Church will continue to decline while it is run by ‘Wal-Mart bishops’

I HAD hoped the meeting of Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin with the Pope in Rome last Saturday would have been marked by dialogue rather than a series of one-sided recriminations. From initial reports it, seems to be more of the latter. A lot will depend on the forthcoming pastoral letter from the Pope.

I hope it deals honestly with a number of issues and that it is based on listening to what ordinary people are saying.

In the wake of the Murphy report, many commentators have implied that the sexual abuse of children by a small minority of priests is a particular feature of the Irish church or the Irish diaspora.

I disagree. Sexual abuse is present in many local churches with which I am familiar. Most churches will deny this. However, Ireland was in denial as recently as the early 1990s, as was made clear by Niall O’Donohoe in a letter to The Irish Times, on December 7, 2009.

He described how medical professionals walked out of a talk entitled The Sexual Abuse of Children given in Dublin by the distinguished paediatrician, Prof Neil O’Doherty. There was no applause at the end of the lecture and subsequently Prof Doherty was “reviled for presenting such a communication in Ireland where such abuse did not happen”. This shows it wasn’t only priests and bishops who were in denial, but even professionals in the psychological and psychiatric world as well.

While the Irish church has made many mistakes in handling clerical sex abuse, Rome’s record is not great either. Cardinal Bernard Law was the ordinary of the Archdiocese of Boston during the time when a number of priests sexually assaulted children.

He moved these priests from parish to parish and they continued to abuse. Rather than being censured by Rome for his neglect and forced to resign, he was promoted and made archpriest of one of the most important churches in Rome, the Basilica of Mary Major.

It is generally believed Pope John Paul II protected the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Marcel Degollado, even when it was clear he had been a serial abuser for a number of decades. In 1997, nine former seminarians made their claims in a book entitled Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, by Jason Berry and Gerald A Renner. In 1999, an inquiry into the accusations against Fr Marcial Maciel was shelved, reportedly by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who, at the time, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He reopened the investigation in late 2004 and was elected Pope in April 2005. In the following year the Vatican publicly censured Fr Marcial Maciel. Without addressing the charges specifically, the statement said he had been asked to give up his public ministry to lead a life of “prayer and penitence”.

Given the heinous nature of the crime of sex abuse and its impact on the lives of survivors, this was hardly the most expeditious and competent way of dealing with the crimes of Fr Marciel. I am sure that, had the case come before a competent inquiry such as the one carried out by Judge Yvonne Murphy, serious questions would have been asked about the role of everyone, including that of Cardinal Ratzinger.

In their ongoing dialogue with Rome, Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin might also suggest to the Pope that the Vatican stop “parachuting” bishops into diocese without any real consultation with the laity, religious or priests. The late Msgr Ignatius Murphy, historian of the diocese of Killaloe, pointed out that during the 19th century, when a bishop died, the parish priests came together and drew up a list of names of people whom they considered suitable to be the next bishop. These were published in the local newspapers. This happened even throughout the Ultramontane surge that preceded and followed the First Vatican Council.

It would appear that in recent decades the criteria for leadership in the Catholic Church all revolve around support for Humanae Vitae, opposition to a married clergy, women in ministry and access to the sacraments by people in second relationships. As a result we have reaped the whirlwind of episcopal mediocrity right across the Catholic world.

Many individual bishops see themselves as branch manager, Wal-Mart style, for the head office in Rome, rather than as the leader of a local church. This needs to change radically, otherwise the Catholic Church in Ireland and many other countries will continue to decline.

Fr Seán McDonagh

St Columban’s

Dalgan Park


Co Meath

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