Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The bishops in the Vatican

The bishops in the Vatican
Wed, Feb 17, 2010

IT WAS, the Vatican press office statement made clear, a “failure of the Irish Church authorities” that they were discussing. The unprecedented meetings on Monday and yesterday between Pope Benedict XVI, his senior Curia advisers, and the Irish bishops provided “guidance and support to the bishops in their efforts to address the situation in their respective dioceses”. Their efforts, their dioceses. The Irish bishops are out on their own?

Although the meeting acknowledged that “errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis”, disappointingly there appears to have been no recognition either of the systemic nature of the “failure” or the possibility that Rome itself played its part either in creating or sustaining the culture of silence and impunity that the Murphy report highlighted, or in its responses to individual cases.

The important issue of the reform of church governance only arose as an aside at the press conference after the meeting and, it has to be said, the Vatican statement on the discussions is as revealing in what it does not say as in what it does. There was apparently no discussion of the need for the Vatican to open its correspondence to public scrutiny – indeed Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi afterwards was dismissive of the suggestion that the papal nuncio to Ireland should explain himself to a Dáil committee. Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, as a diplomat, “has to respond to rules” about diplomatic privilege. “If this is not part of his duty, you can’t expect him” to testify, Rev Lombardi told journalists. Nor was there any discussion of resignations, or of possible meetings between the pope and survivors.

The bishops made a welcome commitment “to co-operation with the statutory authorities – North and South – and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland” and acknowledged the significant measures which have been taken to “ensure the safety” of children.

And the pope spoke with pain of the “heinous crime” of child abuse, of the need to restore the moral and spiritual authority of the church, and urged bishops “to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve”. He pointedly expressed the hope that the meeting would help to unify them, enabling them to speak with one voice. This suggestion was understood to mean the one, united voice of Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

In his more general comments the pontiff returned to the well rehearsed theme of alienation in modern materialistic society, linking the crisis of faith affecting the church to “the lack of respect for the human person” in society. He argued that such weakening of the faith “has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors”. Others might well reply that the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics has been a significant contributing factor in the weakening of faith. Perhaps the two views are compatible, each process reinforcing the other. What the faithful in Ireland want is for their church to fully absorb that fundamental truth.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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