The Primate of All Ireland has said the ultimate proof of the Pope’s success in his visit to Ireland will be whether “decisive” action is taken to increase accountability over clerical child sex abuse.
Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin accepted that some survivors of abuse found it difficult to trust the Church, but said Ireland is among the countries seeking to develop best practice in protecting children.
Following the papal visit, many survivors want more clarity on exactly what steps would be taken to shore up safeguarding standards around the world.
On RTÉ’sprogramme yesterday, the archbishop said: “I think Pope Francis has really taken a lead here.”
He referenced a specific line during Mass in the Phoenix Park when the Pope had stated, “I ask God’s mercy and forgiveness”.
The archbishop said: “I have never before heard a Pope accept a personal responsibility in some ways for all of the terrible trauma and hurt for the terrible crimes and sins of abuse.
“I’m sure many find it difficult to trust the Church and we can understand why.
“Really, the proof of all of this visit will be whether or not we have strong accountability in the Church, the truth coming out, justice and healing for those who have been hurt, and as the Pope said himself in Knock, decisive action.”
He said the Church in Ireland had taken proactive steps with all allegations of abuse to be reported to civil authorities.
“Accountability is to the people and that is through the law.
“We also ensure that if a priest admits guilt or is found guilty that they are removed from ministry.
We look back on a time, historically, where people were moved around and abuse was covered up in some false understanding that you were preserving the Church from scandal.
“We did put the credibility of the Church before victims and survivors.”
Eyebrows were raised at the revelation that, during a meeting with abuse survivors over the weekend, the Pope did not appear to know about the Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes, leading some to wonder how that was possible and others to query whether he had conflated the two issues.
Archbishop Martin said he was “really not sure”.
However, he noted “the story of the Magdalene Laundries is known within the Church”.
He said while the Pope may not have known all about the issues prior to meeting survivors, the meeting had “brought that home to him”, leading to the reference he made during the Penitential Mass to how the Church and society “colluded” in making young women feel shame.
The archbishop also said people in the North tend to find it easier to access records — he believes the law needs to facilitate that.
I would be advocating that the Church basically turns over all or any records it has to the State so a proper search mechanism can be put in place for all those who are seeking their relatives,” he said.
He admitted there were difficulties involving religious orders which may not come under the ambit of the Vatican and, furthermore, another issue is people stating directly that they do not want to be named or readily identified by anyone seeking them through records.
Archbishop Martin said he believes the problem is “surmountable”.