DISCUSSIONS this week between Irish Roman Catholic bishops and Pope Benedict have done nothing to lessen the anger felt by the survivors of clerical child-abuse in Ireland.
The two-day meeting between the Pope, the bishops, and senior members of the Roman Curia at the Vatican was seen by the survivors as not addressing their demands for an audience with the Pope, although in other countries this was facilitated; failing to address resignation issues — the three Bishops to tender their resignations have yet to receive a reply from the Pope, and a fourth refuses to resign; and failing to provide an explanation why the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, and the Holy See itself ignored requests from a state-sponsored inquiry headed by a judge of the Irish High Court (News, 22 January).
For many Irish people, the description by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, of the abuse scandal as “humiliating” and “abominable” jarred with pictures in the national press of bishops — including some named in the inquiry — queueing to kiss the papal ring.
Although the bishops, as reflected in their press conference at the end of the Vatican consultations, appeared to be pleased with the discussions, it was not a feeling shared by leaders of the survivor support-groups.
A Vatican spokesman talked of “a good result”: the survivors spoke of “a waste of time”, and an impression that self-preservation and damage limitation still remained the overriding priority for the Roman Catholic Church. There was particular disquiet that the issue of the Bishops’ resignations had not been addressed by the Pope and was not on the agenda.
Fiona Neary, director of the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, described the Pope’s attempt to link a weakening of the faith with child abuse as “shocking”, while the first survivor to make his experiences public, Andrew Madden, said: “I can only conclude that the Catholic Church remains a disgraced, discredited organisation that seems to be entirely incapable of responding in any intelligent, meaningful way to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan, and Murphy reports.”
Pope Benedict’s hopes for unity within the Church, and a healing of the abused, may be hard to attain in Ireland against a backdrop of priestly dissent over the way the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, handled the calls for resignation of auxiliary bishops whose tenure in Dublin covered the 30-year period under investigation. There are also “tensions”, as the RC Primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, described it, among the 24 Irish bishops who each had seven minutes, one-to-one, with the Pope.
The Irish bishops were back in their sees in time for the beginning of Lent, after they were admonished by the Pope to respond to the scandals in an honest, humble, and courageous manner.
Some of the survivors said that the deliberations in Rome this week were window-dressing, devoid of substance, and lacking an acknowledgement of the Vatican’s alleged part in a “Don’t ask: don’t tell” culture of silence.
The sincerity of the Irish bishops’ wish to institute a system of child protection and state involvement is not in question, but the future of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, without radical reform, may well be.
The deliberations in Rome will inform Pope Benedict’s unprecedented pastoral letter to the RC Church in Ireland, expected before Easter.