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Setting The Record Straight - The Irish Catholic, 27 May 2010

Bishop Willie Walsh wrote to his brother bishops recently and to myself to say that he was quoted by me in The Irish Catholic (May 13) ''as saying that the bishops are 'still in denial'. I said no such thing,'' he declared. He went on: ''I said some people are 'still in denial' and went on to speak of some Parish Pastoral Councils being reluctant to seriously discuss the issue. I would appreciate the appropriate correction'' - Bishop Willie Walsh.

Concerned that I could have misquoted him, and even more concerned for my hearing, I tuned into the Pat Kenny programme again on the internet to listen back.

So here is, verbatim, what Bishop Willie Walsh told Pat Kenny on May 11.

Pat begins with a clip of Archbishop Martin speaking to the Knights of St Columbanus and asks Bishop Walsh's opinion.

Bishop Walsh: ''I think I would agree generally with what the archbishop [of Dublin] had to say that OUR [my emphasis] handling of the child sexual abuse issue in the past was catastrophic and that there is still a good deal of denial.''

There is no mention of ''some people'' as Bishop Walsh claims in his letter. Bishop Willie Walsh is a member of the Bishops Conference so when he speaks in the third person plural - ''our'' - it is a reasonable assumption that he is speaking about the bishops collectively.

Later in the interview, Bishop Walsh was asked by Pat Kenny if he believed that Archbishop Martin's speech was aimed very pointedly at the hierarchy. Bishop Walsh said the ''buck stops with us so yes, it was critical of hierarchy, but critical in the wider sense as well, that he was saying that that denial was not only among the hierarchy, but across wider society''.

So Bishop Walsh again seems here to be saying that denial is among the hierarchy and that this denial is also reflected in wider society.

Therefore the conclusion that Bishop Walsh said that the bishops are ''still in denial'' was reasonable and accurately based on my hearing him on the Pat Kenny Show. It may not have been what he wanted to say, but there it is, and I only quoted what I heard.

Of course Bishop Walsh was responding to Archbishop Martin's ''strong forces'' speech which captured the public imagination and won plaudits for the archbishop, who for many stood, King Lear-like, courageously taking on the powers and darkest elements.

''Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!''
But it appears now that this perception is erroneous.

The archbishop, for whom I genuinely have huge respect, made his speech after visiting the deaneries of his diocese - deaneries are clusters of parishes and regular deanery meetings are held to discuss administration issues. Perhaps to a hardworking archbishop, often priests are like Lear's ungrateful daughters. And it appears now according to Ian Elliott's interview on BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Sequence that the ''strong forces'' are the senior Dublin clergy who made mistakes and are named in the Murphy Report. Perhaps the archbishop should have borrowed a phrase from Gerry Adams - ''They haven't gone away you know''.

So there it is, finally, the strong forces are some old stubborn priests and retired bishops who refuse to acknowledge the full extent of their responsibility in the 'culture' to which Bishop Jim Moriarty seems to have been the only one to take responsibility for. No new material for Dan Brown here, no machinations by secret societies in cathedral crypts, nothing to rock the State to its foundations as Pat Rabbitte would say. I can understand the archbishop's frustration with them, but I can't understand why the archbishop would throw confusion and doubt into the Church at this time and not clarify it.

After shouting at the storm King Lear takes another course, and in my own opinion, one which would have served the Church and the archbishop better, when he says:

''No, I will be the pattern of all patience;

I will say nothing.''

Postscript:The name of Archbishop Chaput of Denver is doing the rounds as a possible candidate for Apostolic Visitator in the Autumn. I emailed him directly and put it to him and two hours later I got a reply from him pouring cold water on the rumour. Imagine emailing an Irish archbishop and getting a response at all, never mind within two hours! But then again, he is a Capuchin."Bishop+Willie+Walsh"&cd=52&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ie