confrontation between the Catholic bishops and the religious orders was unthinkable in this country. But yesterday, under the pressure of the worst scandal in the history of the Irish Catholic Church and the decline in the authority of all institutions, the unthinkable became the unavoidable.
The 18 congregations that signed the 2002 agreement with the Government on redress for victims of institutional child abuse met to consider the demands that the terms of the deal should be revisited. The two leading Churchmen in the country, Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, had made precisely that demand and Archbishop Martin had made searing criticisms of their own actions.
After the meeting, they issued a statement of only 91 words. It accepted that they had "seriously failed" vulnerable children. It referred to finding ways of helping them. And it opposed reopening the terms of the agreement. This defiant statement was issued while the bishops were meeting in Maynooth. It placed them in a difficulty. They have no direct authority over the congregations. Yet the public perception is that they are one and the same.