Vatican child protection office criticised by Dublin archbishop

Diarmuid Martin says Pope Francis ‘needs a better team around him’

The Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors is too small and not robust enough, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

The commission was “not getting its teeth into where it should be”, he said. And this “puts all the pressure back on the pope”.

“It puts him almost in an impossible situation.”

Pope Francis "really needs a better, stronger and more robust team around him. I'm very fortunate that my predecessor left me a child protection office which was in its early days, but it was robust from the beginning," the Archbishop said yesterday.


He also said structures in the church that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down “and broken down forever everywhere”. It was “not enough just to say sorry”. Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be “broken down and broken down forever”, he said.

Archbishop Martin was speaking at Dublin's Pro Cathedral less than 24 hours after it was confirmed that the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, Donal Wuerl, had cancelled a trip to Dublin where he was to deliver the keynote address at a World Meeting of Families (WMoF) pastoral congress next Wednesday.

His topic was “The Welfare of the Family is Decisive for the Future of the World”.

Heavily criticised

Cardinal Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1988 to 2006. and was heavily criticised for his handling of child sexual abuse allegations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report published last Tuesday.

He was the second US cardinal to withdraw from WMoF events. Last Wednesday the Archbishop of Boston and chair of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, cancelled his trip to Dublin.

He was to moderate a WMoF discussion on “safeguarding children and vulnerable adults” next Friday. His decision followed allegations of abuse at St John’s seminary in Boston which, he said, required his “personal attention and presence”.

Speaking to media in Dublin yesterday, Archbishop Martin said “we are actually blessed in Dublin that we had the Murphy commission”.

“A lot of priests at the time felt this was a burden. It freed us. The truth came out, unpleasant truths came out and it was done in a way which was objective, not managed by us.”

In Ireland, he said, there were a lot "of good practising Catholics, people of all generations, who are very angry". He said: "These are the people who would say that the referendum they voted in one way because the church was always telling them what to do," he said.

‘Deep-seated resentment’

Earlier, at Mass in the Pro Cathedral, he said that “in just one week, we will be well into the short but intense visit to Ireland of Pope Francis”. He asked: “What can Pope Francis say or do in a visit that will last little more than 36 hours? He is not going to be able to provide all the answers to the questions that people ask. My hope is that he will speak kindly but also speak frankly.”

Archbishop Martin said “the scandals of abuse in the church have produced a deep-seated resentment among believers. It is not just anger over the horror of abuse, but an anger at the role of church leadership in compounding the suffering of so many in institutions for children, for unmarried mothers and for vulnerable women.

“These were people who found themselves placed in the care the church to be loved and respected but who so often encountered extraordinary harshness. What is worse, they were in the main poor and vulnerable people.”

He kept asking himself “what it was in Irish Catholicism that led to such a level of harshness?” The anger was “not just about abuse but also about a church that was authoritarian, harsh, autocratic and self-protecting”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times