Resignation statement puts pressure on other bishops


ANALYSIS:A drip, drip of episcopal resignations is adding to the difficulties for survivors of abuse and for the Catholic faithful, writes PATSY McGARRY

ONE TELLING line in Bishop Jim Moriarty’s statement yesterday will have made it extraordinarily difficult for fellow bishops and others mentioned in the Murphy report to stay on in office.

He said: “I accept that, from the time I became an auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture.” It is the kernel of the issue where all in positions of authority in the archdiocese between January 1st, 1975 and April 30th, 2004 are concerned.

Bishops Éamonn Walsh, Ray Field and Martin Drennan must by now have reached the same conclusion as Bishop Jim Moriarty and Bishop Donal Murray.

While serving as auxiliary bishops in Dublin over the almost 30-year period investigated by the Murphy commission, they should have challenged the prevailing culture of cover-up in the archdiocese where clerical child sex abuse was concerned. They did not.

But Bishop Moriarty went further yesterday. He said: “The Murphy report covers far more than what individual bishops did or did not do. Fundamentally it is about how the leadership of the archdiocese failed over many decades to respond properly to criminal acts against children.”

He could hardly have stated it more clearly or accurately. And while, like the four other serving bishops and others named in the Murphy report, it took him some time to arrive at that point, his action yesterday was not without grace. “I hope it honours the truth that the survivors have so bravely uncovered and opens the way to a better future for all concerned,” he said.

It was a noble sentiment and a welcome acknowledgment of and tribute to the people at the very centre of this calamity – the brave men and women who persisted through years of pain, personal trauma and widespread disbelief to bring out their awful truth.

It serves no one that this agony be prolonged. A drip, drip of episcopal resignations piles on the pressure for survivors, for the Catholic faithful, for fellow bishops and priests, and for the church itself.

Ideally, all men in positions of authority in the church mentioned in the Murphy report should have sorted out their consciences on the matter by the date of publication, November 26th last, and resigned en masse then. At the least, they would have retained some dignity by doing so. They also had the time to arrive at the state of mind which would have allowed them stand down then.

Each had seen excerpts of the report relevant to themselves many months ago, at its draft stage. It was their entitlement in order to check on errors of fact. Each would, most likely, have become immediately alert to the implications for their own positions following publication of the report.

Each would have been aware of the uncompromising stance by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the issue of clerical child sex abuse and could hardly have been surprised by his trenchantly expressed views on the December 1st edition of Prime Time.

Despite this, they hung on. Three bishops still hang on. They must realise, as does almost everyone who has been observing events this past month, that they have been badly damaged by close association with a regime which covered up the rape of children.

Where each of those men individually is concerned, that association does not nearly convey the entire picture, but their involvement, even if it amounted to no more than not shouting stop, means they are tainted by that association. They have to stand down. Otherwise their beloved church simply cannot move on. Nor can survivors, the faithful, or Irish Catholicism.

By staying on, they will remain an obstacle to advancement and a focus of distraction, not just for what some clergy like to refer to disparagingly as “the media circus”, but where the institution itself is concerned. Does anyone really believe otherwise?

Bishops Walsh, Field and Drennan are not the only holders of office in the Dublin archdiocese who are in such a predicament. So too is the chancellor Msgr John Dolan and his predecessor Msgr Alex Stenson, currently parish priest in Killester.

Let us remind ourselves why they are in that position. Let us recall the stark findings of the Murphy report where church authorities in the Dublin archdiocese were concerned and of which all these men were a part up to April 30th, 2004. It helps concentrate minds.

The report stated: “The commission has no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other church authorities over much of the period covered by the commission’s remit. The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up . . .

“The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. Instead, the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests.”

It is indefensible.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent

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