Most of society would fail a 'challenge the culture' test


Should every teacher, social worker and garda who failed children in the Roscommon abuse case have to resign? writes BREDA O'BRIEN

THE BISHOPS have returned from Rome and, depending on who you listen to, it has either been a charade, a useless PR exercise or an important step on a journey towards real change.

It is not surprising that survivors of child abuse were disappointed, and that their disappointment set the tone of the coverage. Yet again, the Catholic Church failed miserably to communicate. It was not until Wednesday that the Pope’s statements were decoded for the general public by Archbishop Martin. By that stage, it was far too late.

Veteran Vatican-watchers understood this meeting was serious and significant, but how was the average person supposed to know?

Take the pope’s comments on loss of faith. Many people were outraged that he seemed to be implying that it was either because society as a whole had lost faith that child abuse occurred, or that referring to loss of faith somehow cleared the church of responsibility for structural failures to deal with the issue.

In fact, Archbishop Martin explained, the pope meant something else entirely – that by damaging children, the abusers, as alleged men of faith, failed appallingly live up to the demands of that faith.

Although such a meeting is still possible, it is a very great pity that an invitation was not sent immediately to survivors to come and tell their stories themselves to the pope. It could have backfired, though. Had such an invitation not resulted in the resignations that the survivors have demanded, the visit of survivors to Rome could also have been condemned as a charade or a PR exercise. It would have been a risk worth taking.

The issue of episcopal resignations is increasingly troubling. Resignations don’t bring “closure” unless they are seen to be just and to advance the protection of vulnerable children. Bishop Jim Moriarty resigned because he did not do enough to challenge the culture. It was a humble act, but one that raised the bar very high, not only for bishops, but for everyone in Irish society.

Quite conceivably, every bishop in the country would have to resign if the standard is set at “failing to challenge the culture”. In a profound irony, using these criteria, the very men who led change have gone or would have to go. Before his appointment as archbishop, Diarmuid Martin was renowned in Rome for his extensive knowledge of the Dublin archdiocese, despite having been out of it for decades. Did he do enough to challenge the culture while still working for the Vatican?

Surely his record since he arrived in Dublin should protect him? Well, it didn’t do Bishop Eamonn Walsh any good that the Ferns report says about him that “the priority he accorded to child protection is striking, as is the effort he put into communicating with all parties involved”.

One of the desperately tragic stories in Ferns concerned “Pamela”. She was abused by a priest from the age of 13. Another priest to whom she turned for help subsequently also abused and then impregnated her.

She came forward when the Ferns inquiry was nearing a close to find out what material the diocese had on her case. Two letters about her were found in diocesan archives, and another involving a complaint by a young boy. These had not been submitted to the inquiry. An investigation was launched by the diocese and its solicitors to see whether other material had been missed, and information concerning five more priests only came to light then.

The Ferns report exonerates Bishop Walsh and states that the failure to initially produce the material came from a “genuine error”, and not from any lack of co-operation. Colm O’Gorman, Mary Raftery and others dispute this. Puzzlingly, Raftery refers to a “separate incidence of documentation withheld from the Ferns inquiry until the last moment” to which the report “took a much sterner attitude”. It was precisely this documentation, that is, the “Pamela” case, which caused the diocese to re-examine files in the first place, and as a result the other five cases came to light. It is hard to see how Raftery sees this as a “separate case” and not covered by the “genuine error”.

At any rate, the Ferns report found Bishop Walsh’s conduct to have been exemplary, and the Murphy report did not single him out for censure. He was peripherally involved in a case very badly handled by the archdiocese, in that a social worker told him of abuse concerns about Fr Noel Reynolds. Bishop Walsh told her to write to the chancellor, the designated diocesan contact person, which she quickly did. Bishop Walsh obviously believed that even though his conscience was clear, he was an obstacle to reconciliation. He had been part of the solution, as the Ferns report noted, and could have continued to lead change. It is clear the public perception is that he stepped aside due to being actively involved in sheltering paedophiles (see Is this fair?

Most of the rest of Irish society would fail miserably any “challenging the culture” test. For example, should every teacher, social worker and garda who failed to protect the children in the Roscommon abuse case be forced to resign? Should people responsible for record-keeping in the HSE resign, given that they were excoriated by the Murphy report, which estimated it would take the HSE 10 years to produce any useful information?

Should Garda members resign because they were unable to provide files on clerical abuse from the 1960s to the 1980s, as they had been destroyed or mislaid? Did no journalist notice a priest had a swimming pool in a 1970s Crumlin garden only open to young boys?

The church failed children, especially up until the 1990s, and is now failing to communicate credibly that it has changed. Resignations for far worse than “failing to challenge the culture” will probably still have to happen. But by focusing only on the church, many, many other areas where children are unsafe or have been failed by adults continue to be conveniently ignored.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.