Martin hails Vatican talks

Wed, Feb 17, 2010, 00:00

The meeting of the pope and 24 Irish bishops earlier this week was a step in a process of reconciliation, the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said today.

Dr Martin said the meeting would be followed by a pastoral letter and “other things” and stressed that not everything happens at once.

Speaking following an Ash Wednesday service at University College Dublin, he said messages from abuse survivors had been passed on to the pope and that the question of a meeting between the pope and survivors had not been excluded.

“The Pope has met with survivors in a number of countries, he has always done so rather quietly and has announced afterwards so as to avoid the fact this could become a media event rather than genuinely listening to people in the serenity a thing like that requires. Nothing is excluded.”

Dr Martin said there was no turning back or denial of the Murphy report, which was one of the requests made by survivors.

He said the calling and tone of the meeting showed the matter of clerical child abuse was a matter of concern to the Vatican and that the Pope was angry about what had happened.

“There was clear concern and the Pope was distressed at what had happened, particularly in this diocese of Dublin as recorded in the Murphy Report.

“He called this meeting to begin a process of seeing why didn't we address the problems that were there and why did it happen and where we will go in the future.”

Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan earlier described the talks as a “watershed moment” that would redefine the relationship between the Church and abuse victims.

However, victims’ groups have expressed dismay at the outcome of two-day talks on the clerical child sex abuse crisis in Ireland, claiming none of the substantive issues were addressed.

In a communiqué issued after the meeting, Pope Benedict said he hopes the meeting “would help to unify the bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who have been abused”.

Dr Brennan said a number of points regarding the mishandling of abuse cases by Church authorities were made by bishops “very honestly” in the presence of the pope.

“The Holy Father has heard the many stories of Irish victims, and I can also say they have been believed,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme today.

Bishop Brennan said the meeting was “focused” on what should and what can be done to safeguard children.

He said he understood the negative reaction of victims’ groups to the meeting, who, he acknowledged, had had “a very difficult and often scarring relationship with the Church”

“Sometimes they have been made promises that have not materialised, and I can understand they are sceptical.”

But Dr Brennan insisted the meeting represented a defining moment that would result in much greater care and focus in safeguarding children.

“To have the Holy Father there for a day and a half, and the nine heads of the Vatican congregations shows how seriously the Church is taking the issue.”

“We understood the damage that has been done,” he said.

When asked about the pope’s apparent linking of abuse to a weakening of faith, Bishop Brennan suggested the Pope Benedict’s point may have been misunderstood.

“What the Holy Father was saying was that faith in God properly understood, accepted and integrated into one’s life is the greatest safeguard of the dignity each person.”

Asked why certain issues such as the high-profile resignations of bishops and the findings of the Murphy report were not addressed, Bishop Brennan said the meeting was primarily a briefing session for the pope to help him formulate his forthcoming pastoral letter to Irish Catholics.

Speaking on the same programme, Fr Paddy McCafferty, a Dublin priest and a survivor of abuse, said there is no longer “any hiding place anymore” for priest, bishop or lay person who has concerns about the safety of children.

“Any bishop, who is lacking in the pastoral and spiritual qualifications necessary to heal the Church and effect reconciliation, and protect children now and in the future must go immediately, and resign,” he said.

The pope talked to the bishops about facing the past with “determination and resolve, honesty and courage” which indicated that these virtues have not been present up to date, he said.

Fr McCafferty criticised what he described as the ethos of reporting things to Rome first before the civil authorities.

“The endorsement of the Vatican is irrelevant. A crime is a crime. You ring the guards. If a bishop is responsible for covering up the abuse of child or acting negligently, the guards should go to his door to.

"Maybe when a few bishops have spent time behind bars they might take this issue seriously,” he said.

In his communiqué, Pope Benedict said he hoped the meeting would help in “encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the church’s spiritual and moral credibility”.

Last night victims’ groups expressed dismay at the outcome of the meeting, criticising the bishops for failing to even discuss the possibility of further resignations.

In his statement, Pope Benedict said all participants at the meeting had “examined the failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious”.

Referring to the sexual abuse of children as “not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image”, he pointed to “the more general crisis of faith affecting the church” and its role in the abuse issue. This “weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors”, he said.

On his planned pastoral “to the Catholics of Ireland”, he said that this would now be completed “taking into account the comments of the Irish bishops” and would be issued during Lent.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said yesterday the letter may even be ready for the Irish Bishops’ Conference spring meeting in two weeks’ time but would certainly be published before Easter.

At a press conference held by the Irish bishops yesterday afternoon, Cardinal Seán Brady said the pope had “given a strong message of encouragement” to them in dealing with an issue which “he recognised was not an Irish problem, not an Anglophone problem, not a Catholic Church problem”.

The Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan said that while “victims were central to all our discussions and remain a top priority”, no plans were made for such individuals to meet the pope. He was sure the pope would do so “when the time is right”, he said. Cardinal Brady said there had been no discussions of bishops resigning.

“That is a matter between the bishops [concerned] and the Holy See. It would not be appropriate for us to give opinions on the matter.”

The cardinal also said that were the remit of the Murphy commission to be extended to other dioceses in Ireland, the Catholic Church “will co-operate fully with that inquiry”.

The Bishop of Clogher Joseph Duffy told RTÉ last night that, regarding the Vatican and the Irish church: “We share responsibility for not doing the job as it should be done. I think that’s only fair to say that.”

After the meeting, Dublin abuse survivor Andrew Madden said “it would appear that self-preservation and damage limitation for the Catholic Church is still a higher priority . . . than the concerns and wishes of people who had been sexually abused”.

Christine Buckley, of the Aislinn Centre, described the Vatican meeting as “a charade”, while One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis said the pope’s response was “extremely inadequate”. Rape Crisis Network director Fiona Neary said it was “shocking” to hear the pope linking the weakening of faith to the abuse of children.