Archbishop Diarmuid Martin reflects on past decade

Full interview with head of Dublin diocese by Patsy McGarry

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin reflects on ten years of service and Pope Francis. Video: Darragh Bambrick

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 06:33

The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin will be 10 years in that role on Saturday next, April 26th. He reflects on the past decade in an interview with Religious Affairs Correspondent Patsy McGarry.

What was the high point of the past 10 years where you are concerned?

“It was the way in which the peoples in our parishes rallied after the Murphy report (it investigated the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese and was published in November 2009) and the establishment of robust child protection facilities. It was very impressive to see how people took responsibility to address a problem and a challenge which they didn’t cause. The 2012 Eucharistic Congress was an important event. Will it go down in the corporate memory of Ireland as did the 1932 Eucharistic Congress? The answer is no.”

And the low point? “The Murphy report. The most traumatic experience was the gathering and acquainting myself with the information involved with the report, as well as listening to victims, which is still going on. Listening to the trauma brought on them, families, spouses and children…The Murphy Commission couldn’t have worked if we hadn’t co-operated. Some say gardaí and HSE got off light. We provided information and I haven’t the slightest remorse about having done that. I believe it was absolutely important that it come out. Looking back, the most frightening for me is that we had, at the same time, 10 serial (clerical) paedophiles active in the archdiocese of Dublin (in 1970s). There’s no way you can say that was system’s failure. That was a terrible thing. It’s very hard to explain it.”

Critics of the Murphy report have been busy of late. What’s your view of them? “There’s a certain revisionism of the Murphy report abroad. I have no mandate to defend Judge Murphy but there was a reality there. If people don’t say that shouldn’t have happened then I don’t know what world they belong in. 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.

“It didn’t seem to dawn on them (revisionists) that if you wanted to get a priest who has a wide understanding of what went on with the Murphy report I could have had something to say. I was never asked by any of them. In some cases I’m clearly criticised in public and what I’m finding is that these people are doing exactly what they accuse the Murphy Commission of doing, they’re giving me no right to reply.”

What about those who say the aftermath of Murphy wasn’t handled well? “People are saying that maybe we didn’t do enough to deal with the trauma of priests. That’s a fair criticism. But the trouble was the atmosphere afterwards became so difficult that it wouldn’t have been easy to do that. A lot of priests were genuinely traumatised but a polarisation came out of that. Meetings held were not about the Murphy report, which was about children who were abused. Much of the reaction was about church personalities not about the children”.

“What upset me after publication of the Murphy report were 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. The sort of things said to me included `I studied law and in all my course there was never mention of paedophilia.’ Paedophilia isn’t a crime. Rape, the sexual abuse of children are crimes. In Archbishop 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.”

Were you surprised the resignations offered by Dublin’s two remaining auxiliary bishops after Murphy were not accepted by Rome? “That’s a story which will be told when the archives are opened. All I can say is this is that the majority written on this is pure speculation. It doesn’t tell a very complicated story. Most of what is there is speculation and it’s wrong.”

How are relations between you and the two auxiliary bishops concerned? “We have good working relationship.”

What of the 2010/2011 apostolic visitation sent by Rome after Murphy to investigate the Irish Church? “It set expectations it was never going to realise and I think there are lessons to be learned for future events of that kind. It actually, in some ways, delayed reforms in the Irish church because, somehow or other, it created the impression reform would come from outside where in the long term the changes and the reforms are beginning to take place now. This is not just with the appointment of new bishops, it’s going on in parishes. To some extent the apostolic visitation froze the Irish church at a particular moment and that isn’t a criticism of those who carried it out, maybe a criticism of those who planned it. But, for the future the Irish church has to find the answers for the Irish church and where it has done so it has done so well, with the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC).Towards Healing, etc. for instance.”

The NBSC seems to be in difficulty? “I think it has done a great job. Ian Elliott (retired chief executive) 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. Everybody recognises that. I have great confidence in Teresa Devlin, also a person of great integrity. I would hope that the credibility of the board is not weakened. That isn’t in the interests of anybody. But there are tensions.”

Are there difficulties where brother bishops are concerned? “You’d have to ask them. I would be considered at the bishops’ conference as speaking in a forthright manner but I think bishops respect that. When serious problems arise I am turned to as well. I’ve no personal problem with any individual bishop.”

What about your well-known reluctance to return to Dublin? “I’d spent most of my life in a very different world. I was happy in various positions I had. I felt that maybe somebody who was closer to the realities of being a diocesan bishop would be better. I know my own limitations and, somebody said, if I don’t feel up to it I should resign. None of us are perfect. I know where my abilities and talents are and where my lackings are and as time goes on I’m more aware of these.”

And now? “We’ve just finished the third Council of Priests that has taken place in my time. Our Council of Priests meets more regularly than most Councils of Priests. It does a good deal of business. It shapes pastoral planning. Parish pastoral councils came from them, parish pastoral workers came from them, a re-look at the financial system came from them, this time a revision of the deaneries to incorporate more lay people into running them…these all came from the Council of Priests. We also took up problems of priestly life. I don’t make up decisions on my own. Someone said parish pastoral councils was my idea. It wasn’t.