Diarmuid Martin Q&A: If the Irish church wants to survive it has to change

The most influential Catholic prelate in Ireland has one year left as a bishop - has he any regrets?

The most influential Catholic prelate in Ireland Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is 15 years Archbishop of Dublin this month. He is 20 years a bishop and will be 50 years a priest next month.

He was 74 on April 8th last, which means that he has a year to go before submitting his letter of resignation to Rome, as required of all bishops when the reach 75.

Meanwhile the two Auxiliary Bishops in Dublin, both of whom will be 75 this year, must submit their resignations to Rome even sooner: Bishop Ray Field next month and Bishop Eamonn Walsh in September.

Martin was appointed Coadjutor (with a right to succeed) Archbishop of Dublin in 2003, a year before he succeeded Cardinal Desmond Connell. No such Coadjutor has been appointed to Dublin yet.



Asked by The Irish Times whether he would be allowed stand down just now, he replied: "You never know that. At the moment there's quite a delay on (the appointment of ) bishops in Ireland. One thing I would not want is that there'd be a vacuum or that there's a prolonged period of speculation."

The big change “isn’t myself and two auxiliary bishops going. The realities of the dioceses are changing enormously and the one thing you don’t need in such a context is vacuum.

“Others might say that maybe a little time in which people can stand back and reflect and ask the questions where should we be going, what sort of bishop do we need, could be. But I think there are too many serious problems that have to be addressed from the pastoral, personnel, financial situation you can’t allow that drag on.”

Q.You didn’t appoint any Auxiliary Bishops since you became Archbishop:

A "No. So there'll be immediate vacancies there this year anyhow. We could all go the one day. I don't know. It's up to them. I'm certainly not going to tell them what to do."

Q. Cardinal Connell was persuaded to stay on. Could you be persuaded to stay on?

A. "I think it wasn't a good thing. To be persuaded people would want to give me …I've a friend who said that he would retire on his 75th birthday and go on the missions. He told the Holy See that. He was forced to stay on for two weeks. Then they announced his successor and he went on the missions immediately."

Q. Post retirement plans?

A. "I would do what anybody at my age would do, some of the things you would love to have done during your life, reading, reflection, and so on, take it easy and keep out of the way of my successor. That's one thing I think is absolute. And I would say that about Cardinal Connell, he didn't in any way interfere, except for one or two famous occasions..."

Q. Will you stay in Dublin?

A. "I think so, yeah. My mother always said that if she could get an apartment in Nelson's Pillar that would be her choice. The centre city Dublin would be…They can say many things about me, I'm not a socialite bishop. I've not eaten in any of the well known restaurants. I've not even been in them and I deliberately don't take invitations to restaurants and don't take invitations to go to…maybe some embassies and …that was a clear choice on my part. The intent was I didn't want to be mundane in that sense. I entertain in a simple style here in this house."

Clerical child abuse

Q. Cardinal Connell once said the clerical child abuse issue devastated his period as Archbishop. Was it similar for you?

A. "Cardinal Connell always focused on himself an awful lot. I don't do it in that same sense. You'd be very foolish not to say it has done immense damage to the church. And it isn't that the enemies of the church picked on it. It's done immense damage to so many individuals and we still don't know the full story.

“Recently I was asked by two parish priests in parishes where there had been an awful lot of abuse ..would I come out any Sunday…because they said this thing is very much alive in the parishes. And I went out and we did an ordinary Sunday Mass but I explicitly made reference to that fact there was a problem here. And afterwards, again, a number of people would say to me ‘thanks very much for mentioning that. It means very much to me.’ Now what that meant I don’t know. They didn’t want to talk any further, but the wounds are there. Some of these people were abused themselves, some are just annoyed about the way the abuse was mishandled, there’s still a lot of anger there. And I can understand, particularly parents whose children were abused and didn’t get an adequate reply from the church. Very often the parents went to the bishop or parish priest or somebody and said ‘I’m not looking for money. All I want is that what happened my child wouldn’t happen to anybody else.’ And it did happen.

Q. Is the church now imprisoned by that past?

A: "It can't be imprisoned by its past, but you can't whitewash it. The church has to re-find its future. The church is imprisoned in its past, not just by the abuse thing, in a whole culture and that culture doesn't respond anymore to the realities. Therefore you've to find creative ways of moving out and they'll be very, very different. And they won't satisfy a lot of people.

"We're not going to be filling the church in Clonskeagh there with 4,000 people every Sunday or anything like that.We're a very different church and it'll be mixture of….it'll be a church in which - a strange thing to say - there'll be a lot more doubt than in the past, rather than closed certainty.

“There’s a book I am reading called ‘Haunted by Christ’. It’s a book about a number of 20th century secular writers. Constantly, the question of God and Religion was haunting and I’m really taken by that title - that we will have people who won’t be badge-wearing Catholics but will still, in their life, be haunted by questions such as ‘Is there a God?’; ‘What is God?’; ‘Where do we root our values’; ‘Is a secular world the only answer?’

“In many ways I’d be happier to find a population of people haunted by Christ than a diocese populated by conformists who knew all the answers. That is the reality which we will have to live with. Being haunted without knowing the answer is a better thing that not asking the questions.”

Q. What of those you describe as ‘cultural warriors’, who resist?

A. "How do you deal with a demoralised society, or a demoralised structure? One of the ways is Putin. He takes over in a Russia where everybody is depressed because it isn't the power that it was. His answer is 'Let's go back to the way we were before and dig up all the old aggressions' and so on. We have a bit of that in the church. People are saying, 'Well, the answer is let's restore what we had before and let's be there, let's be aggressive and let's close our ranks'. That isn't the answer.

"There are two models. One is attributed sometimes to Pope Benedict - a small remnant of closed people. That isn't what I am talking about either. I'm talking about, maybe in a secularised society there are going to be not that many miracle conversions. On the other hand the message of Jesus should be one that challenges people to reflect and be haunted in a search for values and that should take place in a culture of dialogue rather than hostility.

“One of the things I’d be worried about in the schools situation is that you’ll have Catholic schools and other schools and that they’re almost hostile in their values, whereas what we need is an education system which respects difference but also fosters dialogue and contact rather than shouting at one another. That is something in the Irish situation, because it’s unique in the dominance the church has in education, that inevitably there is going to be that tension.

“I’m not saying that Educate Together would abolish Pancake Tuesday. Educate Together is a movement I respect and there’s been a maturity in their response but you could end up in a situation where you’d have more non-Catholic schools to simply be against Catholicism. That isn’t the answer either.”

Church control of schools

Q. Recent CSO figures indicate a continuing drop in Catholic Church weddings while the numbers of unbelievers in those of child bearing age has grown significantly. Doesn’t this have implications for church control of schools?

A. "Possibly 88 per cent of schools in Dublin (are Catholic Church controlled), with the Catholic population down to the 70 per cent. I remember when the Census form came my father filled it out, but he didn't say to my brother and I 'are you still Catholics?' What is certain (in the CSO figures) is those who say they have no religion. They clearly made a decision to register themselves as something different.

“There’s a huge ... inner city Dublin, Dublin within the canals…the number of parishes where Catholics are in a minority. The No Religion (people)…. We don’t know enough about them…

“I’m not quite sure why some people wish the church should continue to maintain the schools. They say we’re the most open and grand and that is why they come to our schools (but) there’s a substantial proportion of the population who don’t want that.”

Q. Divestment of management in schools away from the churches does not seem to be working?

A. "All the projects about divestment have failed. I'm not getting involved in the blame game. What's emerging more and more is that all our understandings of what would happen were a little bit too naïve.

“Way back, when he was appointed minister (for education in 2008) Batt O’Keeffe, he held a thing in the Royal Hospital in Dublin at which I felt that the best solution was one that would take five to six years.

“In a number of areas you’d get schools and you’d identify, for the duration of five or six years, a primary school. Over that period of time you’d make a gradual shift from one system to another. That would also have to apply to teachers. There’d be a long-term evolution.

Q. Are cultural warriors at work in resisting divestment too?

A "There are some people in the educational establishment who are cultural warriors. I think there's a growing realisation - those who are close to what's going on in schools - who realise this.

“We have a project going on, a survey on sacraments we carried out. Schools in general felt religious formation should be outside schools and we’re working on that.

“I heard on some radio programme some couple say they wanted Confirmation but didn’t want any religion in it. Like the East German Jugendweihe ceremonies. An indication that in fact Confirmation is a milestone in life as well as everything else.

“We’re moving very, very much towards the idea that…For instance this year everybody who wanted to be confirmed had to write, make a formal application addressed to me, again to emphasise that Confirmation isn’t a school subject, it’s a faith subject.

“I am struck by the emergence of civil and religious funerals. Marriage and funerals were ceremonies where the church was. Weddings are where the future of the social and cultural life of Ireland is going to be formed.”

“There are more members of the Government under 45 than I have priests under 45. The main body of believing Catholics and Catholic leadership belong to a generation that is over 45, whereas the creativity in Irish society is coming now from another generation and we’re not making the inroads ….

“In Dublin young people are involved at St Paul’s (Arran Quay), the University Church, Emmanuel (promotes liturgical music in secondary schools). Some people say that all I do is criticise …they don’t see the many things that are happening which are quite unique…”

“Our future will be in a very different church…there’s vibrancy in parishes. We have to find a way in which young people not only begin to develop their belief, but their ability to take part in society inspired by that belief. We’re not generating that.”

A new Covenant between church and State

Q. In his address to Pope Francis in Dublin Castle last August, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of a new Covenant between church and State in Ireland.

A. "The Taoiseach's speech was an interesting speech. It dealt with a whole series of things and this idea was launched. I'm not too sure it was a thought-out idea. I'm not too sure that, on the church side, that what they want is a thought-out one. If it's only to be consolidating the status quo I'm not sure that is the answer either - wanting privilege. Respect, yes, but in the long term, from both sides, what you want is a culture of dialogue and respect within society in which nobody is demonised and where people bring a contribution that is recognised.

“There is a tendency growing in Irish political life of removing the real role of civil society in general, not just the church; that voluntary organisations who receive funding from the State end up working for the State rather than being an expression of citizens coming together in their own way…

"Government is important, Government money is important, but it is taxpayers' money. You need a participative democracy and this report launched (at DCU last month) by Catherine Day (former Secretary General of the European Commission)…This model that if we pay then we determine everything…if you pay …maybe there are better ways…a better form than the church going in and looking..

Q. What of the current Dialogue between the State, churches, faith communities and ethical bodies?

A. "We had one round. The current Taoiseach restarted it. It was one of the first things he did. He met with the Roman Catholic group. It was a good meeting. A number of Ministers were there and a number of specific things were brought up which were followed up. There was one on Caranua (which helps survivors and is funded by the religious congregations)

“I had heard many criticisms of Caranua and I brought these up with the Minster for Education. The Taoiseach said he had heard of the same complaints, about accessibility. One of the areas where victims wanted, and Caranua wouldn’t give, was to be buried…the idea that they could be given money for their funeral. The difference between being buried and being buried in a pauper’s grave is a huge thing. It was a sharing of experiences rather than me coming in and saying we want money for that….

“Another one of those examples. I asked parishes after the pope’s visit to send me in reflections on….and one of the interesting ….a dominant theme was the relationship between the church and science. It brought back to me again that we have a substantial number of believing Catholics who are feeling that the religious education they had received is no longer providing them with the answers or the ability even to enter a dialogue about the evolving reflection of what our world is. This is where we need a more vocal group of Catholics who can take part in the overall reflection of society precisely as believers, not as lobbying groups or bickering groups. Our schools should be doing that.

“We haven’t produced an intellectual Catholic leadership in recent times. When I said this before some people said, ‘He’s attacking them’ but we need - it’s difficult in a dominant Catholic culture to do that…The future of an Irish church is in a cultural dialogue in which you present your reflections honestly, with integrity and with respect for others, we still have to learn that.

"We still have to write the history of how the new Irish State became so dominantly Catholic. Irish Catholicism was always a little bit cut off from the mainstream connections in Europe. The Enlightenment didn't play a role (here). In more recent times, because we weren't involved in the Second World War. It was only at the time of the Second Vatican Council that we …"

Q. You have been critical of the Apostolic Visitations sent to Ireland by Rome after publication in 2009 of the Ryan and Murphy reports?

A. "There was somehow the idea that the Irish church could be reformed from outside. That's not the case. The Visitation was not very well planned. It was carried out with generosity and the conclusions were vague. They were very little. The one thing that came out was that they found that the Irish church was following the norms regarding child protection.

“What worried me is that there was a three-year period in which the natural progress that should have been taking place in the Irish Catholic Church - home-grown and home-led - was put in the freezer. It delayed reform.

"Where (the seminaries at) Maynooth and the Irish College in Rome were concerned they found that the seminarians needed a home. They said they were living in a canteen and went home to something similar.

Maynooth is a campus designed for 500 seminarians. The theology faculty was a seminary, primarily. Both of those have changed.

“The theology faculty hasn’t really as yet come right round to the idea as to what it should be for the formation of Christians, not just priests. It has to find its own way. If Maynooth is to be a Pontifical University (a university with the Vatican’s imprimatur to teach theology), the only English-speaking Pontifical University, one of the few in Europe, then it has to find its place. A lot of people wouldn’t even know in Ireland that we have a Pontifical University. It’s weak in publications. Things are happening, but we have a long way to go.”

Q. Are two Irish seminaries sustainable?

A. "Probably not."

Q. Are different kinds of priestly formation being considered?

A. "One seminarian, for various reasons, is now living in a parish and going to theology. We formed a small group to accompany him on that. It would be better if we had two or three. I think we have to be open to…we have to be very open. But people have to be out and in the reality of the culture in which they are living.

“The Irish College is more of a community in that everybody eats together and they mingle. Maynoooth still had this idea of the professors and the students (separately) which again was another form of seminary…Financially to keep it going is a problem…”

Q. This small island has 26 Catholic dioceses. Is there an argument for rationalisation ?

A. "The revision of dioceses in any country is a problem. In Italy the Pope has almost thrown his hands up in despair. There is a problem in the West of Ireland. There's a great sensitivity there but there's depopulation there as well…

"I could give you 10 parishes in Dublin and they'd become the second largest diocese in Ireland…" Archbishop listed parishes in the Archdiocese with over 10,000 people each: "Arklow, Athy, Aughrim St, Ballaly, Balbriggan 25,000., Blanchardstown 18,000, Brackenstown 14,000, Cabinteely 10,000, Celbridge 23,000, Clondalkin 14,000, Crumlin 11,000, Donaghmede 17,000, Dundrum 11,000, Esker/Dodsboro /Adamstown 13,000, ….Halston St. 10,000..population changing, Huntstown 23,000, Jobstown 11,000, Kilquade 16,000…

“We’ve done the analysis of the population over-65, and then which of the parishes is the highest and lowest. Irish born, White Irish, Irish citizens.Inner city Dublin is radically different. Parishes like Berkley Road (have a) very, very high percentage of ‘foreign nationals’…culturally different. I don’t like designation ‘White Irish’.”

Q. Is there an argument for amalgamation of some dioceses?

A. "I think there is no way around it. Whether it'll happen just tomorrow or...I feel that it could have been done quicker. It should have been done quicker."

Theological dialogue

Q.You recently criticised “the arcane structure” of the Irish Episcopal Conference?

A. "We never have time at these meetings. The Italian and German bishops conferences ..the standing committee meets much more regularly and deals with a lot of this...and reports. At every one of our meetings there should be a day devoted to examination of a theme. Also, it's a predominantly male meeting. There should be other forms of…we need to do our business in a different way. The danger is that some of the activities are delegated and they become dedicated to one bishop and one group and they go off and become independent of the Conference. We're good at making resolutions but the agenda churns out as it was before.

“If you’ve got a day dedicated to a particular theme with bishops, priests, lay people, men and women, young and old. They would have to be robustly planned. The Pope, when he spoke of a synod of young people, said he’d he happy with people who don’t believe. We’d be afraid of that. Even in our renewal of young people we have to make sure that we have a broad cross section of young people not just a small group of the committed. I’m afraid that sometimes that we may not be getting the right people…

“We’ve got some movements that are very protective. We’ve got boys and girls in their last year in secondary school winning the Young Scientist. They’re not out gallivanting and drinking every evening. They’re really committed young people. We need to get some of those, the people who don’t have all the answers but are still searching and who are sincerely searching. These are the ones who in the long term find their way…

“For example, a lot of the good seminarians in more recent times have come, not from the Catholic schools, they’ve come from something where they’ve had already an experience of being present in society in a different world. It’s a challenge as to how you encourage searching, freedom; the right to criticise and at the same time try and bring that into the institution.

“If you want to know any group in Ireland that’s doing that ask any parent who has children. If a parent is so protective of their children that they saw the enemy everywhere, those children would be lost.

“Another example, going back to the Bishops’ Conference, we produced this National Catechetical directory - Sharing the Good News - where is it? It was assigned to a working group of different Commissions of the Bishops’ Conference and it never really took off. What worries me now were we to have big initiatives for young people with a synod on young people but what about the two synods on the Family and the World Meeting on the Family, where’s the follow-up to that?

“Maybe the answer isn’t national activities. Maybe, as I can see here in Dublin where parishes are active, you actually get things done (locally). The higher you go up the more you get into meetings and ideology.

Q. You spoke recently of taking ecumenical relations to a newer level to be more assertive with one another in theological dialogue?

A. We do a lot of good things together. The theological dialogue should be on the things that separate us.

Q. Is that not dangerous territory, in this country particularly?

A. "Basically, if we focus on the things that unite us and develop and foster them, and there's been a huge progress in that. Then we have to start looking at where are the things that divide us? I come from the strange background of diplomacy. People think that diplomats are liars and magicians whereas diplomacy is the art of filing down difference. Diplomacy will only work where there is a level of confidence and trust. That level is there. But now we have to start looking at some of the theological questions and learning from the other side.

“We talk about synodality. The Church of Ireland would have quite an experience of synodality, Presbyterians and Methodists even more. Can we learn from one another there?

“You see we are so frightened by the idea that authority rests in the bishop and that everything else must be consultative. I have a Priests’ Council which has come up with really good ideas. I have never rejected any of them. Now they are only consultative but you can, within that system, do far more.

“And then we should be looking at the whole question of faith, of sacraments, of worship. Good theological dialogue is also important.

Q. It has never been a strong point in this country?

A. "No. You remember the empty chair? This was a classical idea. We were moving into …we had the president, Cardinal D'Alton , and then the poor Church of Ireland Archbishop in the front row and a chair there and nobody knew what it was there for..

“This would be a rather specialised thing. There are things we can learn. We also have a new and important one. We have a fairly large Orthodox community in Ireland and then we have the popular African churches. We have the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We have an Ecumenical Bible Week here in Dublin...

Q. Has the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity any significance at all anymore?

A. There's goodwill there. That talk I gave in Limerick (On March 19th last, marking the 175th anniversary of Michaels Church on Pery Square) I was invited by the Church of Ireland. Two bishops were there. Our prayer life, there are many things we can share and learn from. It's something we haven't been doing. Ballymascanlon at one stage used do that but not …there's been a move maybe towards social commitment, not quite the same."

The pope’s visit

Q. In your 15 years as Archbishop of Dublin what stands out for you?

A. "Obviously, some of the child sexual abuse and particularly the meeting with victims. If I were to look at an event, remember that service of repentance (in March 2011) we carried out in the Pro Cathedral? That was quite …one of the questions there was who should preside and I said 'no, no presider'. Just one blank cross.

“There was an atmosphere of tension there and I always remember when it was over, sitting in the Pro Cathedral (there) were four couples there, crying. I waited at the door and they came and said ‘Good evening’. I didn’t ask them any questions. They didn’t ask me any questions. These were people with their own story.

“The (2012) Eucharistic Congress, the Pope’s visit, what happened in the RDS (At World Meeting of Families last August). I remember at the Eucharistic Congress a number of people said it’s a pity we didn’t get interested earlier because there was a certain sense of…They were small events. We didn’t try to repeat the Eucharistic Congress of 1932.

"There are other things, parish communities. For example the pilgrimage to Lourdes every year with those 200 young people was an interesting experience."

Q. Were you disappointed at the turnout for Pope Francis last August?

A. "You couldn't but be. Again what we should do is learn. The World Meeting of Families (at the) RDS was successful. Bishops from abroad constantly commented on this. Some of the events on the programme were top class. I went to bed on the Saturday night very happy after bringing the Pope to Sean MacDermot Street.

Q. That was very important to you?

A. "Yes."

Q. Because of what happened the previous time (in 1979 when Pope John Paul zoomed through the area because he was behind schedule)?

A. "Yes, and it is a parish that was devastated by drugs, and it is. I had a lot of difficulty. There were security problems and so on but I was determined that would (happen). Then the event in the Pro Cathedral. You had 800 people that normally wouldn't have been in contact.

"The event with (the Capuchin) Brother Kevin. I was annoyed at the Vatican press people. Unknown to us they changed (plans). I wanted that to be so people would come in and see that this was a place people come in to eat, not to be photographed. They should have been the way they would have been on other days. It was very nice. And then Croke Park.

"I came down for breakfast the following morning. We were all staying together and there was just myself and this Jesuit Antonio Spadaro and he said, "Did you see this, the Vigano story (attacking Pope Francis)?" And from then on it was down hill.

"People were saying that, from the Government and the security side, warning people it (the Phoenix Park) was going to be like climbing Croagh Patrick to get there. That, to the sort of people who were going to come, elderly people or people with families, put them off. Then it started to rain.

“From the first day, two things that impressed me….the streets of Dublin. There were more people there than on St Patrick’s Day and it was genuine enthusiasm. In a lot of parishes people stayed and watched on screens.

“Maybe the idea of the big event is a thing of the past in Ireland. Watching it on screen is a way to..”

Q. What was the pope’s own response?

A. "I was surprised when I heard that figure. When you were there you saw lots of people, 130,000-150,000 is a lot of people. He was, certainly on the first day, he was - I travelled in the car with him and on the Popemobile - I've got a great photograph of the famous selfie, the girl taking the selfie. I'm in that picture as well, in Croke Park…

“He certainly was aware of the fact that there was a great enthusiasm in Ireland and he was aware there was a lot of criticism. Where is the Irish church in all of that? It’s a pity we didn’t have…when Pope John Paul came there was far more consultation about speeches and so on. That didn’t take place on this occasion with the Vatican. There was a certain consultation through the nuncio, but there wasn’t the same and there were problems with some of the speeches. I did my part…

Q. Meaning?

A. "All I'll say is that the pope, when he arrived, he greeted me and he said, 'Thank you for the memorandum. It was helpful'. There were a number of points people were just not getting across.

“There’s a great affection for the church (in Ireland), but there was a certain anger against the church and it wasn’t just anger at the fact that children were abused but anger at the way it was looked after. There are people in Ireland who are angry because they went along with it. It’s not just that they are angry because of what happened.

“Another big problem with the pope is that we have no quotes from him in English. We have no picture of him speaking English. But if you look at what he said at the beginning of the (Phoenix Park) Mass, the thing that he wrote himself. If I had said some of those things I would have been shot.. by the church. He talked about exploitation of children. If you look at the phrases they are very strong.

Q. You have said that when you met him in Croke Park on the Saturday evening he was profoundly affected by his meeting with abuse victims?

A. "He was, yes. First of all it was very hard to get a real commitment that there would be a meeting with victims. He wanted to meet the victims in the nunciature. That was his house. Rather than go to a hotel. Or even here (Archbishop's House). The idea was that he would meet them for half an hour and that would be followed by a meeting with the Jesuits.

“The Jesuits needed the sitting room and he’d meet the victims in the chapel. Total insensitivity. Some of them (victims) wouldn’t go into a church. That was overturned and they came first. And half an hour became an hour and a half. The only thing I heard that he questioned about it was ‘where’s the Archbishop?’ But I decided it was not the place for me to be.

“I talked to him in the car about the victims and he was genuinely moved. The first thing he said to me was ‘I’ve written my notes and I’m going to rewrite the things tomorrow’. If you read it, it was quite strong. If I’d said some of those things in the past Cori (the Conference of Religious in Ireland) would’ve kneecapped me.

Q. The religious congregations haven’t fulfilled their commitments, either their 2002 indemnity deal with the State or commitments given to the government following publication of the Ryan report in 2009?

(The interview took place before publication of the fifth interim report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation was published last week)

A. "They haven't. I'm very worried by Towards Healing (a service for abuse survivors funded by the church). It is a very good service. It doesn't attract much attention. They do their own thing. It has been a lifeline for many, many survivors. It's co-funded. It was co-funded in a way which wasn't entirely …I paid far more towards it. It was a 50:50 (between the religious congregations and the bishops) and in fact I was paying a quarter of the entire thing but I did it because I felt very strongly about it.

“Some of the religious orders don’t have the money to continue. It you look at the religious orders, the usual suspects , you wonder do they have the money or do they not? Or are they just rejecting it?

“There’s an idea that maybe there’d be a two-tier system, that some orders would give the full service. Then it’s no longer a one church (issue)…if they go that way we’ll call it something else and we’ll call a spade a spade.

“Ok, there are some problems in that I don’t know who the people are that I pay for. Towards Healing would have indentified that their abuse was rooted in Dublin but because of data protection they can’t be telling me. So, therefore I have to believe them and I have no reason not to believe them.

“The numbers (of survivors) are going down. After the pope’s visit numbers went up which means the hurt is out there. We’re also going to have a group of people who, sadly, will never be healed. Again, it’s not their fault. Very often they were abused because they were vulnerable people. The normal rules about counselling - you shouldn’t become addicted to counselling, there should be a cut-off date - (don’t apply) and there are going to be very angry people and we just have to accept their anger.

Q. Was Pope Benedict’s 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland, following publication of the Ryan and Murphy reports in 2009, written by Irish bishops?

A. "No, there was very little Irish input into it."

Q. It had nothing about the Vatican’s culpability also for what happened in Ireland?

A. "They find that very difficult. I think they are coming round now a little bit. We had the major summit (on abuse in Rome last February). It delivered check-lists for countries where nothing else is happening, that's important. There's no doubt that our system here, the National Board, has (been successful)…again, I don't know what happened in Dromore (diocese. Where Bishop John McAreavey resigned last year following controversy over the abuse issue there) but there's a mess. The problem is that systems are there, they can be very good systems but they may not work. People can apply them in different ways.

“We’d have difficulty with some religious orders whose headquarters are not in Ireland, they don’t quite, they don’t take it (abuse issue) seriously.”

Q. There would be a perception that you are a John Paul man, less so a Benedict man?

A. "I must say in all of this that he (Pope Benedict) was very helpful to me, very supportive of me. In one of his books he actually quotes me. It means he did listen to what I was saying. If you want to get some good quotes Benedict is …he's an extraordinarily deep man. I would have known him personally for many years. I would've met him at least once a week (when the Archbishop was a young chaplain at the Teutonic College in Rome). I didn't have any difficulty with him.

"This pope I didn't know at all. The first time I met him face-to-face as the pope he said to me, 'I'll always remember our meeting in Quebec.' I came away thinking he's mixing me up with somebody else. Then I realised what it was. At the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, they had every day two tables. A local Archbishop would invite people. Himself, (Brazilian) Cardinal Hummes and the Archbishop (of Krakow) Dziwisz and the subject came up about priests who had children.

“The pope and Hummes were saying that the natural right of a child to know their father was more important than the positive law of the church and I was one of those who supported that whereas Dziwisz was ‘keep the priests’. I remember that conversation.

"On a number of occasions we've had conversations. He wrote me a very nice letter after the visit (to Ireland). It wasn't a letter he could have sent to Lithuania the following week. In fact I was quite struck by what he wanted to say…"

Q. He is Pope six years and has shifted the mood music in the church but not a lot else has changed?

A. "No. He has the difficulties that I have, that he can point out the difficulties. But the idea that it is easier to criticise than to do things is a little bit superficial."

Declining priest numbers

Q. Looking back after almost 50 years as a priest, if it was today would you join the priesthood?

A. "I don't know. The difficulty is that I would have grown up in a very different society. I might have gone in another direction and have nothing to do with the church. I'm not one of those people who would say 'I've never once regretted or never once had a bad day'. Life has its ups and downs, many problems. I've had very challenging situations and very positive situations. I never expected to spend more than half my adult life working in the Vatican and I never expected I'd come back to Dublin.

“I was going into Rome one day and I said to the person who was with me.. ‘See that hospital there, that’s where I expected to die’ and he said to me, ‘Were you sick?’ and I said, ‘No. That’s where people who work in the Vatican die.’

“I never thought I’d be back in Dublin. I never thought the Dublin I was coming back to was so different. It’s challenging. I get a huge amount of affirmation from lay people, in a sense almost embarrassing. I know my failings, I know my weaknesses. When asked would I come to Dublin I gave reasons why I shouldn’t and they’re the very reasons that people would criticise me about. I know my weaknesses.

Q. And what are they?

A. "Probably something in my own personality, bringing people along. I grew up in a very different world in that sense. Physically it was very different. But it has enriched me and I've seen, one of the great things, I've seen that the church isn't just the church in Ireland and that the church has gone through challenges in different parts of the world and it has survived and flourished.

“The Irish church, if it wants to survive and flourish, has to change and has to overcome some of the ways in which it is entrapped. It has to have the courage to say ‘look time is over for this, for that aspect.’ That doesn’t mean time is over for the church. And we have to build a society built on dialogue, respect, understanding difference. The church has to understand difference and others have to understand the church will be different. I think we have something there. We have the young people capable of doing that in a way my generation wasn’t. If we can build that bridge it will be great.

Q. What is the future for Catholic education in Ireland?

A. "I think that if Catholic parents want Catholic schools they have a right to have them. But we have other countries where there are no Catholic schools and the faith flourishes. We can't impose a French system on Ireland or impose an Irish system elsewhere. We have to find the system, but in the long term we've to be able to say we are doing what we really want.

“There are two things. One is forming young people in the faith, in the schools and the other is showing that people of faith and institutions of faith can bring a positive contribution to the society.”

Q. What about dropping priest numbers?

A. "We have about 900 religious priests living in the diocese of Dublin. Many of them are elderly. We have no shortage of people to say Mass. We have too many Masses. I think everybody agrees with that. What we need is new way in which the real pastoral care in our communities take place and that will only be done with teams.

“We were the first diocese to introduce a permanent diaconate, the first diocese to have lay full-time parish pastoral workers, we’re moving now on having catechists. It’s in having these teams of people that work together and if there are men and women on those teams and you pick the right women then you’re going to have a genuine and strong participation of women. We don’t need yes Catholics, we need strong Catholics.

Q. Had the abuse issue dominated your ministry as Archbishop?

A. "It certainly was the public perception but I did a lot of other things as well. It was the one which had the strongest effect on me personally, especially meeting survivors and realising that there was something in our Catholic culture at the time which, maybe I won't say allowed it to happen, but which didn't stop it soon enough.

“So many people have been damaged and the church has been damaged. It isn’t that this was an invention of anti or people to get at the church. It was a problem of the church. We’ve done a lot to respond but the relationship between church leaders and vulnerable people of any kind is one which will still require attention.”

Q. Post retirement?

A. "I want to do the things that a person when they retire does - catch up with …I met somebody recently and he said to me 'Dermot', he said, 'both of us have something in common. We're trained to be workaholics.' I'll have to get that out of my system. The other thing is I'll have to make sure I don't stand in the way of whoever my successor is. I'll have to be like Pope Benedict in that sense. I'd hide away from anything that I'm not asked to do.

Q. Staying on in Dublin?

A. "I think so, yeah."

Q. In your recent address at St Michael’s in Limerick you quoted: ‘The important thing is to recognise change and to come out of change always on the right side and by that I mean looking in the right direction’. How do you do that?

A. "It's a quote from one of my great maestri, as they say in Italian, Cardinal Etchegaray. When you get into change and challenge and so on, don't be trapped by the past, or the present and the pressures. To have the discernment, the autonomy and the courage to say 'we've learned from that, we've learned the mistakes of today and we're going to take the risk of the future.' When I was in the seminary risk was not a word that was used.

"The book I am reading at the moment Haunted by Christ, about 20th century non-believing writers, big names, who were constantly being haunted by (questions like) 'is there a God?'; 'where does religion fit into all of that?' 'We need more and more people like that and I think the future of the church will be in terms of people who are haunted by Jesus Christ than by people who are closed and have all the answers."

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times