04 September 2023, The Tablet

Problem of ‘faith’ is biggest challenge for Church, says Archbishop

Problem of ‘faith’ is biggest challenge for Church, says Archbishop

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin with RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy who interviewed the former leader of the Irish Church for a new series of 'The Meaning of Life'.
Photo: RTÉ.

The big challenge facing the Church today is not issues such as the ordination of women but the problem of faith itself, according to the retired Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. 

In an interview for RTÉ’s “The Meaning of Life” last night, Archbishop Martin referenced the “big discussion going on in the Church about synodality” and cautioned against the synodal consultations leading to “frustrated expectations”.

While admitting that “people’s faith is damaged by a Church which doesn't respect women's dignity”, he added, “I don't see in any way that women priests will be something we will see in my lifetime.”

He said the question of women’s ordination isn't the biggest challenge for the Church, rather, it is the problem of faith. “When I became Archbishop, little above 80 per cent of the population of Dublin was Catholic. And now it’s about 68 per cent and the second largest religious grouping in Ireland is ‘no religion’. And in Dublin, between the ages of 24 and 29, among that group it would be 50 per cent. Now what is that saying? Is our religious education working at all? And this brings us back to the whole question of Catholic schools. What should they be?”

Archbishop Martin recalled the challenges he faced dealing with the clerical abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Dublin when he succeeded Cardinal Desmond Connell in 2004. He handed more than 80,000 documents to the Murphy Commission of Investigation into the mishandling of clerical abuse in Dublin, many of which he had read himself.

Though reading the documents was “bad”, meeting the victims and hearing their stories was “really sad”.

“I was asked what was the strongest emotion that I had, [it was] anger. I was angry at what happened to those poor kids.”

He also revealed that “there were a lot of priests who were very angry with me because I began talking about this subject. It was only later on that many of them realised that we did have a very serious problem with habitual paedophiles.”

He described some of these abuser priests as “very devious” including one who built a swimming pool in his back garden in order to abuse children. “It is hard to believe,” he commented.

Some of these paedophiles would have abused more than a hundred children he acknowledged. He highlighted that a survey done in the German church suggested that a thousand abusive priests probably abused 2000 children. “Anybody who says that is talking rubbish. A serial paedophile will have abused hundreds of children,” he stressed.

He revealed that meeting victims was personally draining as there was often “real anger and aggression, and rightly so. And you had to sit there and take it. If you promised to do something – you knew you had to do it.”

He said his faith was challenged by the scandals but it also gave him a determination to help those who suffered terribly.  “This should never have happened in the church of Jesus Christ.”

He said the abuse scandals had badly damaged the church and it had damaged the faith of young people who were “disgusted”.

However, Archbishop Martin also paid tribute to the many good priests in Dublin and said one of the most satisfying ministries he carried out as archbishop were priest funerals. “There are so many of these of extraordinarily good priests out there,” he said.

The Archbishop was asked by presenter Joe Duffy about his role as a Vatican diplomat at population conferences and having to defend the Church’s stance on contraception. He described the late Pope St John Paul II’s ban on the use of condoms at the height of the AIDS crisis as “bad theology”. He said, “It is this idea of an extraordinarily narrow, dogmatic understanding of bringing principles and not looking at the broad circumstances in which a situation is taking place and the struggles that people have to face.”

The 78-year-old archbishop, who has been serving as a curate in an inner-city Dublin parish since he retired in January 2021, added that this approach was “one of the problems with the church in Ireland; we learned the rules before we learned who Jesus Christ was.”

He said the Church had got so caught up in the dogmatics and absolute rights and wrongs that it had lost the context. “If the Church appears only as a rule book, then they have lost Christianity. That isn't what Christianity is about,” he added. 





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