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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s Dramatic Attack on a Cover-up of the Abuse Scandal Has Earned Him Church Scorn.

Vatican watchers say Martin has ruffled too many feathers

Vatican Watchers say Martin has Ruffled Too Many Feathers

Sunday Times, May 16, 2010 by Justine McCarthy

His Grace, known witheringly by his disgruntled priests as St Martin of Tours, flew out from Dublin last Friday afternoon, which is not exceptional in itself. He often travels abroad and is rumoured to have kept a bolthole in Rome after the Vatican despatched him to Dublin as coadjutor archbishop in 2003. What was different this time were the contrails of flying feathers he left in his wake.

Diarmuid Martin’s speech in Dublin on Monday night to an invited audience of Knights of Columbanus — mostly male, orthodox Catholics numbering politicians, professionals and wealthy businessmen — set the cat among the episcopal pigeons. One elderly knight who was present professed: “We went thinking we were in for a good uplifting evening. I’m still trying to figure out what actually happened.”

What happened was that the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, the diplomat hand-picked to “go through Dublin like a dose of salts” in a pre-emptive purgation before the publication in 2009 of the Murphy report into the church’s handling of child abuse allegations in the archdiocese, declared the cessation of an uneasy detente with his fellow bishops.

He hinted darkly about “strong forces” who “would prefer that the truth did not emerge” and about “signs of a rejection of a sense of responsibility for what had happened”. He suggested child protection regulations were not being rigorously followed and that church academics and publicists are retrospectively analysing the “catastrophe” of child abuse “as if they were totally extraneous to the scandal”.

The accusations have sparked a holy war within the Maynooth fraternity and a hunt in the media for the scalps Martin ambiguously targeted.

“I don’t think he was talking about me,” said David Quinn, a former editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper and founder of the Iona Institute, a Catholic think-tank.

“I’d be very, very surprised if I was one of them,” said Ronan Mullen, an independent senator and a former press officer for the Dublin archdiocese, who challenged Martin in the Seanad on Tuesday to engage in robust debate with those in the church whom he believes are in denial about the abuse scandals.

Others refused to comment, not even allowing their “no comment” to be attributable and privately suggesting that, if the archbishop knows child protection rules are being flouted, he should report specific instances officially. (He did last Friday, when he referred a concern about a case to the National Board for Safeguarding Children).

This was not how the script for Martin’s career was written. The expectation was that he would return to Dublin as “a new broom”, clean up the fall-out from the long-awaited Murphy report and fly back to the circuit on the continent where he is highly regarded and would probably be rewarded with a prestigious promotion for a job well done.

A year ago, the media tipped him as the man most likely to become the new president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, where he formerly worked, but that job was filled in October by Peter Turkson, the Archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana. Some Vatican watchers believe he was overlooked by the same superiors who sent him to Dublin because he had ruffled too many feathers in Ireland; something that was always inevitable.

EVER since 24 bishops flocked to Rome last February to discuss the Murphy report with Pope Benedict, Martin has cut a solitary figure. He departed the Eternal City alone and before the rest of the Irish hierarchy, ostensibly to say mass at University College Dublin, amid rumours that he had been ostracised by his confreres and set adrift by the pontiff himself.

A diffident man, despite his media-friendly personality, he is said to have few friends in the upper levels of the Irish church and less in common with them than he had with colleagues in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.

“I think he’s pretty isolated,” Quinn agreed, “not just because of the scandals but because he’s something of a loner temperamentally.”

Fr Seamus Ahearne, an Augustinian and a parish priest in Martin’s archdiocese, writing in Doctrine and Life, a Dominican publication, scathingly summarised the general response to Murphy. “The only slogan seemed to be: ‘Say sorry and accept everything thrown at you’. That is not the way of truth; it is partial and populist.”

There are clerical grumblings that Martin, when asked at a meeting of about 300 diocesan priests at Dublin’s Citywest hotel before the publication of Murphy, whether he supported his auxiliary bishops, gave an unequivocal affirmative. Later, in a media interview, he seemed to row back when he said he had confidence “in their ministry”.

Already scorned by many priests in his archdiocese for what they perceive as his lack of support for them (the grapevine has it he has been known to reassign them by text message), he stands accused by his hierarchical peers of throwing five of their own elite to the wolves following the publication of the Murphy report.

The Bishop of Limerick, Donal Murray, was the first to resign, albeit reluctantly, after the report deplored his handling of child sexual abuse complaints while he served as an auxiliary bishop in Dublin. His departure was followed by notices of resignation on Christmas Eve from Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, both auxiliary bishops in Dublin, and in April, from Jim Moriarty, the Bishop of Kildare. Only Martin Drennan, the Bishop of Galway, has stubbornly held out, protesting that the report made no findings against him.

The more visible the hierarchy’s split has become, the more Martin has been hailed as a hero by the non-aligned Catholic faithful. “I contacted his office after Monday’s speech to thank him for his courage,” said a woman who was sexually abused as a child by a priest in the Cloyne diocese in County Cork. “I wouldn’t have contacted any other member of the hierarchy but him because of the moral standards he displayed. He is trying to do the right thing.”

To the survivors of sexual abuse, he is fearless, compassionate, modern and sincere. His Monday night speech was applauded by Marie Collins, who was abused by a priest in the archdiocese. Survivors of child abuse and advocates for reform regard him as their sole source of hope. His “media savvy” trait irks his brethren as assuredly as it encourages the many who feel betrayed by the church.

“Diarmuid Martin started listening to people who were abused after they were saying there was a resistance to meeting them, and he had a conversion,” said Angela Hanley, a theologian and writer. “He didn’t go into denial about the emptying churches, maybe because he himself had no case to answer. When he started reacting to the Irish bishops that’s when it all started to go wrong for him.”

According to several sources, the relationship between Martin, the second most senior churchman in Ireland after Cardinal Sean Brady, and his fellow bishops is one of fear and loathing. He stands accused of committing the mortal sin of breaking ranks; a charge exacerbated by the present predicament of Brady since the revelation that he required two children sexually abused by the late Fr Brendan Smyth to sign oaths of secrecy at a canonical tribunal. While Martin did not explicitly throw down the gauntlet to Brady — as he did to Bishop John Magee in Cloyne 18 months ago and, subsequently, to the other five — he did not rush to defend him either. Internecine cold war has broken out.

For ordinary Catholics struggling to cling to their church after the scandals, the ecclesiastical squabbling is disturbing. Martin’s speech on Monday contained constructive pastoral ingredients, but they have been sidelined by his insinuations that strong forces are stifling the truth.

SO who might be the “academics” and “publicists” mentioned by Martin in his speech? Two contributors to a book published in March by Columba Press, called The Dublin/Murphy Report: A Watershed for Irish Catholicism?, rank high on the list of suspects.

The chapters by Eddie Shaw of Carr Communications and a former director of the archdiocese communications office under Cardinal Desmond Connell, and Fr Eamonn Conway, professor of theology at Mary Immaculate college in Limerick, are believed to have vexed the archbishop.

Shaw’s essay, called A Personal View of a Communications Failure in a Time of Crisis, addresses Martin directly with the question: “Are you aware of a perception you have created that in attempting to separate yourself and your career so comprehensively from the abominable behaviour of some priests of the past and the catastrophic consequence of that behaviour in this archdiocese, you may have added a further injustice to this appalling story?”

Before the book was published, Shaw had criticised Martin on radio following the archbishop’s appearance on RTE One’s Prime Time programme on December 1, when he announced he would write to the auxiliary bishops because he was dissatisfied with their response to Murphy.

“There’s something wrong when people of that quality, and I’m saying this with every heartfelt feeling for survivors and victims of abuse,” said Shaw, “but where people of that quality get shredded in that way, I’m saying that’s wrong. I don’t have to say it’s up to me to pick up the cross and walk, that’s their job, and Lord, they are doing it.”

Writing in The Irish Times on the same day the Prime Time programme was aired, Conway lambasted “senior Irish bishops” for “contributing to the impression that it is ultimately a matter of public opinion and media pressure as to whether bishops should step aside”. He said: “It’s one thing to protect someone who has done wrong; it’s another to collude in his scapegoating.”

IF the Murphy report was a watershed for the Dublin archdiocese, last Monday night’s speech was a watershed for its archbishop. After months of speculation about his intentions, he has come out fighting. Even the Vatican itself, whose elders have ascribed its troubles to “idle gossip” and an invalid link between homosexuality and paedophilia, was reckoned to be in his sights when he talked about denial.

Some observers suspect that Martin has “nothing to lose now” with a Holy See intent on protecting the Pope, who has been personally implicated in failures to adequately respond to complaints in his own diocese.

For the Irish hierarchy, there is more to come. The National Board for Safeguarding Children is investigating every diocese and congregation. Meanwhile, the Murphy Commission’s report on Cloyne is due to be completed next month, chronicling yet more betrayal by church officials of abuse victims.

As for Martin, the expectation is he will bide his time, possibly until a new pope better disposed towards him is elected. Until then, he is likely to finish what he started. That is the fear of his fellow bishops and the hope of many in his flock.