| 5.7°C Dublin

Garry O'Sullivan: Bishops should seek a truce with Martin to heal deep wounds

There's an expression that a prophet is never accepted in his own country.

Today Archbishop Diarmuid Martin leads the Stations of the Cross in the Phoenix Park, remembering the passion and death of Jesus at the spot where Pope John Paul II preached to a million people in 1979, now marked by the Papal Cross.

It was John Paul who sent Diarmuid Martin to Dublin to sort out the child abuse mess. John Paul may have been a superstar Pope, but he was also a shrewd judge of character and picked his man well.


In a recent speech in Cambridge, the Archbishop outlined how in 2003 he was as surprised as everyone else when he was asked to go to Dublin.

"Suddenly I was asked to return to Dublin as future Archbishop. I remember, on that occasion, that Pope John Paul II asked me, 'how is it that secularisation came to Ireland so quickly?' My answer to that question was quite simple. 'Your Holiness is wrong', though my Vatican training did not allow me to express myself quite in those exact words."

For anyone who has met Archbishop Martin, such restraint seems uncharacteristic.

John Paul picked Diarmuid Martin because he is tough and made his name as a tough negotiator for the Vatican at the UN.

He is a strong, no-nonsense personality, shoots from the hip and has a reputation for a brusk style. He is also magnanimous and sensitive about his role as a pastor to his priests, even if they don't all recognise those good intentions.

Seven years into his appointment as Archbishop of Dublin, he has managed to shake up the Irish Church, some would say at a personal cost. There is a clear divide between him and many of the other bishops about how they implement policy.

With the Cloyne Report due to be released soon, many bishops are happy that the policing structures of their own child protection office named and shamed Cloyne, leading to the Murphy Commission's investigation.


Yet the Diarmuid Martin school of thought would be 'why was it allowed to happen in the first place and can it happen again?' People like his toughness and his willingness to consistently call his own Church to account.

Martin is the type of guy who is prepared to look over the precipice and ask 'where now?' while others tend to bury their heads.

There is a sense that here is an Archbishop, hugely popular in the public mind, who is not as appreciated among his Episcopal colleagues and for whom the Vatican might have mixed feelings.

And this might have damaged his future prospects. The question is does he care? Despite regular rumours circulating about potential appointments for Archbishop Martin, for now, under this Pontificate, he looks likely to stay in Dublin.

As Vatican reporter John Allen told Vincent Browne recently when asked what does Rome think of Diarmuid Martin: "...they look upon the Dublin Archbishop with ambivalence, admiring his courageous leadership on the sex abuse crisis, but also concerned about divisions with other bishops and some of his clergy... The complaint one occasionally hears is that he's thrown other bishops under the bus, allowing their reputations and integrity to be called into question, and not-so-subtly suggesting they need to go".


At 66, Martin could be in charge in Dublin for 10 more years until retirement. The reality is that the Vatican is probably happy to leave Martin here for now, after only seven years in the job.

As one of the Visitation team is alleged to have said, to take him out would be an unpopular move and might look poorly on the Vatican. Yet 10 years is a long time.

The big issue for the rest of the bishops is, can they work out a truce with Archbishop Martin and use his popularity to bring them in from the cold? For that to happen, the Archbishop would want to see a lot of change, as he has admitted: "It is hard to turn around the culture of an institution."

And as Diarmuid Martin knows, many prophets have tried and died trying.

Garry O'Sullivan is Editor of The Irish Catholic