Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has spoken about the “surprising lack of real awareness in Rome” of the extent and nature of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland.
In his address to the National Child Safeguarding Conference in Kilkenny last weekend, the archbishop told safeguarding delegates from dioceses, parishes and religious orders that one of the central elements that permitted the abuse crisis to arise was “the fact that people kept things to themselves and evidence was stockpiled and not shared”.
When he became Archbishop of Dublin 14 years ago, the crisis of clerical abuse and the abuse of children in church-run institutions was at its height in Ireland. One of his challenges was “to identify and gather reliable information about perpetrators”.
He said most of the information was available in the files of the Archdiocese of Dublin but many of these were scattered.
“It is worrying that today problems regarding data protection are giving rise to new difficulties about sharing information. There should be no need to have to relearn an important lesson: proper sharing of information is vital,” he stressed.
Survivors like Marie Collins and the late Christine Buckley “were often looked on in internal church culture as ‘difficult’”, he admitted, and he criticised the Church for being too slow in opening up to them or in realising that without their participation the Church would never understand and address the challenges of abuse. “Apologising can be painful, but it can also be comfortable and easy. We can say sorry and feel self-satisfied that all is forgiven and forgotten,” he said. However, the “dark days have not vanished for survivors. We were reminded with a jolt this summer how much those who were abused are still hurting.”
Five new complaints about abuse by Dublin diocesan priests were made in July this year, compared with nine for all of 2017.
“There is the danger of complacency or inertia or of slippage into false confidence,” said Archbishop Martin. “There is the challenge of how we support survivors. We were naive in thinking that healing would come easily. We were impatient and thus missed the point. There are those who … have never been able to find healing. We have to be with them where they are.”
The archbishop also acknowledged that the abuse scandals had affected the morale of priests and Religious. “They have at times been the object of unfair generalised criticism,” he said.
Dublin parish priest Fr Joe McDonald also addressed the conference in Kilkenny. He was abused by a priest as an eight-year-old altar boy and was one of the survivors who met Pope Francis during his visit in August.
He told The Tablet that next February’s meeting in Rome on abuse between Pope Francis and the presidents of bishops’ conferences “will be the poorer if it takes place without Archbishop Diarmuid Martin”.