| 11.1°C Dublin

Andrew Lynch: An own goal for the Pope and a kick in teeth to abuse survivors

OVER the past few months, Pope Benedict has come up with a long list of excuses for the prevalence of clerical sex abuse in Ireland.

We have been told that the chief reasons why some priests felt obliged to rape small children are the evils of homosexuality and the decline in religious faith.

A recent Vatican encyclical declared that it was no worse a sin than the ordination of women, while one of the Pope's senior cardinals insists the whole controversy is just "petty gossip".

In fact, it seems that Benedict is prepared to blame just about everything except himself and the institution he leads. His refusal to accept the resignations of two Dublin auxiliary bishops named in the Murphy Report is not just a kick in the teeth to abuse survivors all over the country. It is yet another own goal by a man who is obviously incapable of facing up to the truth.

The sins of Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field were certainly minor compared to many of their superiorsy.

As the Murphy Report made crystal clear, however, the bottom line is that they were both part of a collective institutional failure that allowed some priests to carry on violating children long after the culprits had been privately identified.

The bishops themselves appeared to concede that they could not avoid responsibility when they submitted their resignations to Rome last Christmas Eve.

Now it looks as if the whole thing was a bit of a charade. By telling Walsh and Field that there is no need to go anywhere, the Vatican is effectively saying that their actions were perfectly understandable.

As that infamous photo of Irish bishops kissing the Pope's ring confirmed, the notorious doctrine of "mental reservation" is alive and well in the Catholic Church -- allowing priests further down the line to deliberately mislead people without actually believing themselves to be lying.


At the very least, Benedict is guilty of a clear double standard here. He has already accepted the resignations of other Irish bishops whose culpability seems to be no more or less than that of Walsh and Field. Inevitably, this causes suspicion that the Vatican felt obliged to throw a few of its foot-soldiers to the wolves but has now decided that the whole thing has safely blown over -- and since it never deigns to explain its thinking on these matters to mere mortals, we are surely entitled to suspect the worst.

Above all, Benedict's decision is a devastating rebuke to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. In public and in private, Martin has made it plain that a clear-out of all tainted Irish bishops is the only way to restore the faith of ordinary Catholics.

Now he has basically been told to shut up and mind his own business -- and given the lack of support he has received from his fellow church leaders, it would be hardly be surprising if this honourable man was thinking of resigning himself.

Benedict and his flunkies may well be sniggering up their sleeves today, believing that they have pulled a fast one on the godless heathens who are out to bring them down. In their private moments of prayer, however, they must surely realise that this is the most hollow of victories.

Child sex abuse remains a cancer at the heart of the Catholic Church -- and by refusing to cut it out, the Pope is only hastening the speed of his institution's own demise.