Children 'rarely in equation over abuse'
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said it was hard to understand why in the church’s dealing with the sexual abuse of children, “the children themselves were for many years rarely even taken into the equation”.
Speaking last night, he said: “Yes, in the culture of the day children were to be seen and not heard, but different from other professions church leaders should have been more aware of the Gospel imperative to avoid harm to children, whose innocence was indicated by the Lord as a sign of the kingdom of God.”
Archbishop Martin was addressing Oxford University’s Newman Society.
Last month the Catholic primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, withdrew from a lecture he had been invited to deliver to the same society at Oxford on May 12th when authorities there expressed concerns about his attendance.
It was feared his presence might provoke protests following recent revelations about the cardinal’s handling in 1975 of canonical investigations into allegations of child sex abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth.
The Newman Society at Oxford did not want negative incidents associated with Cardinal Newman as he is to be beatified by Pope Benedict during the papal visit to England and Scotland in September.
“The findings of the Murphy Report were disastrous,” Archbishop Martin continued last night. “The cultural situation was different; abuse takes place in many other sectors of society. This is all true. But it cannot be used as an excuse to downplay the gravity of what took place in the church of Christ.”
He said the church was a place where children should be the subject of special protection and care; and that the Gospel reserved “some of its most severe language for those who disregard or scandalise children in any way”.
He said he felt that the light at the end of the tunnel for the Catholic Church in Ireland was still a long way off.
He said the grief of the past could and should never be forgotten. “There is no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings.
“Yet the Catholic Church in Ireland cannot be imprisoned in its past. The work of evangelisation must if anything take on a totally new vibrancy,” he said.
There was no way “that we can underplay the effect that the abuse scandals have had on young people. But it must be said very clearly that the crisis of belief among young people has far deeper roots and roots which were there well before the abuse scandal.”
There were “structural and cultural factors which are unique to the Irish church which have contributed to this alienation of our young people”, he said.
“The particular religious history of Ireland led to great emphasis being placed on the school as the principal vehicle for religious education.” This “became a rather authoritarian school system, with Victorianism, Jansenism and older Irish penitential spirituality combining. Questioning was not encouraged. Questions of faith were to be accepted in obedience.”
He added: “In more recent years, due to the drop in the number of priests and the increase of their workload, the link between sacramental preparation and school deepened and the link between sacramental preparation and parish diminished. A form of religious education which is separated from the parish or some other non-school faith community will almost inevitably cave in the day that school ends.”
Archbishop Martin’s full address is at www.dublindiocese.ie