Bishops Walsh and Field fail to see they were party to collective failure


Both prelates feel forced out while conceding no personal responsibility for their situation, writes PATSY McGARRY

THE VERY brevity of the announcement by Bishops Éamonn Walsh and Ray Field, in their joint statement on Christmas Eve, that they intended offering their resignations to Pope Benedict XVI, is an indication of the deep hurt and injustice both men feel.

Clearly, neither was reconciled to doing what he felt he had to do. They did not go gently. Their four-sentence statement lacked any of the broader insight into their situation, such as was offered by Bishop Jim Moriarty in his offer of resignation the previous day, for instance.

Neither indicated any assent to Bishop Moriarty’s statement that he accepted “from the time I became an auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture”.

And neither indicated they felt as he did, when he said “the Murphy report covers far more than what individual bishops did or did not do. Fundamentally, it is about how the leadership of the archdiocese failed over many decades to respond properly to criminal acts against children.”

Both men feel forced out while conceding no responsibility for the position in which they found themselves. They see their situation solely in terms of personal responsibility for actions done and not at all in terms of what more might have been done.

They seemingly do not accept they were party to a collective governance of the archdiocese which had so many inadequacies where child protection was concerned.

Then there was the timing of their announcement. Whereas, on a purely human level, their pain on offering to leave office and in such circumstances was perfectly understandable, their decision to do this late on Christmas Eve was another matter entirely.

It became neither man.

Then, some might suggest that, in the context, their decision to make that announcement as we approached the very height of this season devoted to celebration of a child, of children and of childhood was entirely apposite whatever the intention.

Their short statement recorded their hope “that our action may help to bring the peace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ to the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse. We again apologise to them.”

They said, “our thoughts and prayers are with those who have so bravely spoken out and those who continue to suffer in silence”.

One of those they referred to, who has so bravely spoken out, is Marie Collins.

Last night she spoke of how she found it difficult to call for both men to resign “particularly Bishop Walsh because he has been so helpful to me”.

But she felt “the personal has to be put aside due to the fact that he was a part of the administration for so long and hadn’t challenged the culture”.

It was also “important for the church that the resignations take place”, she said.

She and so many others understand that this is not about “heads on plates”, revenge by victims, or the media on a winter witch hunt. It is about removing a culture with which they were so strongly associated from the heart of Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese.

As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin put it in his Christmas Eve homily at the Pro-Cathedral, “the diocese failed its most vulnerable members. The archdiocese failed to recognise what was to be done. A false sense of protection of the church resulted at times in decisions being made and at other times in decisions not being made which resulted in more children being abused. The interests of the ordained were given priority over the needs of the baptised.”

He said: “The origins of the past failings spring in a special way from a false understanding of the church. They spring from a false understanding of the place of the priest in the church and from a totally impoverished understanding of the church as a community of the baptised.”

He added: “Many survivors of abuse and their families not only had a better understanding of the nature of abuse and its disastrous effects than did the experts of the church and science . . . They also had a better understanding of the role and importance of the priest and the vocation of priests to be Christ-like in a special way.”