Some time ago, shortly after the publication of Murphy report, I wrote a blog encouraging people to read both the Murphy and Ryan reports, which dealt with institutional child abuse in Ireland. I did so not because they were particularly easy to read (far from it, in fact, since both reports are long, and describe in detail some truly awful abuse of children), but because I thought it was important that the information held in the reports wasn’t ignored. The children who were abused were systematically failed by every person or group who should have been able to help them, from the teachers, to the Gardaí, and even the state – as such, now that the truth has finally been printed, it’s important that it not be swept under the rug, or ignored any more.
With all of the above in mind, I was more than a little surprised to hear the news that Pope Benedict XVI has refused the resignations of two bishops who were a part of the Dublin Archdiocese during the period investigated in the reports, namely Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field. Both were undeniably involved in the activities discussed in the Murphy report (dealing with complaints, covering up abuses, etc.), as shown by the commission investigating the abuses. Both were fully aware of what they were doing, and the repercussions of it – indeed, Bishop Field was a qualified barrister, and therefore aware of both church and state law regarding abuse. They were subject to considerable public pressure, and eventually compelled to resign in December 2009, in the wake of the publication of the Murphy report, when the extent of the cover-up came to light.
As a result of the decision by Pope Benedict, both men will remain as auxiliary bishops with the Dublin Archdiocese, and will be assigned “revised responsibilities within the diocese”. The fact that they remain auxiliary bishops means that they will be available to administer confirmation in any part of the diocese in the coming year. The notion that men who were involved in the systematic cover up of abuses over a period of decades will be available to help children confirm their role as adults within the Catholic faith is more than a little disturbing – surely men such as these do not provide a good example of what is to be expected of an adult of great faith?
The message sent by this refusal of resignation, and confirmation of their continuing positions within the diocese, is a troubling one. It reaffirms the idea that they did nothing wrong in covering up the abuse, and that, because of an apology that was all but forced out of them, they are fit to continue in their roles. It demonstrates that the Holy See is largely unwilling to take any sort of definitive action against men who are proven to have acted wrongly, and it also begs the question of what exactly one must do to have a resignation accepted?
Now is a time for the members of the church in Ireland, and the Catholic church as a whole, to accept the wrongs that were done, and apologise unreservedly for them. Now is a time where the people who perpetrated the abuses should be removed from their positions, and called to answer for their actions. And now is a time for the Pope to genuinely acknowledge the horrible abuses that children were subjected to, and send a clear message that it will never be allowed to happen again.
Unfortunately, it seems that “now” is not considerably different from 30 years ago, where priests were virtually untouchable in the eyes of the public and the law, where children were branded liars for having the courage to speak out, and where abuse was swept under the carpet and never acknowledged or spoken of.
Caveat-filled apologies and promises of action that never come to bear seem to be all that the Pope and the Church have to offer, and sadly, that’s simply not enough.