One of Ireland’s highest ranking Catholics today denounced the Church for having grown self-centred and arrogant in the wake of the clerical child abuse scandals.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, second only to Cardinal Sean Brady in the hierarchy, said the cover-up of paedophile priests was a symptom of a deeper malaise in the church.
Saying the church was “called to renewal”, Archbishop Martin declared it had allowed itself to drift into a role in Ireland that was beyond legitimate.
Archbishop Martin made his remarks during mass at the Church of the Assumption in Ballyfermot, the former parish of ex-priest Tony Walsh who was jailed last week for sexually abusing three boys.
They also came a day after the WikiLeaks revelations that the Vatican was offended by requests for information from the Murphy Commission into clerical sex abuse.
Archbishop Martin told parishioners in Ballyfermot, where he grew up, that he had come to renew his apologies for the church’s hushing up Walsh’s horrendous catalogue of abuse during the 1970s and 1980s.
“I apologise unreservedly,” he said.
“As I look back, I see more clearly that the catastrophic manner in which the abuse was dealt with was a symptom of a deeper malaise within the Irish church.”
The church had drifted into a position where “its role in society had grown beyond what is legitimate”, he said.
“It acted as a world apart,” he told mass-goers.
“It had often become self-centred and arrogant. It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathised with the hurt of children.”
Archbishop Martin said the church had to honestly acknowledge “with no buts and no conditionality” the gravity and the extent of what happened as it takes a first step on the road to renewal.
Walsh, 57, who was named in last year’s Murphy Report on clerical child abuse in the Dublin diocese, was sentenced last Monday to 16 years, with four suspended, for abusing three boys.
The now defrocked priest, known as Fr Filth and the Singing Priest for his Elvis impersonations at talent shows, was previously jailed for sexually abusing six other boys.
Over the weekend, the latest US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks claimed Vatican officials were offended by requests for information from the Murphy Commission.
The diplomatic missives claim that some in the Catholic church hierarchy believed the Irish government “failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations”.
They also suggest requests from the child abuse inquiry for information relating to the sexual and physical abuse by clergy had “offended many in the Vatican”.
According to the deputy to the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, the Irish government gave in to Vatican pressure and granted church officials immunity in exchange for testifying, a US diplomat wrote in one of the cables.
Ambassador Noel Fahey apparently told US diplomat Julieta Noyes that the sex abuse scandal was a tricky one to manage.
The Irish government wanted “to be seen as co-operating with the (Murphy) investigation” because its own education department was implicated, it was claimed in the leaked cables.
They suggest politicians were reluctant to press Vatican officials to answer the investigators’ queries.
The cables also claim Vatican officials believed Opposition politicians were “making political hay” from the scandal by publicly calling on the Irish government to demand a response from Rome after the report was published last November.
A Vatican press official statement said the WikiLeaks cables should be evaluated with “reservations” and “prudence”, and not be taken as an “expression” of the Holy See.
The Murphy Report identified 320 people who complained of child sexual abuse between 1975 and 2004 in the Dublin archdiocese.