THE Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev Diarmuid Martin has, for some time now, been preparing us for the report of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse.
In what must herald a litany of the most appalling kinds of abuse the Archbishop has warned that the report, which will be published in the summer, “will shock us all”.
When you consider what we have been exposed to, the truly dreadful behaviour of paedophiles Brendan Smyth and Sean Fortune and so many more instances of sexual or violent abuse, the report must reveal truly harrowing behaviour.
“It is likely that thousands of children or young people across Ireland were abused by priests in the period under investigation and the horror of that abuse was not recognised for what it is. The report will make each of us and the entire church in Dublin a humbler church.”
Though this long-awaited report must represent terrible pain and a multitude of betrayals what a breath of fresh air the Archbishop’s statement is. What a change from the aloof, fumbling and diversionary tactics so beloved by churchmen from an earlier time.
Not so very long ago the default strategy would have been one of half denial and refuge in irrelevant papal law. A strategy designed to undermine and confuse, but little enough acceptance of any degree of responsibility.
These were the responses from an older generation of churchmen who struggled to accept that there was even a case to answer.
Very many of them were horrified at the abuse but equally horrified by the intrusion of the outside world into what they imagined were exclusively church affairs. Some were overwhelmed that such inhuman exploitation could be inflicted on children by their fellow clerics.
It was hard to accept those responses but with the passage of time it may be easier to understand them.
The legacy of those responses was outlined by Dr Martin when he pointed out that there are now 10 times more priests over 70 than there are priests under 40 in the Dublin archdiocese.
In the intervening years reforming churchmen, epitomised by Dr Martin, have realised that those see-no-evil, hear-no-evil responses serve neither the victims’ needs nor the church’s hopes.
By so publicly accepting the challenge of confronting this evil, by showing remorse and humility the Archbishop has done more advance the church’s cause than decades of intransigence.
When the report is published we will no doubt be horrified and angry but we should also realise how far we have come in such a relatively short time. Twenty years ago this report might not even have been written let alone published.
There is a wider lesson in this too.
Today our economy is in once-in-a-lifetime difficulty. Twenty years ago the Catholic Church’s ability to survive was in question because of these abuse scandals but by honestly confronting the issues — eventually — it seems that the worldwide church is on the cusp of a considerable rejuvenation.
As ever honesty is the most effective panacea.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved