Wrong to assume Holy See's only concern is upholding its reputation


COMMENT:It would be also wrong to think Archbishop Martin is a lone voice in the pontifical wilderness

NOT LONG ago I had dinner with a middle-ranking Vatican figure, very familiar with Irish matters. Some days earlier, Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin had appeared to criticise the Holy See when he had lamented the “slowness” of the apostolic visitation process.

Knowing that Archbishop Martin is a friend of mine, he asked me: “Why is your friend so strident on this question [clerical sex abuse]?” He then went on to tell me that, as far as he could understand, Archbishop Martin had gone “out of line” in urging the apostolic visitors to hurry up.

Simply, not the done thing.

Others in the Vatican, journalists and clerics alike, who also know of my friendship with the archbishop, often tell me: “I am sorry for that friend of yours but he can forget the red hat [being made cardinal] now”.

Or take the case of former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, the man who was at the very epicentre of the US church’s sex abuse crisis at the beginning of the last decade, accused of having gravely mishandled, if not covered up, cases in Boston. These days, he serves as high priest in the Basilica of Maria Maggiore. Furthermore, he serves on the Congregation of Bishops, the key Vatican body which oversees church appointments.

On top of that, he is a regular on the Vatican diplomatic social scene, including the Pontifical Irish College and the Irish and British embassies to the Holy See, often saying grace prior to dinner. For a man who was once just about the most controversial Catholic prelate on the planet, this is hardly a sack cloth and ashes existence.

So, does all of this mean that the Holy See still does not get it when it comes to clerical sex abuse? The answer, despite appearances, is a definite “no”.

There are many people in the Holy See, starting with Pope Benedict himself and working down to his senior spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, who most keenly understand the critical nature of the child abuse crisis.

However, as the above might indicate, there are still those who are slow to comprehend the full horrors, those who might in the words of the Taoiseach be considered disconnected, dysfunctional and elitist.

The “cabals” of which Archbishop Martin spoke on RTÉ two nights ago obviously exist, both within the Holy See and the Irish hierarchy and they are capable of undermining much good work.

Furthermore, the Vatican has been terrified of the juridical aspects of the sex abuse issue for some while now. The idea that someone, somewhere might get to put the Pope on the defendant’s stand or that the Holy See could be called on to pay the worldwide clerical sex abuse damages bill tends to make Vatican officials very unhelpful. The Taoiseach may have been referring to this sort of non-co-operation when he spoke in the Dáil of the Holy See frustrating an inquiry “three years ago, not three decades ago”.

However, it would be wrong to conclude that the Holy See is only concerned with upholding its own power and reputation. Just as it would be wrong to conclude that Archbishop Martin is a lone voice in the pontifical wilderness. When discussing the sex abuse question in his interview-book, Light of the World published last November, Pope Benedict quotes only one authority on the subject, namely Archbishop Martin.

In all probability, Benedict is not as “disconnected” as some of those around him.