Clerical abuse complaints surged ahead of papal visit in summer

Archbishop tells conference focus on abuse prompted survivors to come forward

The Catholic Church in Dublin received five new clerical abuse complaints in July compared to nine in all of last year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said.

In the lead-up to the visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in Dublin last August he said there was much focus on abuse which had resulted in more people coming forward with complaints.

“The dark days have not vanished for survivors. We were reminded with a jolt this summer how much those who were abused are still hurting. With the discussions around the papal visit, many people with whom we had been in contact years ago got in touch with us again,” he said.

“The wounds of the past had been reopened and they were asking for support, assistance and also reassurance that we still viewed their complaints with the same seriousness as we did when we first heard them,” he said.

“We had five new complaints alone in July about abuse by already-known Dublin diocesan priests, as compared with nine for all of 2017. The size of the march at the Parnell Square Garden of Remembrance shows just how much anger and how much hurt still remain,” he added.

Archbishop Martin was speaking over the weekend in a keynote address at the church's 2018 National Child Safeguarding conference in Kilkenny.

“We have made progress but there is no room for complacency. Apologising can be painful but it can also be comfortable and easy. We can say sorry and feel self-satisfied that all is forgiven and forgotten,” he said.

‘Lack of awareness’

He recalled how he became Archbishop of Dublin 14 years ago. "I came back to Ireland after living abroad for 30 years. I came at a moment in which the crisis of the sexual abuse by priests and abuse of children in church-run institutions was at its height."

Some said “that I came with specific instructions to address and resolve the question. There is nothing farther from the truth. There was an surprising lack of real awareness in Rome of the extent of the problem and little understanding of the nature and the extent of the challenge and especially that many of the roots of the abuse crisis were to be found within the lived culture of the Irish church and, as we now know, more clearly worldwide,” he said.

In Ireland then, there was an atmosphere "of crisis management in dealing with accusations". This moved to "a sense of pastoral concern". He felt it important to remember some of those who helped bring that about. "I think of Maureen Lynott and Ian Elliot, and in Dublin of Phil Garland who was chosen to lead our first Child Protection Office by Cardinal Connell, " he said.

‘Harsh realities’

At the time "victims and survivors were rightly angry and determined to bring the harsh realities into the public eye". They "were determined and courageous, assisted often by a pioneering group of journalists. I think of the late Mary Rafferty. The media played and still play a key role in the challenge of the protection of children in the Catholic Church.

"Survivors like Marie Collins and the late Christine Buckley, to name just two, were determined and uncompromisingly forthright and often they were looked on in internal church culture as being 'difficult'. All I can say is: thank God they were so," he said.

He felt the lead-up to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin last August "was disheartening, given the reports from abroad such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, the Australian Royal Commission and others as well as the revisiting in the media of many of the traumas of our own past, the Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes as well as clerical child abuse."

But it was important to remember “that we are not, despite how we may often be tempted to think, back where we were 20 years ago. Things have moved on, progress has been made,” he said.