Many priests were ‘traumatised’ in wake of Murphy report, says Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop says not enough was done to help priests after the report’s publication
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at home in Drumcondra: “My living quarters are smaller than [the pope’s].” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Not enough was done to help priests after the Murphy report into the handling of allegations of clerical child sex abuse was published in 2009, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
In an interview to mark 10 years since he became archbishop in April 2004, he said it was “a fair criticism” to say that not enough had been done to deal with “the trauma of priests” after the publication of the Murphy report, but add- ed that the atmosphere “became so difficult that it wouldn’t have been easy to do that”.
A lot of priests were “genuinely traumatised” and “a polarisation came out of that”.
Soon meetings “were not about the Murphy report”. Instead, much of the reaction “was about church personalities, not about the children”.
He noted that now there was “a certain revisionism of the Murphy report abroad”, which he rejected. “The pope himself has said that he wants to take/assume a responsibility within the church for what happened. There can be no denial of that and there can be no denial that the church in which that happened had got it severely wrong,” he said.
What upset Martin most after the publication of the Murphy report was “the sort of bland apologies. It just wasn’t, to me, the sort of reaction that should be coming from a situation within the church of Jesus Christ in which you had the sort of thing said to me, ‘I studied law and in all my course there was never mention of paedophilia’.”
But if paedophilia was not a crime, “the rape, the sexual abuse of children”, was a crime, he said. “In Archbishop [John Charles] McQuaid’s time canonical trials took place . . . We had a priest arrested in the 1950s for child sexual abuse. It was well known that child molesters were at high risk in prison because they were considered the lowest of the low, which means there was an awareness in legal circles that child molesting took place.”
The Murphy commission “couldn’t have worked if we hadn’t co-operated. Some say gardaí and the HSE got off light. We provided that information and I haven’t the slightest remorse about having done that. I believe it was absolutely important that it come out,” he said.
The most frightening thing for Martin was the discovery “that we had, at the same time, 10 serial paedophiles active in the archdiocese of Dublin [in the 1970s]. There’s no way you can say that was systems’ failure. That was a terrible thing. It’s very hard to explain it.”
The high point of his 10 years as Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has been “the way in which the people in our parishes rallied after the Murphy report”. It was “very impressive to see how people took responsibility to address a problem and a challenge which they didn’t cause. To me that was a clear sign of the fact that people love their church.”
Another high point was the 2012 Eucharistic Congress, but “will it go down in the corporate memory of Ireland as did the 1932 Eucharistic Congress? The answer is no.”
Low points are concentrated around the Murphy report. For him, “the traumatic experience was gathering and acquainting myself with the information involved with the Murphy report, as well as sitting listening to victims, which is still going on, and listening to the trauma brought on them, families, spouses and children.”
As to whether he was surprised at Rome’s refusal to accept the resignations of Dublin’s two auxiliary bishops following the Murphy report, he said: “That’s a story which will be told when the archives are opened.”
Most of what was written on the matter was “pure speculation” and “wrong”. He had a “good working relationship” with both bishops.
The church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children has just completed an audit of child protection in the archdiocese, which he found “very useful . . . as a way get independent verification that you have the right things in place”.
He said the board’s retired chief executive, Ian Elliott, “did extraordinary work. He certainly was the right man in the right place at the right time. Only a person with his dogged determination would have got the systems going.”
He had “great confidence” in Teresa Devlin, the board’s new chief executive, who he said was “also a person of great integrity”. Where the dispute between Elliott and the board was concerned, he hoped “the credibility of the board is not weakened. That isn’t in the interests of anybody.”
Has Martin enjoyed the job? “Yes. I am doing 40 Confirmations this year and it’s great meeting, listening and talking to people at an important moment in their lives.”
As to whether he was returning to Rome in the near future, that was “a perception greatly cultivated by a number of journalists on the basis of, effectively, clerical gossip”.
In Ireland, he said, “we have to learn to fight our agendas robustly but respectfully. I still say we’re at a stage in secularisation in Ireland where there are still what I call adolescent elements, on both sides, who are reacting rather than coming into mature debate.”
Ways had to be found “which allow each of us to flourish in our own traditions, and also to flourish in public in our traditions”.
Plurality in schools
On plurality in school boards of management, Martin said: “I took a lead because I believe we will only have pluralism when, in schools, there’s a plurality of patronage, which allows people of different traditions to flourish within their tradition . . . Those who want something different, they also have a civic right to have that provided for them.”
He felt “a more robust collaboration” between the Department of Education and the church “would make these things move a little quickly”.
Martin said he was “not happy with somebody who really doesn’t believe being forced to be the religious education teacher in a school”. Teachers “should be able to move to the type of school where they would be happier in accordance with their own conscience and convictions”.
On protection-of-life issues in hospitals, he noted that, “as yet, the Government has to produce guidelines. Hospitals have an ethos. In some cases that ethos is contractual and can’t be legally broken. I would hope that we’d be able to leave space for conscientious objection of individuals.”
Pope Francis had “shown a real sense of governance” and “changed the whole atmosphere of a place where people are more proud to belong to the organisation. He has done that by charism and by dedication, but he has also shown a very sharp sense of governance.”
The pope’s move to Santa Marta had “broken down a whole system of people who managed access to him and he hasn’t relinquished on that”. He was “still very, very determined that he’s not going to be pushed into the system. You can see in certain parts of the church a great unease about this man because they simply don’t know what next, and they’re right.”
When Martin met Francis in Quebec during the 2008 Eucharistic Congress, he was a “very quiet, reserved man. He didn’t have that sense of reaching out that he has now. In that sense he has changed and he has changed at the age of 78, which is quite a remarkable achievement.”
In the context of Pope Francis’s call for a poor church for the poor, Martin said of Archbishop’s House in Drumcondra: “My living quarters are smaller than [the pope’s] . . . My staff is half that of my predecessor. I probably cook more meals for myself than he did. I look after myself, my own shopping.”
He said the pope would usher in “more a change in the atmosphere in which people are being asked to live than a change in teaching, but that is not to be underestimated”.
Martin felt pope John XXIII and Pope Francis were similar. “Both wanted to open windows and blow away cobwebs. This man wants even the windows that don’t open to be transparent.”