Fr Kevin Hegarty
Judging from the media images, the Irish Catholic bishops seemed worried and worn at the funeral of their long-lived patriarch, Cardinal Cathal Daly, on a frosty day in early January. Ordained as Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise in 1967, Dr Daly’s episcopacy extended from the days of fragile optimism after the Second Vatican Council to the pervasive darkness that has engulfed the Irish Catholic Church in the last 16 years, as the stories of the clerical sexual abuse of children have unfolded.
It is not surprising that the bishops looked so preoccupied at the funeral. They had just been through a torrid time. The fallout from the Murphy report had resulted in the resignation of four members of the hierarchy.
Not since the arms crisis of May 1970, which caused the resignations or removals of four cabinet ministers and one parliamentary secretary has a major Irish institution experienced such a level of attrition.
One former auxiliary bishop of Dublin, Dr Martin Drennan, now Bishop of Galway, has refused to succumb to requests for his resignation from victims of abuse, arguing that the culture of cover-up of such cases had ceased by the time of his appointment in 1997.
On television before Christmas, we saw the extraordinary spectacle of Dr Drennan accusing his colleague, Dr Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, of impugning his integrity by asking him to reflect on his position in the light of the Murphy report. It is difficult to see how they can serve on the one Episcopal bench with any sense of courteous amity, never mind with the spirit of harmonious love, to which all Christians are challenged to aspire.
Not since the middle of the 19th century has there been such public dissension between bishops. Then Archbishop John MacHale, known as the ‘Lion of Tuam’, and some of his colleagues fought a long campaign against both British colonial oppression and the increasing Roman encroachment into the affairs of the Irish Catholic Church.
In 1848, Rome sent Dr Paul Cullen, the Rector of the Irish College, to impose its discipline. A dour and effective administrator, Cullen accomplished his mission. He left us with a legacy of submissive hierarchies who maintain a stolid consensus in public - up to the present anyway.
The inclement weather, the sad travails of Iris Robinson and the earthquake in Haiti have reduced coverage of the implications of the Murphy report in the media. The report, however, has not gone away. Nor should it. The Catholic Church in Ireland cannot afford to forget or minimise its conclusions.
In limpid prose and measured judgements, it reveals a dysfunctional church: “The Commission has no doubt that clerical child sex abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities over much of the period covered by the Commission’s remit. The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up. The State authorities facilitated the cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes. The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institutions and what the institution regarded as its most important members - the priests... It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity is ever allowed to occur again.
This can be ensured only if all institutions are open to scrutiny and not accorded an exempted status by any organs of the State.”
Furthermore, the report asserts that the Church authorities “failed to implement most of their own canon law rules in dealing with clerical child sex abuse.” For many years offenders were neither prosecuted nor made accountable within the church.
The Pope has promised to issue a pastoral letter to the Irish Catholic Church on the crisis.
Hopefully, it will not be full of what the media commentator, Colum Kenny, has called “pious truisms”. The Catholic Church needs to address not only the quality of its corporate governance but also what has been termed its “archaic psychology of sexuality”, if it is to remain a relevant voice. Surprise us, Benedict.