He was responding after groups representing the victims of paedophile priests reacted angrily to a Catholic Church edict to newly appointed bishops that they are “not necessarily” responsible for reporting allegations of child abuse to the police.
The instruction, in a new Vatican training manual advising senior clergy on how to respond to allegations of abuse, states that only victims or their families should decide whether to report to authorities, but bishops should be aware of local legal requirements.
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police, or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” states the training document.
Archbishop Martin said: “The norms in Ireland are very clear — all allegations must and are reported to the gardaí.
“Gardaí have the ability and the expertise to investigate matters that diocesan personnel would not.
“Over the years, we have established very good working relationships with the gardaí, which has been helpful to both sides.”
The training guideline was written by French monsignor Tony Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family, and released by the Vatican.
John Allen, associate editor of Catholic news site Cruxnow.com, described the approach as a “legalistic take on a critical issue” and criticised the guidelines for not putting more emphasis on prevention of sex abuse within the Church.
The One in Four organisation expressed outrage at the document. Executive director Maeve Lewis said she was shocked the report stated that bishops were being afforded discretion on whether to alert gardaí to clerical abuse cases.
Pope Francis has called for “zero tolerance” of child sexual abuse within the Church, saying “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse”.
Support groups for survivors of clerical sex abuse say the guidelines would not protect children from sexual abuse.
Nicky Davis, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — SNAP — said members of religious institutions should become mandatory reporters, making them legally obliged to inform authorities about suspected abuse.
“Their systems function to protect the interests of the institution,” she said. “They don’t put the protection of children first.”
Dr Wayne Chamley, of Broken Rites — which advocates for victims of clerical sexual abuse — described the guidelines as “unfathomable”.