Martin warns of 'serious' about-turn on abuse


A PROPOSAL under legislation that allegations of abuse may not be reported to gardaí if the victim requests such a move would “be a serious turning back”, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said yesterday.

The seal of confession was respected in “many countries and many republics”, he pointed out, expressing a hope that the Vatican would respond soon to questions put by the Government last week.

On publication of audits by the Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children, he said: “There’s no point in having a report if it’s not published.”

Speaking to the media at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral yesterday, Archbishop Martin said new legislation on reporting abuse, announced by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald last Friday, left him “worried about one aspect”.

This was that “you would not be obliged to report to the police if the victim did not want you to do that”.

That would “be a serious turning back on the way in which the church is reporting. We tell people from the very beginning there is no way in which you can speak to us without knowing that we will report to the police, and I would hope that that [the proviso on not reporting] wouldn’t happen,” he said.

He felt the confessional seal was “something that belongs in the Catholic tradition for many, many centuries.

“It’s respected in the legislation of many countries and many republics. I think that that should not be overlooked.”

On calls for the expulsion of the papal nuncio and closure of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, he said: “The Government has now asked the Vatican in a formal way to provide answers to the questions, and I hope that the answers will come.”

He noted that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said on Saturday he wished to receive a reply from the Vatican within a reasonable time. “That’s the first thing to be done,” Archbishop Martin said.

As regards the papal nuncio, “Having been a diplomat myself . . . diplomats are actually more important in troubled times than in peaceful times, and I think the nuncio is here to do that work,” he said.

As to whether Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady should resign in light of his support for Bishop John Magee in January 2009 and of his swearing to secrecy of two young people abused by Fr Brendan Smyth, Archbishop Martin said: “I don’t give advice to other bishops. Everybody has the obligation to be answerable and to come forward and say what their position is and to make up their mind in conscience.” He felt Bishop Magee “will not exercise ministry in the near future” and that Cloyne had been “a model of all that can go wrong, and there’s a lot to be learned from it on all sides”.

On audits of the board for safeguarding children he said he would urge bishop colleagues to publish them, and if a bishop “feels he is being treated unjustly, publish it and then say this is unjust. But by hiding, [that] wouldn’t be helpful.”

He said: “Hearing one day that everybody’s co-operating, the next day there are some not co-operating . . . that isn’t a healthy atmosphere. We do need to try and work together. Audits and reviews aren’t just about pointing fingers at people . . . they’re primarily there to help all of us.”

There was “a sort of climate there within some of the church authorities that leaves me a little bit unhappy,” he said.

“The vast majority of bishops and religious congregations are strongly behind the measures that are there,” he said. “If there’s somebody who’s not playing their part, then all of us end up being criticised . . . that’s the problem.”

He believed the 1997 Vatican letter opposing the Irish Bishops’ Framework Document was “unfortunate”, and “didn’t help in any way”. Yet, despite it, “the vast majority of Irish bishops went ahead with their plans. They disregarded that letter. Cardinal Connell actually took measures in a strong way against it.”