Just 11% satisfied with church response to sex abuse


Over time more and more Irish people believe the church has not responded adequately to the Murphy report, writes PATSY McGARRY

WE ARE frequently reminded that the Catholic Church is not a democracy, whether by those within the church itself who trenchantly support the status quo or by its opposition, who very much lament the fact.

But, as they gather for their summer meeting in Maynooth this morning, members of the Irish Episcopal Conference would hardly be human were they not relieved that here, as elsewhere, their church does not have to answer before the court of public opinion.

At least in so far as that opinion is expressed through the ballot box.

Today’s opinion poll figures suggest that, following publication of the Murphy report last November, Ireland’s Catholic bishops are now more unpopular than the Government, while their leader could be said to be more unpopular than the Taoiseach.

According to figures published in this newspaper today just 11 per cent of those polled believe the Irish Catholic Church has responded adequately to the Murphy report.

According to figures published in this newspaper last Friday, satisfaction with the Government is now at 12 per cent, a percentage point higher than those who believe the church has responded adequately to the report.

Today’s figures represent a drop of 5 per cent from the 16 per cent who, last January, believed the church had responded adequately to the report.

It also represents an increase of 9 per cent in those who believed last January that the church had not responded adequately to the report.

“Don’t knows” last January were 10 per cent of those polled. They stand at 6 per cent in today’s poll.

Last January also the Government was (marginally) more popular with a satisfaction rating of 19 per cent compared to the 16 per cent who then believed the church had responded adequately to the report.

The conclusion is clear: as time goes by more and more Irish people believe the church has not responded adequately to the Murphy report.

Where leaders are concerned these patterns are replicated.

According to today’s figures 76 per cent of those polled believe Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady should resign.

Last Friday figures in this newspaper showed that 74 per cent of those polled were dissatisfied with Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

However, 18 per cent remain satisfied with Mr Cowen as Taoiseach, while 15 per cent believe Cardinal Brady should not resign (are satisfied with him).

There was no question on Cardinal Brady in last January’s poll.

It hardly takes genius to understand why the church leadership in Ireland has become so unpopular and why that unpopularity is growing.

There was the initial shock after publication of the Murphy report on November 26th last and its unequivocal findings of cover-up of clerical child sex abuse in Dublin’s archdiocese involving four successive archbishops and a fleet of auxiliary bishops.

But since then we have had a series of calamitous events which have compounded that shock and driven the church and bishops further down in the public mind.

There was their meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome last February which came to be dominated at home by images of obsequious men dressed in clerical finery kissing the pope’s ring in such splendid surroundings.

Then on March 19th there was the pope’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland where, addressing the bishops directly, he said: “It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations.”

In what was perhaps his most damning indictment of Irish church authorities in that letter, Pope Benedict said things allowed happen where the clerical child sex abuse crisis in Ireland was concerned had: “obscured the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution [in the Penal Laws era] had succeeded in doing”.

It that letter the pope also announced an apostolic visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations.

It was hardly a vote of confidence from the Vatican in Irish church leadership.

On May 31st last he announced the nine “heavy hitters’’ from Britain, the US and Canada, including an unprecedented two cardinals and three archbishops, who would lead that visitation to Ireland.

Basically these “outsiders” are being sent to ensure that best practice is being adhered to when it comes to child protection issues in the Irish church.

Cardinal Brady’s rating is linked to all of the above but what has damaged him most in the public mind were those disclosures on March 20th last that in 1975 he was involved in canonical investigations concerning abuse allegations against Fr Brendan Smyth.

Most damaging of all to Cardinal Brady was his acknowledgement that his investigations involved two young people he swore to secrecy at the end of an inquiry where he concluded that what they said was true about abuse by Smyth.

Neither then nor afterwards did he or his bishop inform gardaí or civil authorities about any of this, while Smyth continued to abuse children for a further 18 years.