Excerpts from RTÉ Interview with retired AB Diarmuid Martin, as reported in the Irish Times

Dublin — September 7, 2023

The Irish prelate credited with being among the first to tackle the clerical abuse crisis head-on said he did not believe there will be women priests in the Catholic Church in his lifetime.

He also warned that synodal consultations could lead to “frustrated expectations” when people realize that the process will not lead to a radical change in church teaching on hot-button issues such as the ordination of women.

Retired Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin also said that he believes that St. John Paul II was guilty of “bad theology” when the pontiff said during the AIDS crisis that it was not permitted for Catholics to use condoms to halt the spread of the virus.

Regarding sexual abuse, Archbisop Martin, who was on the front line of facing this in Ireland, said the scandals had “badly damaged the church,” especially “the faith of young people.”

Archbishop Martin made the comments in an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTÉ Sept. 3 in the 100th episode of “The Meaning of Life” program.

When the presenter asked the retired prelate if he felt what St. John Paul said on the usage of condoms during the AIDS crisis was a “bad judgment,” retired archbishop of Dublin replied, “I think it was bad theology.”

“It’s this idea of an extraordinarily narrow, dogmatic understanding of bringing principles,” he continued, “and not looking at the broad circumstances in which a situation is taking place, and the struggles that people have to face.”

Archbishop Martin said that in his opinion this approach “was one of the problems with the church in Ireland. You know, we learned the rules before we learned who Jesus Christ was.”

On the hot-button issues, many of which came up in the synod consultations, the RTÉ presenter asked Archbishop Martin the question of women’s ordination.

“I don’t see in any way that women priests will be something we will see in my lifetime,” he replied.

The archbishop also used the interview to caution fellow bishops about synodality. “I think I’d be very worried about consultations which lead to frustrated expectations, which don’t take place,” he said.

“And I would not be honest to say that it’s going to happen overnight,” he said.

Speaking in the context of Ireland’s referenda on same-sex marriage and abortion, which saw huge margins supporting liberalization of these laws, the archbishop was asked about the fact that the church has been on the losing side on both controversial issues.

The archbishop replied, “The church has got so caught up in the dogmatic rights and wrongs, absolute rights and wrongs, that it’s lost the context.”

He praised Pope Francis for, in his view, rebalancing this. “This is the great thing about Pope Francis. Pope Francis says he’s not changing the church’s teaching – but he’s being different with people.”

He warned that “if the church appears only as a rule book, then they have lost Christianity. That isn’t what Christianity is about.”

The archbishop also praised the ministry of priests, while insisting that there is a much greater need for lay participation in mission.

“There are so many of these extraordinary good priests out there – not the famous ones – and, and I think we’ve got to get many, many more laypeople prepared to come in and do something and give this witness to the real God, not to the God of the rule books.”

Archbishop Martin, a Dublin native who worked as a papal diplomat for many years, returned to the Irish capital in 2003 as coadjutor to the embattled Cardinal Desmond Connell. The cardinal had been the subject of scrutiny over the church’s handling of abuse allegations going back to the 1950s. A later judge-led inquiry ruled that the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal had routinely been put ahead of the needs of victims of clerical sexual abuse.

In the RTÉ interview, the prelate revealed that in his study of the actions that his predecessors took on abuse, he believed that around the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the church adopted a more lenient attitude toward abusive clergy.

“This was one of the problems. After the Second Vatican Council people said that canon law shouldn’t be punitive – it should rehabilitate people,” he said.

“And they (church leaders) did exactly the wrong thing with sexual abusers,” he said.

Archbishop Martin said he also was upset about the vast damage the abuse scandals did to the faith of young people.

“If the church appears only as a rule book, then they have lost Christianity. That isn’t what Christianity is about.”

“One thing that people don’t talk about: It (abuse) has damaged the faith of young people. Young people weren’t out protesting on the streets, but they were disgusted.”

He recalled many young people in Ireland were upset that their parents still went to Mass. He also admitted that a big mistake of church leaders was not to listen to the mothers, who were the first to sense the scale of the sexual abuse.

“Do you know who understood the harm pedophilia did?” he asked. “Ordinary, working-class Dublin women. They saw the mess that their child got into, they saw in some cases how their child took their own life, and they went to bishops and they weren’t listened to.”

In an emotional recall of when he arrived in Dublin as coadjutor archbishop in 2003, he said he “wasn’t prepared” for the scale of the abuse crisis he later saw.

He was asked what he would say to God upon the last judgment. In reference to the number of files handed to the Murphy Commission when it investigated the Archdiocese of Dublin’s mishandling of allegations of abuse, he said: “The only phrase I have is, when you’ve got that weighing scales there, take the 80,000 files I gave and that might bring me the right way.”

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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    It is, of course, to be applauded that Diarmuid Martin is now prepared to call out as “bad judgement” and “bad theology” the position of John Paul on the use of condoms in the fight against the spread of Aids. Of course, it was — disgraceful in fact.

    So many young, vulnerable women, especially in the Third World, needlessly lost their lives because of that teaching.
    I expect that in years to come it will come to regarded as one of the great crimes against humanity.

    On occasions like this I am reminded of my mother’s elderly cousin, Rosie saying to me — after the second Seán Brady scandal hit the airwaves — “Sure, Paddy it’s no wonder the young people don’t go to Mass anymore.”

    It is a shame, however, that Diarmuid did not feel able to speak out when he was still in position.
    It would have been much more effective then.

    I sincerely hope he is wrong about the Synod.

    Mention of the Murphy Commission always reminds me of the one occasion I was deeply disappointed by the ACP.

    PS. Eddie, could you remind me who was the “eminent” cardinal — French Canadian, I think, — who embarrassed us all one Sunday evening on Panorama when he asserted with the self-confidence of a professor of microbiology that condoms would actually facilitate the spread of the HIV rather than prevent it.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Paddy @ 1, I’ve just seen your comment. No, not French Canadian but Colombian. That was of course Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo – Secretary of the then Congregation for the Family. I think if you google ‘Panorama June 2004 Trujillo Condoms’ you’ll get the story. Trujillo, as Ab of Bogota and Head of CELAM (Latin American & Caribbean Conferences of Bishops) had previous notoriety as extreme opponent of Liberation Theology. Also Frédéric Martel’s 2019 “In the Closet of the Vatican” nails him as one of the Vatican’s most hypocritical homophobes.
    As for Diarmuid’s finding it possible to criticise JPII’s ‘bad theology’ only in retirement, even the great Cardinal Martini voiced his opinion on ‘condoms being a lesser evil than AIDS’ only two years after retiring from Milan – and even then he added that it was not up to Church authorities to support condom use publicly, ‘because of the risk of promoting an irresponsible attitude.’

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Eddie. I really must read Frédéric Martel’s book. I kept telling people over here who had read it that we, Irish, did not have to read it as Paddy Agnew, long-term Irish Times man in Rome, told us years ago that there were more homosexuals per square inch in the Vatican than anywhere else in the world.

  4. Daithi O'Muirneachain says:

    Paddy Ferry has commented that Archbishop Emeritus Diarmuid Martin did not comment on the ‘Condoms and the Aids’ crisis until after his retirement. It was implied that it would have been better if he have done so while in office. Just think what would have happened if he had done so, remembering what the CDF did to Fr. Sean Fagan SM, Fr. Tony Flannery, Fr. Brian Darcy and others. The Archbishop could have been heavily sanctioned and his great work on the Child Abuse Major Crisis might not have come to fruition.

  5. Paddy Ferry says:

    Daithí, I am aware what might have transpired if Archbishop Martin had spoken out while in post.
    But is there not a case for speaking truth to power when the issue is so urgent and, essentially, having to put your head on the block?

    Still, I take your point that it might have hampered his great work on the Clerical Child Sex Abuse crisis.
    Perhaps you’re right, Daithí.

    You mentioned those who were — Tony still is — treated so appallingly.
    I expect you have read Angela Hanley’s excellent account of What Happened to Seán Fagan. Appalling!!
    And, of course, this happened all over the catholic world to good men and women too during the brutal, autocratic regimes of JPII and Ratzinger.
    It is important to remember the women who were bullied and mistreated, the American nuns by two Vatican Congregations and Sr. Lavinia Byrne. We must never forget the case of Lavina Byrne.
    And now we are asked to believe that John Paul II is a saint.

  6. Rory Connor says:

    Regarding Condoms and AIDS: In early 1990s, there was a media article stating that Ireland had the second lowest death rate from AIDS in the EU. I think France had the highest and Portugal the lowest, that particular year. So I phoned Dept of Health and asked to speak to someone about the article. (They may have thought I was a journalist but I never said that!) I asked the spokesman if there was any EU Report on WHY certain countries had a low death rate. He said he believed not. I asked him why not and he suggested that it might embarrass the countries with a HIGH death rate!

    I also wrote to the World Health Organisation and asked if they had statistics on the usage of condoms in different countries and if these related in any way to the AIDS death rates. WHO replied that they didn’t have such statistics.

    There appears to be a strange cover-up in place here, where major international organisations won’t carry out studies that might lead to conclusions that they don’t like!

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