Dublin's catholic archdiocese last night confirmed that offers of resignation by auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field had not been accepted by Pope Benedict XVI.
A spokeswoman said there would be no comment from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the decision by the Vatican not to accept the resignations, submitted last Christmas Eve.
Senior Vatican figures are said to be concerned about the possibility of a “domino effect” if it were to emerge that other Irish bishops had mishandled allegations of clerical child sex abuse cases, and this is understood to have played a part in Pope Benedict’s decision.
To a certain extent, the pope has opted to differentiate between sins of “omission” and sins of “commission” in relation to the clerical sex abuse scandals, Vatican observers also said.
Yesterday Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said it was not policy to comment on resignations which had not been accepted.
Vatican sources said the Secretariat of State had recalled the excellent work done by Bishop Walsh in the role of apostolic administrator in the diocese of Ferns. The decision not to accept the resignations is in line with the decision of the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, last spring not to resign despite his involvement in an investigation 35 years ago of a case involving Brendan Smyth.
The three-page letter revealing the Vatican’s decision, which was sent by Archbishop Martin to his priests, deals mainly with preparation and arrangements for Baptism and Confirmation.
In a two-line reference to the auxiliary bishops the letter, which was leaked to the Irish Catholic newspaper, said that: "Following the presentation of their resignations to Pope Benedict it has been decided that Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field will remain as Auxiliary Bishops and are to be assigned revised responsibilities within the diocese. This means they will be available to administer Confirmation in any part of the diocese in the coming year."
The two bishops had been continuing in their normal duties pending the decision.
Two other bishops named in the Murphy report – Bishop Donal Murray and Bishop Jim Moriarty – have had offers of resignation accepted by the Vatican. A fifth bishop named in the report, Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway, has resisted calls for his resignation.
Abuse survivor Marie Collins strongly criticised the Vatican’s decision, saying she was “at a loss” and “past being angry”.
She said there was no hope that the hierarchy or the pope were going to change anything. The church was not “going to be accountable or take responsibility”. She felt “people, survivors in particular, are also entitled to an explanation as to why Bishop Moriarty’s resignation was accepted but Bishop Walsh’s and Bishop Field’s were not”.
Another Dublin abuse survivor, Andrew Madden, said reports that Pope Benedict had not accepted the offers of resignation were “no surprise”.
He said that “since the Murphy report was published the Catholic Church in Ireland and at Vatican level has failed to take responsibility for the findings of that report, in particular the finding that sexual abuse of children by priests was covered up by archbishops and bishops for decades”.
He continued: “Pope Benedict and Cardinal Brady both failed to protect children from priests they knew to be abusers and in both cases those priests went on to abuse more children.”