Faithful asked to repent for sins of the fathers


OPINION:Why are churchgoers in Galway being asked to seek forgiveness for crimes they did not commit or cover up?

NEXT SUNDAY is Palm Sunday and Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan has planned a service of reparation in the city’s cathedral at which all will seek forgiveness for clerical child sex abuse.

Twelve years ago, on May 18th, 1998, there was a similar service at St Andrew’s Church on Dublin’s Westland Row. The then archbishop Desmond Connell led that special “service of prayer and healing for those who had suffered abuse in parishes and institutions run by the church”.

St Andrew’s was full. Included were many members of religious congregations. Cardinal Connell spoke of “the pain of those who often cried in vain for help and of those who could not even name their anguish”.

Members of the congregation lit candles from a large “candle of healing” on the altar and were blessed with the Sign of the Cross, “as a gesture of healing”.

Afterwards a rose bed was inaugurated by the cardinal as night descended on Archbishop Ryan Park, Merrion Square. A sign dedicated the rose bed to all those who had been “physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually abused”.

And all went home happy.

That wonderful little gesture was somewhat spoiled earlier by the unexpected arrival in St Andrew’s of Christine Buckley. She had been the focus of Dear Daughter, a documentary about savage abuse of children in Dublin’s Goldenbridge orphanage, broadcast by RTÉ in 1996.

The abuse was denied by the Sisters of Mercy.

Buckley had not been invited to the service. To make matters worse, when there, she hadn’t the good grace to behave as expected of a former Goldenbridge girl and sing the hymns or light a candle or take part in any of the many, sweet symbolic gestures on offer. Later that evening, talking to this reporter, she wondered why the readings of stories of violence were from the Old Testament when they could have been from Goldenbridge. And she recalled two nuns saying, on seeing her there: “. . . Would you look at that brazen hussey”.

Thanks to the Murphy report we now know that at the time Cardinal Connell had only given gardaí details of allegations of child sex abuse against 17 of the 28 priests the archdiocese knew faced such complaints.

The report also disclosed that he was similarly reserved when dealing with the Vatican. Three years after that service in St Andrew’s, and following Cardinal Ratzinger’s two Latin letters in 2001 advising that all such cases be sent to him and that this be kept secret, Cardinal Connell referred just 19 of the aforementioned 28 Dublin cases to Rome.

That 19 did not include Ivan Payne (who abused Andrew Madden), Bill Carney (featured recently on the BBC Newsnightprogramme), or two other priests (one laicised) who cannot yet be named for legal reasons. And now we see that Bishop Drennan has invited the people of his diocese to a service of reparation in Galway Cathedral next Sunday.

He wrote to parishes saying “we’ll be asking God’s forgiveness for crimes of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that have brought shame on all of us”. He requested that each parish bring a sprig of palm to place on the altar “to express the penitential mood of the day”.

What is not clear is why the people of Galway should feel the need to ask for such forgiveness. They’ve had nothing to do with such crimes or shame.

Nowhere in Ireland had people in the pews anything to do with child sex abuse by priests and/or religious. Unless, that is, they were the parents, siblings, or friends of the abused. Or the abused themselves. But Bishop Drennan was an auxiliary Bishop of Dublin from September 1997 until July 2005. He was part of the ruling cadre of the archdiocese and, even if Cardinal Connell was boss, he and the other auxiliary bishops had an input into decisions.

Bishop Drennan was auxiliary bishop when Fr Noel Reynolds was chaplain at the National Rehabilitation Institute in Dún Laoghaire, where children were being treated up to July 1998. It is a part of the archdiocese for which he had direct responsibility.

He was auxiliary bishop when, in November 1998, the mother of two girls abused by Fr Reynolds – one with a crucifix – complained to the archdiocese. Fr Reynolds admitted the abuse, but no one told the Garda.

That happened seven month later, in June 1999, when the church authorities heard the sisters had already done so.

Bishop Drennan was auxiliary bishop of Dublin in August 1999 when priests of Glendalough parish, in his area of the archdiocese, had a meeting with the priests of other parishes where Fr Reynolds had served.

And he was auxiliary bishop of Dublin in October 1999 when Fr Reynolds was arrested on a charge of raping one of the sisters. The priest admitted abusing both, and 100 children in all.

Bishop Drennan was also an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese when in 2001 it decided to fight a court action by the sisters, using a cynical legal defence.

It argued it was not Fr Reynolds’s employer and had no supervisory role over him. It claimed Cardinal Connell was not responsible in law for any of the priest’s wrongdoings and that wrongs perpetrated by him were criminal acts and not part of his duties.

Bishop Drennan refused to answer questions about these matters when they were put to him by this newspaper last January.

Instead he plans a service of reparation in Galway Cathedral where the totally innocent will have an opportunity “to ask God’s forgiveness for crimes of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that have brought shame on all of us”. They may also place sprigs of palm on the altar.

Meanwhile, he didn’t even acknowledge a request by Andrew Madden last December that he meet Dublin victims of clerical child sex abuse.

His service of reparation begins at 3pm on Sunday.

Christine Buckley has not been invited.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent