Still far from accepting personal responsibility


ANALYSIS:Bishop Murray’s resignation statement shows he has moved backwards in terms of facing up to his own culpability

AN ANALYSIS of the language used by the Bishop of Limerick in his statement yesterday is revealing. It begs a key question: why precisely does Donal Murray believe he is resigning? He gives us only a single reason, namely his belief that his continuation in office will cause “difficulties” for “some” survivors of abuse.

While he adds the usual, standard humble apology to victims, and various calls to pray for them, he nowhere makes even the slightest acknowledgment that he personally has done anything even remotely wrong or mistaken.

In other words, Bishop Murray is leaving office not because he considers he has any responsibility for wrongdoing or cover-up in the Dublin archdiocese during his period as auxiliary bishop there (1982-1996), but because “some” people might have a difficulty if he stayed.

It seems clear from the above that, in his own mind at least, the bishop now views himself as a sacrificial lamb, a martyr for the greater good of the Roman Catholic Church. What is remarkable is that his path to this point has followed a clear pattern of diminishing contrition. He was more willing seven years ago to acknowledge his failures than he has been in recent weeks.

In 2002, in the wake of the exposure by the RTÉ television Prime Timeprogramme Cardinal Secretsof his failure to act to protect children from serial paedophile Fr Thomas Naughton, he did accept he had made mistakes and that these had had disastrous consequences.

He acknowledged that had he acted differently, “it might have been possible to prevent some of the dreadful suffering of child abuse. I very much wish that I had been able to do so. It is a matter of the greatest regret to me that I did not manage at that time to get to the root of the problem.”

Then, last month, in the immediate wake of the publication of the Murphy report, Bishop Murray stated the following: “As for me, if there are cases where the abuse of children might have been prevented had I acted differently, I offer to them my sincerest apology.”

It is important here to note the slippage indicated by the use of the word “if”. No longer is the contrition unconditional – the passage of time has allowed its edge to be dulled and the bishop to introduce doubts as to whether there were any real failings on his part.

And yesterday, even such scant reference to failings was absent. Bishop Murray has come full circle. The problem now lies not with himself, but with the difficulties of others.

It is an interesting trajectory and the reverse of the norm, where there is a more usual progression from complete denial to some form of acknowledgment and contrition. Despite his resignation, the bishop is actually moving backwards.

And he is not alone. It is interesting to contrast the statement responding to the Murphy report issued by all the bishops last week with the individual responses of the still-serving senior clerics named in that report.

The bishops collectively accepted some degree of responsibility, stating that they were “shamed by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin, and recognise that this indicates a culture that was widespread in the church”.

Contrast this, however, with the statement yesterday from Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Dr Jim Moriarty, who was an auxiliary in Dublin from 1991 to 2002. While he offers to resign, it is not in acknowledgment of any wrongdoing, but rather for “the good of the church”. Again, we see the seeds of a martyr complex. Bishop Moriarty explicitly states that he has no case to answer, but will go “if it will serve the church”.

It should be remembered that the Murphy commission was critical of Bishop Moriarty’s failure to properly investigate complaints brought to him in 1993 about Fr Edmondus, the priest who had abused Marie Collins in Crumlin children’s hospital.

Bishop Éamonn Walsh, auxiliary in Dublin since 1990, has been most active in his own defence, even hinting that his attempts to report crimes to the civil authorities were in some way thwarted by the diocese. As he appears to be referring to a case absent from the Murphy report in this regard, it is difficult to verify what precisely happened.

Bishop Walsh of course makes no reference to all the other cases he must have been aware of as a result of his attendance at the regular monthly meetings of Dublin bishops. There is no evidence of any attempts on his part to inform the Garda of these cases.

Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway has been busy attempting to emphasise that he also has no case to answer. With somewhat misplaced complacency, he has said he is comfortable with the Murphy report as it “says nothing negative about me”.

However, as an auxiliary in Dublin from 1997 to 2005, he, together with all of the others, shared in the cover-up. He has much in common in this regard with Bishop Ray Field, who was consecrated in the same year, and remains an auxiliary in Dublin.

Dr Field has stated that “if I felt that I did anything wrong I would resign, of course, but I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong . . . I think it would be wrong, actually, of me to resign under those circumstances.”

He also managed to flatly contradict himself in almost the same sentence – no doubt a useful variant of the principle of mental reservation. He stated that he disputed one of the conclusions of the Murphy report – that in 2003 he had failed to pass on full information relating to concerns about Fr Benito to his parish priest – and then promptly added that he fully accepted all of the findings of the report.

It is no doubt this flexibility of intellect that allows him to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that he also attended those monthly meetings at which complaints against abusing priests were discussed by the bishops, but not passed on to the Garda.

This is not simply a matter of guilt by association. Each individual bishop had an overriding personal duty to pass on to the Garda any knowledge they possessed of crimes against children. It is crystal clear from the Murphy report that as a result of their monthly meetings, all of the Dublin bishops did have such knowledge in a number of cases and failed miserably to perform their duty – not just as moral arbiters of society, but as ordinary citizens of the State.

It is instructive in this regard to note that in the midst of all their protestations, not a single bishop has so far denied the assertion that he had information on clerical child sexual abuse which he failed to pass to the Garda. Every single one of them has refused to accept any individual responsibility for this cover-up.

Several more may well resign. Martyrdom and sacrifice will doubtless be the order of the day. But until each bishop unreservedly accepts his own individual fault for colluding in the cover-up, such resignations are a pale substitute for true contrition.

Mary Raftery is a freelance journalist

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