What has Archbishop Martin done to foster dialogue in Dublin diocese?

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin observes:
“Clericalism will only be eliminated by fostering a deeper sense of the meaning of the Church and that understanding of the nature of the Church will come not from media strategies or simply by structural reforms, but by genuine renewal in what faith in Jesus Christ is about.  If we focus only on structures and power there is a risk that clericalism might be replaced by neo-clericalism….
“I am not saying that reform of structures is not necessary within the Church.  Anything but!  What I am saying is that such reform without ongoing radical renewal in the faith will end up with the wrong structures and indeed might end up just answering yesterday’s unanswered questions tomorrow.   Clericalism will to some extent vanish when a new culture of co-responsibility and collaboration develops.”

  •  (From ‘Catholic Ireland: Past Present and Future’ – the speaking notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the Fordham Centre of Religion and Culture, New York, April 24th 2013)
  • http://www.dublindiocese.ie/content/2442013-fordham-addresscatholic-irelandpast-present-future

These almost oppositional observations on faith and structures have become standard for the archbishop.  It seems that for him a ‘radical renewal in the faith’ must precede contemplation of structural change.  Has he properly considered the power of the church’s current structural slum to perpetuate clericalism and undermine faith – and even to persuade us that God has called ‘time’ on the structures we have and must be sought elsewhere?
What does it say about the faith of the magisterium that fear of open assembly dominates our relationships – that the magisterium is still structurally ‘wired for transmission only’?  Elsewhere in his Fordham address the Archbishop laments the absence of a respectful and intelligent dialogue in Ireland between secular and Catholic intellectuals.  What has he done to permit regular, frequent intelligent dialogue within the church itself, between bishop and clergy, and clergy and laity, in Ireland’s premier diocese?  What has he done to forward an adult conversation in the church on the implications of Catholic social teaching?  What has he done to ensure that the church makes use of structural options already available – for example the diocesan synod?  What has he done to question the radical faith-repelling injustice of current structures for securing the deposit of faith – including the encouragement by the CDF of covert delation by poisonous cowards and the denial of opportunity for the self-defence of those accused?
I ask these questions on the ACP website because – absurdly – I have no other Irish Catholic forum in which to ask them.  Half-a-century after Vatican II  this in itself is proof of the collapse of the leadership, and faith, of the Irish magisterium.  It is therefore seriously challenging my own faith – not my faith in the Trinity but my faith in the appointed leadership of my church.  I am forced to the conclusion that God may be permitting the total collapse of the Irish Catholic clerical system because he has had more than enough of the fear rather than faith that still controls too many of its appointed leaders.
So could the archbishop please call time on his endless and sterile opposing of faith and structural reform?  We cannot renew our faith until we gather our own courage to meet in open and prayerful assemblies to expel the herds of elephants in the room.  We do not need a perfect blueprint for a future church to do that.  We will learn how to rebuild the structures, and renew our faith, only by daring in the first place to meet to discuss that.
I definitely don’t want to hear another elaborate disquisition by the archbishop from some remote podium on the challenges facing the Irish church.  To meet the challenges he describes Dr Martin needs to exit fully from the lecturer’s comfort zone.  I want to hear of his initiatives in fostering open dialogue in his own diocese, to hear the faith-filled questions of his own priests and people – especially the young.   Hasn’t a papal whistle already been blown for that?
Sean O’Conaill

Similar Posts


  1. Excellent Sean. I am looking forward to the Archbishop’s replies to all your queries which reflect my own.

  2. Séan, you say of Archbishop Martin ‘It seems that for him a ‘radical renewal in the faith’ must precede contemplation of structural change’.
    I’m never clear on the common understanding of the term ‘faith’. It seems to be inseparable from doctrines and mental gymnastics. Faith in what or faith in whom?
    The term ‘Church’as commonly used refers to the bishops -‘the Church and the people, what the Church (meaning the bishops or the CDF or the magisterium..)should or shouldn’t be doing.
    I tend to see ‘faith’ in the context of spirituality and Church in the context of religion. Religion operating in the realm of spirituality/faith needs structures. Where religion doesn’t operate in the realm of spirituality, you have destructive structures kicking in – power mongering, careerism, clericalism, religious wars……have I missed anything out?
    If we understand ‘faith’ in the realm of spirituality then the supportive structures would of necessity be an outcome. When we separate religion from spirituality/faith, the baleful structures kick in.
    So I would agree that structural change should be an outcome of radical faith renewal. Meanwhile, the baleful structures in operation that keep people in fear of being silenced or excommunicated force them into a choice between Catholic religion and Christian spirituality, finding one’s way to God through following the One who preached and lived the two commandments.But where’s the community?
    So maybe the two branches of the reform agenda do go hand in hand.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    Bishops have been talking about renewal of faith and prayer since ever so long, and have been amazingly timid about addressing structural issues. This reaches a pitch of absurdity when bishops give us a new liturgy that is positively inimical to prayer and faith. But there is no one to tell them.

  4. roy donovan says:

    thank you. very well put

  5. Joe O`Leary@3 The bishops didn`t “give us the new liturgy”. It was foisted on them as on us. The difference is that they didn`t kick up a fuss about it. They`ve learned to know their place, as the laity used to know theirs. Maybe sometime they too will demand to be heard.

  6. It seems to me that this article, and Archbishop Diarmaid Martin’s address that it is based on, is a classic example of trying to ‘put new wine into old wineskins’. Archbishop Martin seems to want reform and change in the structures of the Church but just cannot or will not get off the fence. He just makes the issue of reform more complex by saying we need to reform our faith first. The author of the article Sean O’Conaill is quite clear that he wants structural reform in the Church but he is quite content to maintain his faith in a male Trinitarian God. The age-old clerical structures are there to maintain the age-old belief in an all-male trinitarian God and the CDF and the hierarchical powers-that-be know that if they start tinkering around with reforming the structures, the whole edifice will come tumbling down. God is not male. Teresa Mee @2 highlights the enigmatic quality of faith and the reliance of a reform in faith on a structural reform. We need a new language for naming God. That is anathema to a male heirarchical Church so the status quo will continue, and a renewal of faith will be held in check through fear.

  7. Church – religion.
    Faith – spirituality.
    Very interesting idea there Teresa. Reminds me of the wisdom of those who said that religion is for those afraid of hell. Spirituality for those who’ve already been there.
    How often the ‘Church’ seemed to be more about condemning to – than freeing from – hell, or the myriad variations of same in this life never mind ‘the next’.
    “Where’s the community ?” Indeed. When real faith is nourished perhaps real community develops. Within our outside any ‘structures’.

  8. maureen mulvaney says:

    Excellent, Seán! I have been asking myself the same questions too, every time I hear Archbishop Martin speaks. However, you may not get any answers now, as the big news in The Irish Catholic,Aug. 22, 2013 “Archbishop Martin may be set for top Rome post!”

  9. I am reminded of what Pope Francis said very, very recently….and I’ll have to paraphrase since I do not have his words near by…Pope Francis said, “Perhaps the Church is a prisoner of its’ own rigid formulas”….and who is a prisoner exactly?…I’d suggest the “clerics” and all whom have been clericalized by the clerics….Yes, Bishop Diarmud Martin has said supposedly many of the right sounding things on many occasions, but, has not been able to follow through with right actions, if I may be so bold….Why?….it is really because of clericalism and all that is associated with that…in particular…the need to continue to obey Rome and those “rigid Roman formulas”. I also have to wonder if he is feeling overwhelmed in many ways…Unfortunately, whatever the reasons for his inaction…it makes him to be a noisy gong and a clanging symbol..Naturally, he is not alone in this problem….Pray, pray, for a listening ear to open…and eyes to open even among the bishops….

  10. #6 : Nuala O’Driscoll writes: “The author of the article Sean O’Conaill is quite clear that he wants structural reform in the Church but he is quite content to maintain his faith in a male Trinitarian God.”
    I think I can see the likely reason that you drew this conclusion, Nuala, but it is mistaken. Had I used for God the as yet non-standard pronoun ‘h/she’ would I have avoided this misunderstanding?
    In fact it’s quite clear to me from Genesis 1:27 that since male and female are said to be in God’s image, God is both male and female. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them .” And if we think at all about the Nicene principle that the Son is ‘begotten’ by the ‘Father’ we will also find it hard to deny that the ‘Father’ must also be ‘Mother’.
    As for gender and the Holy Spirit, what of Proverbs: e.g. 1:20 “Wisdom calls aloud in the streets; She raises her voice in the public squares,” and 4:6 “Do not forsake wisdom , and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you”?
    It does not follow, therefore, that to be a Trinitarian Christian one must believe in an all-male God. Quite the contrary. It is in the stricter monotheism of Islam that we find the stronger emphasis on the exclusive masculinity of God.
    The obvious misogyny of the church’s current leadership structures is another of those ‘elephants in the room’ that the magisterium fears to address. The subordinate teaching role of women in the church is clearly a major block to any ‘new evangelisation’ – and the treatment of, for example, theologians Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley, and of the US LCWR, hugely misguided. As for the all-male Irish ‘Club of 28’ that meets in a huddle quarterly in Maynooth, it now looks more dated than Muirfield Golf Club.

  11. Mary O Vallely says:

    Well said, Sean, in both your article and your clarification @10. Perhaps though the ‘papal whistle’ has already been blown for +D.Martin and it is too late for him to start to practise what he preaches. Perhaps also we expect too much of individuals. Such is our history of kowtowing to leaders and the awful insidious celebrity culture that we are in danger of creating a celebrity out of Pope Francis and therefore being carried away emotionally by his style and not paying attention to the substance. +Diarmuid Martin was never an experienced pastor. Thrown in at the deep end he probably did his best and it may be no bad thing if he is moved on to where his talents can be put to better use.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you, Sean in this: “We will learn how to rebuild the structures, and renew our faith, only by daring in the first place to meet to discuss that.” We are unaccustomed to behaving like thinking beings in the RCC and it is a habit we need to break.It is awfully easy to sit on the sidelines and whinge. Speaking personally. 🙁

  12. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    My first overpowering thought is to thank Sean for this insightful article! My second thought is to give him some comfort and encouragement to follow his heart in this matter. For years now, I have seen what I perceive to be the workings of the Spirit to bring about the collapse of clericalism and a return to the freedom, creativity and love in this Christian endeavor to return the community [the RCC] to Jesus.
    The way of Jesus is not through legalism, rigid structures and insipid dogma, but rather through vivacious thinking, original aspirations, and hopeful meditation. It is ludicrous to believe that the latter can be achieved using the structures that gave birth to the former.
    My third thought is in total agreement with Sean about the loss of the young. As a person who has worked with young people for most of my adult life, I clearly see that we have lost an entire generation and are now working to turn away a second generation. As Sean hinted, we adults are strong enough to follow our hearts and get out of this morass in loyalty to Jesus. But, the young have never really met Jesus. All they know of him is what has come through the hierarchy in the form of fear, laws, sin, and oppression of anything creative. NO young, healthy person is going to be searching for more of that. When it comes to matters of trust, trust the young. They are leaving in droves and certainly cannot be blamed, there is nothing here that would provide life, growth, or joy. By the standards of Jesus, this is a barren church.
    A heavy shame is upon the heads and shoulders of all who would call themselves leaders; it is time to stand up and be a Christian leader in the hierarchy and work to dismantle and reform.

  13. Sean O’Conaill @10.
    I appreciate your response and clarification and especially the tone of your response. And yes your use of the pronoun ‘he’ is what prompted me to comment. My initial reaction was ‘why bother, its never going to change’! But Teresa Mee’s (whom I do not know) response @2 reminded me that there is a ‘Way’ through the briars and thorns, a way of faith in ‘the One who lived and preached the two Commandments’ that is not owned by an elite male separatist organisation.
    There was much anger and indignation at the silencing and censoring of priests like Tony Flannery and Sean Fagan, the same anger and indignation is not shown at the Church’s age-old tradition of the silencing and censoring of women.

  14. The problem of young people leaving the Church cannot be separated from the the Church’s moral teaching on marraige, sexuality, and especially its treatment of women. Traditionally it was the women in the home who were primarily the first teachers of the faith, but modern educated Catholic women will not now be told how to live their lives, how to plan their families. They will not hand on a faith that is inextricably linked to a religion that in the past has demonised women, ‘Christian women for centuries were psychologically and spiritually crucified by the way they were spoken about and treated’ (Spiritual Abuse, Sean Fagan, Quench not the Spirit). It is not the official teaching authority that is keeping many of us hanging on by our fingernails, it is the common sense and humane writings of theologians like Sean Fagan, Charles Curran, Wilfrid Harrington and more. Sean Fagan also writes, ‘After several hours in the confessional on a Saturday night (with penitents who confessed weekly or monthly) I often came out on the verge of tears, thinking: what in God’s name have we done with people’s consciences?’
    Why should parents today encourage their children to be part of a religion that favours their sons over their daughters? Any parent knows the rivalry that goes on among siblings and the devastation that occurs if one is treated differently from another. Can the men who are also priests in the Catholic Church start to think and more importantly, act, as men. Women are your equals. We are both sides of the same coin and neither will reach their full potential without the other.

  15. There is another “Elephant in the Room” that seems to be ignored on this thread. I posted the following on the Irish Catholic website under the story “Archbishop Martin May be Headed for Top Rome Post”:
    By any chance would this relate to a recent article [the Irish Catholic] published about auxiliary Bishop Eamon Walsh making a “comeback” in the Dublin Archdiocese? I commented as follows concerning THAT article:
    “As far as I recall, Bishop Eamonn Walsh understood that he had the confidence of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and that there was no reason why he should resign as a result of the Murphy Report into the Dublin Archdiocese. Suddenly Archbishop Martin declared otherwise but NOT to Bishop Walsh – he said it in the course of an interview with RTE!! Since his superior had publicly broadcast the fact that he did not have confidence in him, Bishop Walsh tendered his resignation, but sent a letter to the Vatican that he was only doing it because of the Archbishop’s behaviour i.e. he did not believe that he himself had done anything to merit resignation. I understand that that is why the Pope did not accept his resignation (or that of Bishop Field whose story was similar). I wonder has there ever been a similar case in the history of the Catholic Church?” END OF QUOTE
    It’s all very well for Archbishop Martin to be against “clericalism”. Is that suppose to excuse what he did to Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field? Does it provide a model for new “democratic” structures in the Church – an Archbishop who announces to the media – rather than to his own colleagues – that he does not have confidence in them??

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The bishops didn`t “give us the new liturgy”. It was foisted on them as on us. The difference is that they didn`t kick up a fuss about it. They`ve learned to know their place, as the laity used to know theirs. Maybe sometime they too will demand to be heard.”
    I think the new liturgy is second only to the sex abuse scandals as a stumbling block. ALL the Englishspeaking bishops have failed, and the cannot invoke the argument, “I was only obeying orders”.

  17. Martin Murray says:

    To me this is not about Bishop Martin. Its about how both institutions and individuals avoid the uncomfortableness of change. This article has echoes of the situation here in the north (don’t switch off), where research has revealed a disappointingly high percentage of Christians who did not consider reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants to be a priority for the Church. The reason given was that the Church’s role was to get people right with God and the rest would follow (of course it didn’t). Protestants called it, waiting for ‘revival’. For Catholics it was ‘renewal’. For both the focus was on evangelisation. Nothing wrong with that of course, except reconciliation in the form of active boundary crossing and intentionally organised interchuch initiatives were and are light on the ground, to say the least. It seems to me this article reveals the same dynamic at play within our Catholic church at this time in relation to reform. The focus is placed exclusively on renewal, or to use Bishop Martin’s phrase, a ‘radical renewal in the faith’. Expect to see many good, varied, well resourced initiatives in the coming months and years with lots of ‘lay involvement’. Just don’t get your hopes too high that they will involve or lead to any actual structural change. Somehow that never makes its way on to an otherwise packed agenda. I always come back to a quote by Fr William Bausch, “How a church organises itself says much more about what it actually believes than what it says it believes”. What do our structures say to the world about what we actually believe – particularly in regard to issues of equality and inclusion?

  18. Seán Breathnach says:

    For too long now we have listened to Archbishop Martin talk the talk; you have only to speak to priests of Dublin to hear the reality he has created. Clergy are treated as pawns to be pushed about and dialogue with the said Archbishop is non-existent. Gatherings of priests are stage managed to prevent any meaningful engagement. I am reminded of the words of the Lord “by their fruits you will know them”. It’s time he put up or shut up!

  19. Clare Hannigan says:

    The address given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the Fordham Centre of Religion and Culture ought to be read in conjunction with the findings of the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004 chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy.
    Judge Murphy noted the role of the Church in Irish life as follows –
    1.90 The Commission recognises that the Archdiocese of Dublin and the many religious orders that operate within it have made and continue to make a major contribution to the lives of the citizens of Ireland by providing various social services including schools, hospitals and services to socially excluded people. The majority of the priests of the Archdiocese and religious orders carry out their spiritual and moral role within the Church properly. Unfortunately, it may be that the very prominent role which the Church has played in Irish life is the very reason why abuses by a minority of its members were allowed to go unchecked.
    Judge Murphy concluded that –
    1.113 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 State authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes. 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. In the mid 1990s, a light began to be shone on the scandal and the cover up. Gradually, the story has unfolded. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity is ever allowed to occur again. This can be ensured only if all institutions are open to scrutiny and not accorded an exempted status by any organs of the State.
    Judge Yvonne Murphy also noted that
    1.16……………………..While acknowledging that the current archdiocesan structures and procedures are working well, the Commission is concerned that those structures and procedures are heavily dependent on the commitment and effectiveness of two people – the Archbishop and the Director of the Child Protection Service. The current Archbishop and Director are clearly committed and effective but institutional structures need to be sufficiently embedded to ensure that they survive uncommitted or ineffective personnel.
    She also noted that
    Co-operation by the Archdiocese and religious orders –
    1.87 The Commission would like to acknowledge the co-operation given by Archbishop Martin and by the relevant religious orders. Without this cooperation it would have been impossible for the Commission to give a comprehensive picture of the handling of clerical child sexual abuse cases.
    I am grateful to the Archbishop for his role in uncovering the scandal of child abuse which took place in our Church between 1975 and 2004 and for ensuring the future safety and well-being of all our children as attested to by Judge Yvonne Murphy.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    I am not sure what “law” Yvonne Murphy was referring to. The number of priests found to be guilty of illegal sexual activity in Dublin over the last 50 years is about 10. There was no law about reporting suspected sex offenders to the police. If there were, all the teachers in schools where a teacher or chaplain was so suspected would be criminals, as well as countless families that hushed up the scandalous behaviour of errant uncles. The Murphy Report seems to me to be a highly deconstructible document.

  21. Joe O’Leary #21: “I am not sure what “law” Yvonne Murphy was referring to.”
    Is this the Murphy reference to ‘law’ you are addressing, Joe? (Murphy 1.113) “The State authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes.”
    Surely the law being referenced here was simply the long-standing law criminalising child sexual abuse? The Murphy report elsewhere recorded instances of Dublin bishops influencing the Garda not to investigate some Dublin clergy reported for this. In mid-July this year the Irish Times reported that the recently published Chapter 20 of the Murphy report concluded with this:
    “The connivance by the gardaí in effectively stifling one complaint and failing to investigate another, and in allowing Fr McCabe to leave the country is shocking. It is noteworthy that the commission would not have been aware of the Garda activity in question were it not for the information contained in the Church files.”
    The same Irish Times report quoted the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan as follows: “It is a matter of regret to me that people did not receive the appropriate attention and action from the Garda Síochána to which they were entitled.”
    Following the publication of the original Murphy report, on December 9th 2009 the Irish Catholics Bishops’ Conference made the following declaration: “We are deeply shocked by the scale and depravity of abuse as described in the Report. We are 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. The avoidance of scandal, the preservation of the reputations of individuals and of the Church, took precedence over the safety and welfare of children. This should never have happened and must never be allowed to happen again. We humbly ask for forgiveness.”
    Would you propose ‘deconstructing’ all this also? If so, to what purpose? If there was no specific civil law against cover-up itself, does this make it excusable for an institution whose raison d’être includes the teaching of a higher morality?

  22. Clare Hannigan says:

    It is the number of children who were abused rather than the number of Priests convicted of abuse that is of greatest concern. Parents entrusted their children to Priests in order to live out their commitment to raise their children in the Catholic Faith and their trust was betrayed. Parents children/young adults not only lost their ability to trust the institutional Church many also lost their ability to relate to an infinitely loving infinitely powerful God who did not intervene to protect children from rape and sexual degradation.

  23. Joe O'Leary says:

    Of the many priests referred to in the Murphy report, how many were judged suitable targets of a legal investigation, arrest, trial, sentencing? If not, why not? Either the State is remiss in applying the law or the priests mentioned are not in fact criminals. If the former is the case, then is the State not more guilty than bishops who merely “hushed up” (as indeed many families and institutions in Ireland has done). So yes, Sean, what you refer to seem very deconstructible.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    Note that some of the priests who were actually investigated turned out to have so flimsy an accusation against them that the DPP complained that they should never have been investigated.

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    Always remember that the Murphy Report is mainly about allegations (about 10 of them allegations of rape), not proven offences. The report does not even distinguish between casual and credible allegations. I recently heard of the ordeal undergone by two priests of my acquaintance, one an Anglican, who were fingered by false allegations, and it seems to me that all such allegations should be handled by the police and only the police. To set up ordinary people as judges and jury where allegations are concerned, or to oblige them to take every allegation with mortal earnestness, refusing them any common sense judgment, is a cue for witch-hunting.

  26. Joe O’Leary #24
    “Of the many priests referred to in the Murphy report, how many were judged suitable targets of a legal investigation, arrest, trial, sentencing? If not, why not? Either the State is remiss in applying the law or the priests mentioned are not in fact criminals.”
    Those Catholic bishops and other church officials who have studied directly the files on allegations of child sexual abuse, and / or met directly with those making these allegations, could also have taken the view that no such allegation should be believed if it could not be substantiated by a criminal prosecution and conviction. Were they (e.g. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference) mistaken in not doing so?
    To persuade me that they were, the deconstructionist who would set out to establish this would also need to establish:
    1 That he/she had asked this question directly of the bishops and other officials so involved, and carefully considered their responses;
    2 Had adequately considered the case usually made by those who argue that the actual rate of child sexual abuse must necessarily greatly exceed the rate of successful prosecution – given, for example the known likely serious impact of actual child sexual abuse on the long term emotional and mental health of the sufferer, and the typically precautionary, secretive and one-to-one nature of the offence;
    3 Had himself or herself also made scholarly contact with these files, and face-to-face and open-minded contact with the alleged victims;
    4 Had subjected his or her own motivation for undertaking this process of deconstruction to an equally rigorous process of deconstruction.
    So I am open-minded to your proposal, Joe, and only too willing to contribute to a discussion on how it might successfully be completed.

  27. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, have you fulfilled the four steps you prescribe for all commentators?

  28. Joe O’Leary #28
    My main purpose, Joe, is to question seriously whether any single commentator could possibly hope to persuasively deconstruct the work of a commission as resourced and patient as Murphy was – a commission that over several years read all relevant files and met those alleging abuse face-to-face.
    It is secondly to point out that for many of those giving evidence to the Murphy commission the fact that they were heard and believed – even if their case could not successfully be criminally prosecuted – was absolutely crucial to their sense of vindication, to their search for elementary justice, and to their own possible surmounting of their tragedy. For such people, summary emails stating the likelihood that Murphy could easily be deconstructed are likely not only to fall under the heading of classic denial, but to be deeply hurtful and re-abusive – by implying that their stories told to the commission were likely to be false if they could not be substantiated by a criminal prosecution.
    We all surely need to strive to hold equally in mind both awful tragedies: the abuse of some Catholic laypeople by clergy, and the abuse of some clergy by false accusation. In both cases, individuals often have had huge difficulty in proving their innocence and veracity – in being simply believed – and that struggle needs to be honoured in both cases. To propose casually to vindicate clergy by deconstructing Murphy – and in the process to cast doubt on much of the evidence that was believed in good faith by the commission – was surely ill-considered, given the full implications of such an assertion and the virtual impossibility of verifying it.
    We surely cannot heal the church by being in any way one-eyed on the issue of abuse. Please let’s keep both eyes fully open, and keep abused clergy and abused lay people equally in prayer. Neither cross should be seen as the only one that God cares about.
    (Incidentally, one of my dearest mentors at UCD in the 1960’s was Fergal O’Connor O.P., later to be most cruelly abused by false accusation – so I am hope I am not myself one-eyed about this issue.)

  29. Seán, I am so pleased that you have been able to engage so effectively and convincingly with Joe on this issue of “deconstructing” the findings of the Murphy Commission.
    @29 above you sum up perfectly the reality of what is at issue here. Thank you for that.
    Since I discovered it a few years ago, this ACP site has been an absolute God-sent for me, and for so many others I’m sure, who share the kind of vision of church that most of us who contribute to this site hold. Joe O’Leary has been one of the most inspiring and enlightened contributors to the site. His views and mine virtually always coincide and Joe , who is much more informed than I am, can express those views much more eloquently and effectively than I ever could. However, the one issue that causes me discomfort on this site is when somebody, as Joe has been doing here, attempts to downplay the extent of the horror of clerical abuse of children in our country. This has really disappointed me. While those priests who have abused children are, we all accept, only a small minority –6% seems to be the accepted figure – the sad reality is that literally “thousands of children” in Ireland were abused. Diarmuid Martin acknowledged that in his lecture at the Fordham Centre in New York. We must never try to minimise the extent of the horrors that were inflicted on so many of our children.
    I also need to say that I am writing this not as someone who would wish to see abuser priests “hung, drawn and quartered”. Those of us who have read Marie Keenan excellent book ” Child Sexual Abuse & the Catholic Church, Gender, Power and Organisational Culture” will realise that these men are, themselves ,to a great extent “victims”.

  30. Mary O’Vallely @11.
    I think I have earned my place on the sidelines and for as long as I am allowed to I’ll throw in my tuppence ha’penny worth of whinging. The ‘sidelines’ is the ACP website, the only place there is to whinge. The whinging is my trying to make sense of slavishly adhering to clerical male celebate rules for more than fifty years of my life. Once again thank you ACP.

  31. Joe O'Leary says:

    “to question seriously whether any single commentator could possibly hope to persuasively deconstruct the work of a commission as resourced and patient as Murphy was”
    I suggest that a serious examination of Murphy be undertaken by a qualified group. It is not Holy Writ (though of course that too has been deconstructed).
    One question I would like to know the answer to is whether any of the priests discussed in the Murphy report were given a chance to give their side of the story.

  32. Joe O'Leary says:

    “6% seems to be the accepted figure ”
    Yes, but is it in fact true that 6 out of every 100 Irish priests are child abusers? There are lots of “accepted” things that have never been tested for their actual truth.
    I am not playing anything down, merely asking for truth.

  33. Joe O'Leary says:

    SNAP claims that 6,000 US priests and 33,000 priests worldwide “assaulted and raped children”.
    This interview says that “6 percent of priests are going to offend against a child in their lifetime”.
    I think it will take time to establish perspective on all this.
    Who would wish to be a bishop if the main task is to root out the “six per cent” and report them to the cops? Who would wish to be a priest if the regnant description of a priest is “potential child abuser”?

  34. Clare Hannigan says:

    The following link will take you to the Murphy Report.
    It might be helpful to read part one chapter two which outlines the procedures followed. Chapter one part one gives an overview of the report.
    In his book Colm O Gorman also speaks of his compassion for Priests who abused children. It concerns me that the Church does not seem to take action against people who make false allegations of clerical abuse. If an adult makes a false allegation that a Priest is abusing a child it is damaging to the Priest and but it is also damaging to the child concerned.

  35. Surely a grown-up church would not fixate on the problem of clerical sexual abuse specifically, but collaborate to study and discuss how to address the entire problem of all kinds of abuse – including those which occur in the home and workplace? Why have we been unable to meet yet as Catholic adults to do that? Is that because bishops typically fear the dammed up frustration that so many lay people feel about the dysfunctions of the clerical system? Or because any kind of discussion of issues relating to sexuality is too far outside their comfort zone?
    Here again Pope Francis has had a key insight in pointing to our tendency to look only ‘ad intra’ when thinking about reform. All Catholic reform movements, including the ACP and ACI, surely need to think about this – and about the possibility of a joint initiative that might unlock the bind we are all in.
    This thread began with the subject of structural reform. At the most basic level a deliberative church structure can be thought of as merely a regular, scheduled opportunity for dialogue. What if the ACI and ACP were jointly to propose to the Irish Bishops’ Conference the setting up of such a structure, focused primarily outwards, using e.g. the basic proposal of the bishops’ 2005 booklet ‘Towards Healing’ as one key theme? This proposal was that the whole Irish church should be mobilised to address the problem and consequences of all kinds of abuse. It was stillborn at the time, but could it be time to look at it again?
    Personally I don’t think we can full address the problem of clerical abuse in isolation from all other forms of abuse. The NBSCCC can only function effectively if its personnel feel fully trusted by all of us to prioritise the safeguarding of children. We can only develop that trust if we have church structures within which we can meet with and get to know one another. Now that Ian Elliott has left the NBSCCC, its integrity could be seriously threatened by the return of a culture that prioritises the deference of the unordained to the ordained – clericalism.
    How could the bishops resist a call for collaborative, deliberative structures focused outwardly first of all, and how could other Catholic service organisations resist participation? How else are we to unbind ourselves?

  36. Joe O'Leary says:

    The tone of the introductory part of the Murphy Report is extremely preachy and ideological to the point of being journalistic. This does not inspire confidence at all.

  37. Joe O'Leary says:

    I see a monsignor in Philadelphia seems to have been convicted of disobeying a 2007 mandatory reporting law, in 1998! Is there a similar Kafkaesque hysteron-proteron in the way the Murphy and Cloyne reports accuse people from Abp McQuaid down to Msgr O’Callaghan of having failed to report not just incidents but allegations (including ones about the dead) as if a mandatory reporting law had been in force or as if the duty of reporting was so evident that no law was needed? Of course when the law came to be drafted, after these reports, one of the first things inserted in it was an escape clause along the lines of “without a good reason”.

  38. Again, Joe, I am wondering why you seem to make the civil law the final arbiter of the conscience and behaviour of Archbishops. Has the penny not dropped with you that it is the failure of the same archbishops to prioritise the safety of children, and to be guided by a moral standard derived from the very best in our own Catholic tradition, that has so scandalised this island?
    And have you not noticed either that Irish bishops only began to prioritise the safety of children at the very moment (1994) when we all discovered they had NOT been doing that? How could the magisterium ever critique the civil law if not by a higher standard of justice, derived from their own religious faith? And how can Irish bishops ever do that convincingly again if their defenders claim that they themselves were never bound by any moral standard higher than the civil law?
    Finally, why will you not let the Irish bishops own verdict on their pre-1994 behaviour – that it amounted to a cover-up and was entirely wrong – rest as a final one? It is that admission – not your regrettable and hopeless defence of them – that stands the best chance of salvaging something from this disaster.

  39. Joe O'Leary says:

    Certainly, the moral law is higher than the civil, but I found that much of the opprobrium directed at, for example Denis O’Callaghan was not based on moral reasoning but on a kind of legalism. That he had not reported allegations against long dead priests was treated as ipso facto immoral and illegal even though the is no clear legal basis for that demand, nor did the Report undertake any moral reflection, which O’Callaghan, as a fine moral and pastoral theologians, undoubtedly did.
    I note that some people break the civil law for moral reasons, in the case of mandatory reporting laws in the USA (even SNAP is alleged to have done that).

  40. Joe O'Leary says:

    SNAP officials have expressed satisfaction at the sentencing of Fr Shawn Ratigan to fifty years in prison for molesting a number of very young girls (taking lewd photographs and touching them indecently). SNAP expressed no concern that the sentence was excessive. Meanwhile, SNAP supporters are posting messages on the internet calling for ‘a bullet in the head’ or gloating over the prospect that Ratigan will be killed in jail like Fr Geoghan (whose White Supremacist killer was convicted of first degree murder).
    Any plea for leniency – in line with the gospel injunction, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ – is taken as condoning Ratigan’s loathsome behavior. SNAP are very quick on the draw and very self-righteous, with a nasty tendency to demonize their critics instead of listening to them.
    (SNAP is an acronym for Survivors Network of people Abused by Priests. As such it is surrounded with the authority that victims’ impact statements enjoy in American justice and that has invited comparisons with the medieval ‘divine judgment’ or ‘ordeal.’ Well staged emotional performances can override all rational considerations of proportion in sentencing. The tendency is to believe that the victims themselves are the ones who should decide the perpetrator’s sentence – though in the case where the victim says, ‘just let him go,’ the law turns a deaf ear. The authority claimed by SNAP diminishes if in fact its membership does not consist of victims of child abuse. The members seem to be more ideological crusaders, claiming to speak on behalf of the victims, rather than actual victims. The majority of members are female, yet only 15 percent of clerical abuse victims were female, so one wonders how SNAP can claim to be representative of the victims.)
    It is constantly repeated that there are no degrees of gravity where the abuse of children is concerned: molestation of the Ratigan sort is equivalent to violent rape, and any violence against children deserves life imprisonment. The effect of this brand of zero tolerance, SNAP believes, is to terrify pedophiles out of abusing children, and in addition to keep offenders off the streets forever so that they will no longer be a threat to children.
    The work of therapists to help pedophiles overcome their antisocial behavior and channel their desires into more creative activities is viewed with skepticism by SNAP supporters who believe that pedophile offenders will always re-offend and that their behavior is doomed to become progressively more abusive. In fact, it appears that recidivism among sexual abusers of children is not that high.
    SNAP supporters will even admit that most of the prison population is mentally ill, but they claim that the USA does not have the resources to provide psychiatric treatment, so that prison is the most effective way of protecting society, especially children. The US prison industry is the largest in theworld, with whole towns springing up around the lucrative prisons; it relies heavily on the cruel and unusual but no doubt cheap punishment of solitary confinement. Though it has persuaded Americans of its unique value as a panacea for the ills of their violent society, it is no doubt in fact a breeding ground for hardened criminals, who come out more dangerous than they went in.
    The Charité university hospital in Berlin claims that one in a hundred German men is troubled by pedophile desires. Its program for helping them is very appreciated, but because of the huge taboo surrounding their problem it is often very difficult for the participants, in many cases married men, to come to Berlin regularly. Under a regime of mandatory reporting if the hospital discovered that any of the men had touched a child indecently at any time they would have to hand them over to the police. This, of course, would be fatal for the program.
    Many of the cases of clerical child sexual abuse have nothing to do with pedophilia or even with the somewhat murky category of ephebophilia. They are just instances of adults straying over the age-of-consent line, perhaps only once or twice. Since the majority of these cases involves male adolescents, and since this has been used to stoke hostility to gay clergy and to gays in general, some SNAP members react with rage to any analysis along these lines. To mention it at all is to be guilty in their eyes of suggesting that all clerical child abuse is the fault of the gays.
    But consider the extreme permissiveness of the gay scene in the 1970s and 1980s, when many of these priests would have been exploring their sexuality for the first time (after their sexless seminary years). In some countries such as Ireland homosexual behavior of any kind was illegal and there was no marked distinction between those older and younger than what for heterosexuals would be the age of consent. Consider also the high proportion of gays in the priesthood – something that could have been scientifically measured long ago if it were not for church taboos and censorhips. The intersection of these two factors clarifies and dedramatizes this entire branch of the abuse scandal.
    The number of true pedophiles in the priesthood is probably larger than in that of the population at large (that is, more than the one percent estimated by the Charité hospital). Eugen Drewermann, in a book that ran into church reactions of denial and panic, suggested that many priests are fixated on their own self-image as innocent altar boys. They yearn, like Michael Jackson, for a Peter Pan world, and the priesthood seems to offer a context in which this dream can flourish.
    Even if such a project can be lived out without sexual abuse, society today is far from being willing to indulge the ‘Goodbye,Mr Chips’-style tolerance of the past, or to show the trust that the parents of the successive 12-14 year old protégés of the great composer Benjamin Britten placed in him. A man who shows an ‘unhealthy’ interest in children is instantly seen as a potential abuser.
    But even ‘healthy’ affection toward children will draw suspicion. A recent Danish movie, entirely plausible, shows a teacher hounded by society and the law simply because a fellow-teacher misinterprets a little girl’s innocently mischievous remark as evidence of abuse. The effect of this paranoia must be that it will become very difficult to find people to take jobs involving close contact with children. Teachers and relatives other than parents will become colder and more distant. Parents will be expected to provide all the affection and emotional reassurance that their children need. And even then, parents who put photos of their children on the internet will invite suspicion. A father out walking with his son could be detained by the police for questioning.
    We cannot subscribe to the belief that pedophiles, whose sexual constitution is probably as archaic as homosexual or heterosexual orientation, are doomed by their sexuality to become lepers and untouchables. There must be a better way. Pedophiles can be identified in adolescence, and they should be treated then with love and respect, and counseled as to how to sublimate their sexual desires. Love itself is the great healer, and there have been many pedophiles who have outgrown antisocial behavior by sticking to one love-object until he/she comes of age. Revisiting the stories of Dante and Beatrice, Ruskin and Rose la Touche, André Gide and Marc Allégret, etc., in this perspective would be a valuable research project (as in the writings of James Kincaid).
    American puritans, however, have only one concern when considering such cases: did any sexual intimacy occur before the age of consent? Of course an even more radical technique is to affect utter scorn for such historical or literary references. The hang-’em-high brigade refuse as a diabolical temptation any invitation to think of pedophiles as human beings rather than potential offenders. One ‘Christian’ group targeted young gay couples and offered the junior members money to denounce their partners for having had sex with them before they came of age. This is rather like the mentality of the Pharisees who were more concerned with the Sabbath being broken than with the healing of the leper or the blind man. It is of course not concerned with any genuine care for the young, for it will gladly destroy the achieved happiness of all parties in order to get a scalp, on the premiss that all criminal prosecutions send a wholesome ideological message. The SNAP mentality is often not far from this.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.