David Quinn: Martin Should Give Credit Where It's Due

Irish Independent, Friday May 14 2010 by David Quinn

SPEECHES by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin are often a bit like Rorschach inkblot tests.

Different people read different meanings into them. None of his speeches to date have illustrated this better than the one he delivered on Monday night to the Knights of St Columbanus.

In it he spoke about the way "Church academics and church publicists can today calmly act as pundits on the roots of the sexual abuse scandals in the church as if they were totally extraneous to the scandal". Who does he mean, everyone asked?

That's the trouble when you don't name names or you don't make an effort to be clearer. The finger of suspicion is inevitably pointed in all sorts of directions.

Then there was the mysterious passage about "strong forces which would prefer that the truth (about child abuse) did not emerge." What "forces", we were bidden to ask? Archbishop Martin did not provide the answer. Pundits speculated that he meant "forces" like Cardinal Sean Brady, and even the Pope himself.

He also spoke of "worrying signs that despite solid regulations and norms, these are not being followed with the rigour required". What are those signs? Who isn't following them? Again, no answer was provided and so again the finger of suspicion was pointed everywhere and nowhere.

This last claim was the most worrying. Archbishop Martin might well be right but if he has evidence that the church's child protection norms are not being followed properly by particular bishops or particular congregations then he needs to bring that evidence to Ian Elliot, the independent-minded Northern Presbyterian who runs the church's child protection office, and to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

In fact, he is under an obligation to do so. If he has such evidence and has not shared it with the relevant bodies then curiously, ironically, he can be accused of 'covering it up' although obviously that would not be his intention. But if he has no such evidence then he is unfairly spreading an unfounded suspicion.

The fact is that within the church, thousands of people have made, and are making, Herculean efforts to put in place and operate very stringent child protection procedures. Parishes all over the country have teams of people trained in child protection, volunteers who have given up their time to be trained in those procedures.

Ian Elliot, at a national level, is doing an excellent job ensuring the child protection norms are properly enforced. He is the man who effectively forced the resignation of Bishop John Magee, but in March he said he was receiving full cooperation from all the bishops in terms of implementing the norms.

This means that Archbishop Martin is not the only bishop in the country who is ultra-diligent about child protection, although he is undoubtedly the most vocal about his diligence. This is not to criticise him for being vocal. It is simply to point out that you do not have to be vocal in order to be diligent.

On Tuesday, the day after Archbishop Martin's talk, the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, published a report that highlighted "major inadequacies" in the State's child protection system.

SHE reports that half of HSE offices have not properly implemented the State's child safety guidelines, or have only recently drawn them up. This is almost certainly worse than the situation in the church. It is extremely doubtful whether half of all parishes, or anything like half, have not implemented the church's child protection norms.

This report received only scant coverage in the media and nothing like the amount of outraged commentary. Perhaps there are "strong forces" stopping the HSE implementing its own guidelines? More likely it is inertia brought on partly by the lack of media and public interest in the matter.

Commenting on the report, Children's Minister Barry Andrews acknowledged the failings but said -- quite rightly -- that the situation was improving, as the report itself says.

Archbishop Martin ought to take a leaf from Barry Andrews' book. Every time he speaks about child protection in the church he must give credit where it is due. He must do far more to acknowledge that children in the church are now vastly safer than they were in the past. He should point out that there have been very few cases of child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese in the last 10 years that we know of.

To do otherwise very badly lets down those in the church -- including all those parish volunteers -- who are moving Heaven and Earth to ensure children are properly protected. In fact, it must surely demoralise them.

It also gives the public the false impression that child abuse in the church is as bad as ever and this plays into the hands of the church's fiercest critics.

By all means Archbishop Martin should hold the church's feet to the fire when that is called for. But he must also more fully acknowledge all that has been done, and is being done to protect children. To do so is simply good leadership.