29 December 2009

Catholic Church in Ireland 'burning down'

The photo of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Ireland, which burned in the early hours of Christmas Day, is an apt image of the Catholic Church in Ireland at the moment. Four bishops have resigned in the last few weeks in the aftermath of the Dublin (Murphy) Report published on 26 November. It was produced by a commission set up by the Irish government to look into the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The four bishops were auxiliaries in the archdiocese during some of the period under examination, 1975 to 2004. The Report concluded that the Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.

Bishop Donal Murray

Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick on 17 December . Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin announced his resignation on 23 December while auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond field of Dublin informed Archbishop Diarmuid Martin late on Christmas Eve that they were submitting their resignations to Pope Benedict.

Bishop James Moriarty

Many welcomed what Bishop Moriarty said in his statement: However, with the benefit of hindsight, I accept that, from the time I became an Auxiliary Bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture.

Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field

Bishop Martin Drennan

There is pressure on Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway to resign. He was an auxiliary bishop in Dublin from 1997 to 2005. I can find only one reference to actions by him in the Report. It had to do with a priest who was behaving inappropriately with teenage boys. The Report is in no way critical of Bishop Drennan. However, those demanding his resignation say that all the bishops in Dublin at the time shared responsibility for what happened.

A telling postscript to all of this is that just before Christmas a judge in Tuam, County Galway, seat of the Archbishop of Tuam, a diocese where almost 99 percent of the people describe themselves as Catholics, refused a character reference from a parish priest for a man charged with driving while drunk. 'I don’t want a reference from a parish priest. I have not time for that,' said Judge Browne. He accepted letters from a neighbour of the defendant and from his niece.

The same report added, 'Earlier this month Judge Donagh McDonagh was highly critical of a character reference given by Fr Sean Sheehy at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee when security man Danny Foley was sentenced to seven years in jail for sexually assaulting a woman.
Fr Sheehy later stepped down from duties as Castlegregory parish priest'. (Fr Sheehy is a retired priest from the USA who was holding down the parish while the parish priest was recovering from a serious illness. Bishop William Murphy of Kerry dissociated himself and the diocese from Father Sheehy's act. The priest was also one of about 50 men who shook hands with the convicted man, in the presence of the woman he had assaulted.)

I have read at least one letter in an Irish paper from a parent who sees the very presence of a priest in a Catholic school as a danger to children. For some, the priest in Ireland is now the very opposite of a person who can be trusted.

While preparing this I received two letters from friends in Dublin, where I’m from, both of them faithful Catholics. One wrote, I think you are living in a much better country than being here in Dublin. Life is very difficult here, with no jobs, and you know what is ongoing with the Church. The other wrote, Pope Benedict is due to get a horrible Christmas present from our Archbishop and Cardinal in the coming week. The whole thing is just awful. (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh met with Pope Benedict on 11 December).

Fr Michael Sinnott

But both letters from my Dublin friends had a note of hope, one saying, As I am writing, Fr Sinnott (the Columban priest who was kidnapped in the Philippines in October and held for just over a month) is being interviewed on the radio. He is a very courageous and brave man. We are all very proud of him. It was a terrible time for him. The other had this to say, The wonderful and joyous event was the home-coming of Fr Sinnott. We were all praying for his safe release and it must have been a very worrying time for you all. He sure is a great man and we couldn’t believe that his wish was to get back to the Philippines.

To some of us, Fr Michael Sinnott and others like him are an expression of the hope contained in the words of Isaiah read at the Midnight Mass on Christmas night: The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen (Is 9:2).

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