Response to clerical child abuse report


Madam, – As a former Irish priest who was, I suppose, although unwittingly. among the avant garde in leaving the priesthood in the mid 1970s and caused the predictable local sensation in doing so, I have found it ironic that the goalposts have now shifted so far that those who “left” might now be seen as having had the “courage”, “integrity” or even plain “guts” to risk such dishonour in the more arguably honourable search for less pretentious but more attainable humanitarian values.

Was it more important to preserve the prestige of being a Catholic priest, clerically collared, and widely admired, representing ideals not only puzzling to the man and woman in the street, but of dubious practical value in themselves in a late 20th-century western democracy, than to aspire to be a normal citizen with normal and achievable social and moral ambitions?

The answer 30 years ago is very different to the answer now. This is painfully evidenced, as far as the church is concerned, in the collapse of the priesthood as a realistic way of life, at least in Britain and Ireland. Nobody is fooled by the acrobatics of the church in hiding the problem by replacing clerics with what Nietzsche (of all people) called “commoners”, more respectably called laity, or theologically, belonging to “the priesthood of the baptised”. Who are we kidding? The fact is that no one can now seriously consider a way of life, formerly shrouded in the theology of “vocatio Dei”, and “alter Christi”that involves a life-long commitment of breathtaking presumption, subsequent departure from which is considered worse than more repugnant failings, bringing only shame and embarrassment.

The once great, supposedly impregnable, clerical age of which I was a part now looks like a footnote of history. What was once seen as divine is now seen as human, all too human.

But, in my time in the 1960s, guys did aim ad astra, for the glory of the stars. Seminaries, like Carlow, were models of religious and moral rectitude, and nobody of dubious inclination had a hope of getting through. The world, it seems, has changed, and in the words of Yeats, the centre has ceased to hold. Crisis? What crisis? – Yours, etc,


Chatham Road,

Maidstone, Kent,


Madam, – I refer to Fr Seán McDonagh’s letter (December 7th). Fr McDonagh suggests that in 2001 bishops were instructed “to refer complaints of clerical child sex abuse to the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith] which would then decide how they should be dealt with. This directive from Rome, which effectively encouraged bishops to commit criminal offences in many jurisdictions, including Ireland, by not reporting the crime first to the police.” This statement is both wrong in fact and a seriously damaging assertion.

The norms, or rules, referred to by Fr McDonagh are those contained in Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela and they were issued in 2001.

These give guidance to bishops throughout the world on how to conduct internal disciplinary procedures in a consistent manner when a priest commits one the crimes specified by the norms, for example, the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric. Importantly, these norms do not preclude a bishop reporting this crime to the civil authorities.

These norms apply only to the internal disciplinary procedures of the church and are not intended to frustrate or undermine any civil investigation or prosecution, as stated by your letter writer. – Yours, etc,



Catholic Communications



Co Kildare.

Madam, – I was amused this week when an envelope for my Christmas dues was put through my letterbox on behalf of my local Catholic church. I immediately put it in the bin and donated the money to a charity for the victims of sexual abuse. I would urge others to do the same. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Madam, – In the light of the findings of the Murphy report, is it now time to proscribe the Catholic church in Ireland? – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan Wood,


Co Dublin.

Madam, – I was enraged to read that the purpose of the meeting of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on Friday is to discuss “how the Catholic Church should deal with the damage caused to it by the child abuse scandal”. The focus of the Pope and his bishops this Friday surely should be on how it might better deal with repairing the damage the Catholic Church has caused to children through child abuse and ensuring that it never happens again. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Madam, – I was amused by Fintan O’Toole’s strident rejection of the foreign papal monarchy and its influence on Irish education (Opinion, December 8th). Perhaps he should suggest that Ian Paisley might come out of retirement and stand for president, next time the office becomes vacant. Dr Paisley would relish campaigning on the slogan “no pope here” and if he won, it would do wonders for Irish unity. – Yours, etc,


Pinehurst Grange Road,



Madam, – Unfortunately, the heading on my article (Opinion, December 9th) is somewhat misleading; “Time for the faithful to choose our own bishops”.

What I wrote was : “Some other way of choosing suitable bishops, which will involve some real participation by both priests and laity of the newly constituted dioceses, must be found.” In other words, they should have a real input into the choice of candidates to be presented to Rome for appointment as bishops. “We” do not choose our own bishops.

It is of note that something like what I actually proposed in my article was, for historical reasons, the case in Ireland up to 1908. Up to then, the parish priests of the vacant diocese, after due deliberation, presented a list of three suitable candidates to Rome for appointment.

The thrust of that section of my article is to claim that there is no reason why, in our day, a similar system could not be extended to include laity, male and female. My own choice of words, “some way of choosing suitable bishops” may, I regret, have given rise to the eye-catching but misleading heading, since it could give rise to false expectations on the part of some and cause others to dismiss the article as unreal. – Yours, etc,


SVD, Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology,

Divine Word Missionaries,


Co Kildare.