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THE publication of the report of the Murphy commission ought to have promptly triggered the instant and simultaneous resignation from their current posts of the surviving bishops and monsignors cited in the report rather than a display of stubborn obduracy in the case of some and silence, evasion and cunning in the case of others.
That gesture would have recognised the gravity of the findings, the pain and damage inflicted on the surviving victims, the premature deaths of those who didn’t survive and the need for a response from the church that attempts to be coherent, comprehensive, credible and effective.
It need not necessarily have precluded the reappointment of some of those concerned. They would then at least enjoy the confidence of their future contribution having been validated in the light of the commission’s findings rather than groping around a grossly dysfunctional organisation whose very survival is threatened. It would also allow the Catholic church organisation in Ireland to define its future.
The response that unfolded highlights the lack of personal accountability within the church. Bishops are only accountable to the face that smiles at them in their foggy shaving mirror each morning. Their record of obstructively suppressing the details of clerical sex abuse and paedophilia is grotesque, but their subsequent posturing in lamentable. Bishops are apparently never fired. Those who depart “agree to resign” and even our Taoiseach and their own colleagues are reluctant to utter a comment that might hasten their departure.
The Papal Nuncio could also allow his voice to be heard beyond to portals of the Dublin diplomatic cocktail circuit. He may consider that his silence is self-effacing and discreet, but it is also toxic and contributes to the contagion of the catastrophe.
When allegations of the recurring sexual harassment of seminarians in St Patrick’s College Maynooth were made in the early 1980s against the vice-president of the college by the senior dean, Fr Gerard McGinnity, these were completely and abruptly dismissed without adequate investigation. The bishops’ response was to ostracise and demonise the whistleblower and to promote the target of the accusations to president of the college in 1985, a post he held until he abruptly resigned in 1994 following allegations that he abused a 13-year-old boy in the early 1980s – details of which were set out in the Ferns report. When Fr McGinnity completed a one-year sabbatical in Rome in 1985 the late Cardinal O’Fiaich told him “the bishops are gunning for you, Gerry”. That sentiment has prevailed and church authorities have never offered Fr McGinnity either an apology or reparation in the subsequent 25 years.
While the commitment to transparency demonstrated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is commendable, that alone is not sufficient to inspire confidence in a church that staggers from one catastrophic self-inflicted crisis to another.
If the church in Ireland cannot meet its basic obligations of decency, probity and compliance with the criminal law, it will soon cease to exist except as a topic of academic curiosity to a future generation of anthropologists conducting research at interpretive centres that were once church buildings. The time has arrived to judge the church by its actions, decisions and gestures, not by its vacuous apologies or its meaningless pleas for forgiveness.
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