Archbishop's comments about church 'unhelpful'


CONTROVERSY:CHURCH OF Ireland primate Archbishop Alan Harper yesterday described as “unhelpful” comments on the Catholic Church in Ireland to be broadcast this morning by his Church of England counterpart, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

In a pre-recorded interview for the BBC Radio 4 Start the Weekprogramme, Archbishop Williams says the Catholic Church is “suddenly losing all credibility” in Ireland due to clerical child-sex abuse, as reported at the weekend.

Responding to those reports on Saturday, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was “stunned”. He was soon supported by Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin John Neill, and by that church’s Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Richard Clarke.

Later on Saturday, Archbishop Williams expressed “deep sorrow and regret” for any difficulties his comments may have created for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In his Easter Sunday homily at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, yesterday, Archbishop Harper said: “The remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, over which admittedly he has now expressed regret, which described the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland as having lost all credibility, were not helpful.”

He continued: “The lay people of the Roman Catholic Church do not deserve to be criticised for the failings of some of their bishops and priests. Victims of abuse have been courageous in exposing deep-seated problems that have been exacerbated by a prevailing culture of secrecy.

“Those who are now working hard to change that culture are themselves faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church, and deserve to receive support and encouragement.”

On Saturday, Archbishop John Neill expressed “deep regret” at Archbishop Williams’s remarks, while Bishop Clarke, chairman of the Church of Ireland Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, described the “careless and reckless use of language by Archbishop Williams” as “extremely unfortunate”.

On BBC Radio 2 yesterday, Archbishop Williams said: “I didn’t honestly think I was saying anything that had not been said by others about the Irish church, including leaders of the Irish church.”

Referring to his subsequent apology, he said: “I was saying sorry that I had made life more difficult for the Archbishop of Dublin and his colleagues, who have indeed been trying to tackle this crisis with great imagination and great honesty.”

On Start the Weektoday, he speaks of clerical child sex abuse as a “colossal trauma” for Ireland in particular.

“I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now,” he says. “And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility . . . that’s not a problem for the church, it’s a problem for everybody in Ireland.”

Responding to reports of these remarks on Saturday, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said: “The unequivocal and unqualified comment in a radio interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that the Catholic Church in Ireland has ‘lost all credibility’ has stunned me.”

He added: “Speaking frankly, I have to say that in all my years as Archbishop of Dublin, in difficult times, I have rarely felt personally so discouraged as this morning when I woke to hear Archbishop Williams’s comments.”

In his Easter homily at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral yesterday, Archbishop Martin expressed his appreciation for Archbishop Williams’s “sadness” at “some unfortunate words” in the interview to be broadcast.

He also thanked the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Meath “for their supportive comments”.