Monday, November 30, 2009

Hypocrisy Of The Church Who Tried To Ban Sex

To anyone who recalls the Catholic Church in its heyday, the hypocrisy laid bare by the Murphy Report is breathtaking.

Irish children lived in two worlds. In one they were protected. In the other they were abused.

In one world, the Church's concern for sexual morality was extreme.

When two boys in my class were found reading the News of the World, seen by the Christian Brothers as a dangerously immoral influence, we were all required to write an essay on 'chastity' that night to cleanse ourselves.

In the other world, children in institutions run by the Brothers were sexually abused and their abusers protected.

In one world, the church warned married couples -- married couples, mind you -- that it was wrong to have sex unless you could become pregnant.

Even the use of the so-called 'safe period' by married couples who wanted to have sex without conception was frowned upon.

In the other world priests could sexually abuse children and the minority of rogue priests who did this were protected.

It is that sensitivity about sex, which went to absurd and oppressive lengths, that adds to the outrageousness of the toleration of abuse by these priests.

This was a church in which people like the actress Elizabeth Taylor and the writer Edna O'Brien were condemned from the altar as immoral influences; in which girls were expelled from a secondary school after one of them showed around a condom which her brother had brought home from a rugby tour to the Continent as a curiosity; in which I listened to a big, beefy priest roaring about the destruction to souls which would be brought about by the miniskirt, then in vogue to the delight of us boys; in which the Bishop of Clonfert started a huge row because a woman told Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show that she had not worn a nightdress on her wedding night.

Any of us who were there at the time could fill all the pages of this newspaper with examples of this nonsense.


But it's only nonsense now: back then it created the setting and the atmosphere in which the church could not be questioned.

It created a facade of absolute rectitude when it came to sexual morality.

And it created the perfect cover behind which the abusers could operate.

Small wonder, then, that there were gardai who could not bring themselves to investigate complaints against clergy.

They had been taught to see these clergy as demi-gods and figures of immense authority and probity.

This does not excuse the dereliction of duty involved but it may help to explain it.

From the victims' point of view, the nonsense of the Church's sensitivity towards sexual morality was catastrophic.

How could you break the consensus that members of the clergy were saints? How could you expect anyone to believe you?

I had a girlfriend in the 1970s who told me about clerical students trying to 'get off' with her and her girlfriends.

I didn't believe her. How could such a thing be true?

I recall a woman telling me about being propositioned in her teens by a clerical student who was shortly to be ordained. She turned him down but she remembered her whole world falling apart.


Because up to then she had lived in the world in which priests would not think of doing such a thing.

That a priest might sexually abuse a child and get away with it simply could never have occurred to her or, indeed, to me at the time.

But there were people who knew: bishops, other senior clergy, some gardai.

To them it was more important to keep that other, sinister world out of view of the wider society than it was to help the children trapped inside.

They were the gatekeepers. In many ways they were the worst of all.

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Cover-up shows nothing but contempt for people (Contribution)

In March 1970, Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid wrote to his press secretary Ossie Dowling, explaining that he did not want to co-operate with those seeking to question him about the Catholic Church's attitude to sexuality: "I am very tired of RTE's attention to bishops and priests. I do not understand why they do not pay attention to the Army, the law, medicine and especially journalism; fruitful fields for investigators. They are not anxious to promote the Kingdom of God."

As a result of the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s, the Catholic Church authorities were encouraged to engage more with their flocks through such initiatives as diocesan press offices.

McQuaid swallowed this pill by allowing such an office to be set up in Dublin, but he was adamant that he would not be personally interviewed, and would not debate or discuss the Church's stance on issues of sexual morality.

One of McQuaid's successors, Archbishop Kevin MacNamara, gave his first major print interview in 1986 and complained that the bishop's statements on issues other than sexuality were ignored.

His successor, Archbishop Desmond Connell, was similarly distrustful of the media, and avoided engagement with the crisis in the diocese and in the Catholic Church generally over the issue of child sexual abuse. Connell was old school, seemingly aloof and uncomfortable in a secular setting.

Much of the difficulties surrounding Connell's time as archbishop had to do with the manner of appointing senior Church figures, particularly the practice in the past of plucking them from academia and thrusting them into a job they were obviously unsuited to but felt compelled to take.

He was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1988 at a time when he was the last person the Church needed, because he was so inflexible.

His approach was in stark contrast to his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

As soon as he was appointed in 2004, Martin made a beeline for RTE, appearing on 'Questions and Answers' and other programmes to promise the issue of child sexual abuse by the clergy would be dealt with in a transparent manner.

This gesture was an indication that Martin realised the days of unfettered and unquestioned authority for those in his position, so clearly underlined in the Murphy report, had come to an end.

It would have been unimaginable for McQuaid and Connell to go on television to be surrounded by lay people who, as they would have seen it, were not qualified to talk about what the Church should and should not do.

Martin knew if the Church was to survive, it had to adapt and do so as a matter of urgency, whereas for Connell and McQuaid, the notion of the Church adapting to a changed environment was anathema.

Historians, helped by the Murphy report, will remember Connell's time as archbishop for his refusal to believe that a church can or should adapt to changing circumstances.

As well as being the third devastating report to vindicate the abused children, the Murphy report tells us much about how power was used and abused in the past.

In providing such an overwhelming body of evidence about an "obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal" and "little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child", the report has provided another corrective to the atmosphere of secrecy and shame that surrounded these experiences for so many years.

The report also makes it clear that the extent of the sexual assaults on children cannot be explained away by maintaining that the country was too poor and ignorant; there were calculated cover-ups by the Church and a deliberate abdication of state responsibility.

The documentation available to the inquiry, and the decision in 1986 to protect Church assets from abuse victims by taking out an insurance policy, gives lie to the claims there was not enough knowledge of what was going on; or that the Church hierarchy "was on a learning curve".

In October 2005, after the publication of the Ferns report, Progressive Democrats TD Liz O'Donnell asserted that there was, for many years, "unrelenting deference expected and given" to the Catholic Church from the State.

The Murphy report underlines the validity of that statement. Its use of the phrase "avoidance of public scandal" is appropriate and in many ways links this report with the Ferns and Ryan reports.

All three reveal the prevalence, from the foundation of this State, of a mindset that sought to hide and deny rather than confront, whether that be in relation to abused children or those, who by their actions or perceived misbehaviour, were deemed to be bringing shame to Ireland's supposed holy name and its supposed status as a beacon of Catholic purity.

Church and State colluded to protect this lie and in doing so, served each other's rather than the people's interests. The great irony is that their obsession with avoidance of scandal facilitated ever-greater scandal.

The unvarnished detail of the abuse experienced by children brought to my mind the observations of the late novelist John McGahern, when he wrote about the strut of the arrogant priest in a typical Irish parish in the past: "In those days it took considerable wealth to put a boy through Maynooth, and they looked and acted as if they came from a line of swaggering, confident men who dominated field and market and whose only culture was cunning, money and brute force. Though they could be violently generous and sentimental at times, in their hearts they despised their own people."

In light of the publication of the Murphy report, these words take on an added resonance.

Those who carried out this abuse; those who colluded in covering it up and denied justice to the abused, had nothing but contempt for their own people.

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What secrets lie the Northern side of Irish border?

Even with the huge amount of evidence available to us, it is still difficult to fully comprehend the gross betrayal perpetrated on thousands of young children by the Catholic Church and state authorities in the Republic over a period of decades.

The very people that the abused children would expect to offer them solace and aid in fact colluded with the abusers to cover up a national scandal.

The Ryan Report six months ago, which detailed the endemic abuse of children in Church-run institutions, was shocking. Thursday's report of an investigation into how Church authorities and police reacted to known instances of abuse in Ireland's largest diocese of Dublin was, if anything, even more disturbing.

It showed that four successive archbishops covered up allegations of abuse to preserve the reputation of the Church and to avoid scandal. The protection of the institution was regarded as more important than the protection of vulnerable children.

The Church's hierarchy, knowing full well the crimes committed by paedophile priests, tried to keep them secret and became accessories after the fact.

How impotent and frustrated those abused children and their families must have felt. They had no-one to turn to for justice.

The police were as much in thrall to the Church as the ordinary God-fearing Catholic and often declined to interfere, instead leaving it to the Church authorities to handle the issue.

Now, at last, those who were abused have had their revenge.

Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, whose department commissioned this latest investigation, has pledged that justice, although shamefully delayed, will not be denied and that those priests guilty of abuse - the investigation only referred to a sample of 46 in the period from 1975 to 2004 - will continue to be pursued.

It is imperative that his promises are translated into action if his government is not to become yet another agent of disappointment to the abused.

This latest investigation showed the enormous influence of the Catholic Church in the Republic for generations. Not only was the general population in its grasp, but the apparatus of state was almost subservient to it.

That power and privilege was abused and the scandal that the Church had hoped to avoid, has now engulfed it. The very many hard-working and devout priests have been as let down by their superiors as were the abused children.

The church can never regain its secular influence - nor should it - and it will struggle vainly to retain any moral authority.

It is now imperative that a similar wide-ranging investigation is held in Northern Ireland.

We know that abuse knows no borders.

What we don't know is the extent of that abuse, both on children in care and on those living in the community.

Our own secrets have awaited discovery too long.

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'I feel physically ill at the behaviour of my clerical colleagues' - Fr Brian D'Arcy

I must have read about a dozen reports from all over the world, from Boston right through to the Ryan report, the Ferns report, the Dublin report and reports from Australia, and they seem just the same.

Yesterday, I just felt physically sick. This morning I have to get up and I try to read it again and I still felt physically sick and I still am physically sick having read the kind of abuse that was perpetrated on innocent children by people who, in a sense were colleagues of mine, because I did spend quite a number of years working within the Dublin Archdiocese in Mount Argus.

Later in the 80s I began writing about this in the Sunday World and it was not believed, nobody believed that it was true. It began to seep through that things were happening because I knew about it from American contacts and I wrote about them and they were denied.

And the way in which the institution of the Church resisted any hint of anything being less than perfect within the institution to me is horrifying and degrading, and as I read it today I cannot but agree with the man who said "There is no future for that particular church".

You take Archbishop Dermot Ryan, for all the work that he did in Dublin, his reward for covering up was that he was made a cardinal. Sadly he didn't live to see it, but he was posthumously made a cardinal. Desmond Connell, for all his work, he was also made a cardinal.

Cardinal Law in Boston, who had an equal cover-up to all of this in Dublin -- and the reports of that are really as horrifying -- was held responsible for what had happened in Boston.

Where is he now? He was promoted to an office in Rome.

So don't tell me that this protection of the institution is not more important than the protection of children that is at the heart of the matter. It is when something that is supposed to be set up for the promotion of Christian values becomes more concerned about its own self preservation that the Christian values can go wherever they like as long as the preservation is maintained and anyone who steps out of line is hit over the head.

And if somebody had come and said they would have had no trouble at all removing that priest from office and silencing him, yet where a bishop comes in and says "we have three paedophiles we're covering it up" he becomes a cardinal.

Anyone who tried to bring it up to the surface at community meetings, or wherever, it was always marginalised, it was always fought against.

And here's a very simple thing for you, every religious order, every diocese has a certain amount of paedophiles within them at the moment not working and not working as priests, but there's a very simple way the Vatican could easily say, as Canon Law does actively say, that all priests who have been involved in paedophilia activity should immediately be laicised, defrocked, call it what you like, so that they can never possibly act or go out into the shadow of being holy again.

If a priest left and wanted to get married to a woman they have no problem at all getting rid of a guy like that you know. So there's this sinister thing where, if you're in a diocese or an order where these guys are, they will resist everything that is done and they will pontificate and they will try to tell the rest of us how to lead our lives. I've experienced this at first hand and it is the most sickening, awful thing that you can imagine.

First of all, as a child, I was sexually abused by a priest. And at school, as a first year student, I was sexually abused by a priest of the order of which I now belong, and I've also been a superior in the order for a long time and every time you try to remove these guys from ministries you are met with the sternest opposition and there seems to be this idea that people should be given a second chance. There is a false sense of forgiveness, a false sense of loyalty.

My strongest argument in all of this is my only motto in life,

is to protect the child from abuse and protect the family from abuse and protect the people that have been harmed by this -- in my life as a priest I've had to deal with a number of suicides which were absolutely related to abuse by a priest or a brother as a youngster.

I've seen the devastation in people's lives, it is a horrendous crime and you know only somebody who has been through it at a deep level can understand -- and the bravery of the likes of Andrew Madden and Marie Collins and many, many others who have stood up to this institution is extraordinary.

I want to make sure that not only can this never happen again, but I want to make sure that the State takes control of the protection of children. It shouldn't be left to any institution or a sports club, or a church. It's the State's job to protect it and nothing should stop the State from doing it.

We have a better system of protection for children at the moment -- Dr Diarmuid Martin needs to be encouraged, Eamonn Walsh needs to be encouraged, but believe you me, it has been the victims who have pushed this and the State who have been taking control.

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The lies that Connell claims he never told

The lies are the most striking aspect of the report on the Dublin Archdiocese - after, of course, the disclosures of the terrible abuse of probably thousands of young people over the years, and the coverup of those abuses.

Desmond Connell, an archbishop, a professor of philosophy, later a cardinal of the Church, a finger-wagging moralist; the man who spoke of his counterpart in the Church of Ireland as being intellectually inferior; the man who had a moral qualm about attending a reception hosted by Bertie Ahern and his then partner, Celia Larkin; the man who, as head of the philosophy department at UCD for years, was the Church’s man in a key post.

Connell, the moralist, told the investigation commission that it was okay to lie, provided that one had a ‘‘mental reservation’’.

All right, he may not have said outright that it was okay to lie, but he did say it wa
s okay to convey an untruth and do so deliberately.

This was his explanation: ‘‘Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression, realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be - permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying.

‘‘It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So mental reservation is, in a sense, away of answering without lying."

In the early 1990s, Connell lent a priest in the Dublin diocese, Ivan Payne, money to compensate Andrew Madden, whom Payne had sexually abused. Madden had instituted legal proceedings against Payne.

Joe Little of RTE asked Connell whether he had compensated victims of clerical abuse. Connell replied: ‘‘I have compensated nobody. I have paid nobody."

He went on to say that the finances of the diocese were ‘‘not used in any way’’ (to make settlements in civil actions concerning clerical child abuse).

In 2003, almost a decade later, Desmond Connell had a meeting with Madden, who, of course, was fully aware that what Connell had said to Little was a lie.

The investigation commission report says: ‘‘In the course of an informal chat, Cardinal Connell did apologise for the whole handling of the Fr Ivan Payne case. He was, however, at pains to point out to Mr Madden that he did not lie about the use of diocesan funds in meeting Fr Payne’s settlement with Mr Madden.

‘‘He explained that, when he was asked by journalists about the use of diocesan funds for the compensation of complainants of child sexual abuse, he had responded that diocesan funds are not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds were not used for such a purpose. By using the present tense, he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past. According to Mr Madden, Cardinal Connell considered that there was an enormous difference between the two."

Apart from Madden, the other person of heroic stature who emerges from this scandal, Marie Collins, also had exposure to Connell’s understanding of truth.

The commission report says of this: ‘‘In anticipation of the publication of the framework document, a meeting was arranged at the request of Archbishop Connell with a representative of An Garda Siochana. A detective inspector and a detective garda met a representative of the archdiocese at Archbishop’s House on November 17,1995.

‘‘The representative delivered details of all persons who had made allegations of sexual abuse against members of the clergy that were in his possession.

‘‘These details comprised the names of 17 alleged clerical abusers, together with the names of each complainant and brief details of the allegations.

‘‘The Commission does not consider that the reporting carried out in this instance by the archdiocese was, in fact, in compliance with the standards of the framework document. Within the collective knowledge of priests and officials of the archdiocese, there was an awareness of complaints concerning a total of at least 28 priests or former priests [at least 12more than were named on the list].

‘‘When Cardinal Connell was asked by the Commission about the absence of any reference on this list to a particular named priest, his reply was that this priest’s name was possibly not on the list because he had been laicised at the time the list was produced and, consequently, was not a member of the clergy.

‘‘In further evidence before the Commission, the Cardinal responded that the disclosure ‘was a beginning and it was a very big beginning, because nothing of the kind had ever happened before’."

After the conviction of the priest who had abused Marie Collins and others in the criminal courts in 1997, the Dublin Archdiocese issued a press statement claiming that it had co-operated with the gardai in relation to her complaint.

The Commission says: ‘‘Mrs Collins was upset by that statement as she had good reason to believe that the archdiocese’s level of co-operation was, to say the least, questionable.

‘‘Her support priest, Fr James Norman, subsequently told the gardai that he asked the archdiocese about that statement, and that the explanation he received was that ‘we never said we cooperated ‘‘fully’’ ‘, placing emphasis on the word ‘fully’."

And these guys presume to lecture the rest of us on morality. . .

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We can't shut the Church down, so what do we do?

IF the Catholic Church in Ireland were any other institution it would now be outlawed, if it hadn't been already.

But the Catholic Church in Ireland is not just any other institution. It occupies a special place in our hearts and in our society.

Not the kind of special place it did occupy, where its members were seen by society, including the Garda, as being beyond the law, but a special place none the less.

The majority of people in this country are still Catholics.

Over a certain age, the vast majority of people in this country are practising Catholics.

They are heartbroken by the recent revelations about their Church and their priests and bishops, but they have chosen to stick with their Church and their God.

Possibly because it is the only Church they have. The Catholic Church is their conduit to their faith and their God, a faith and a God they have invested a lifetime of spirit in, and which they are not going to turn their back on now.

In short, we need a functioning Catholic Church in this country. Most of its members are innocent people who have done nothing wrong. Most of them are good Christians. We cannot take away their Church.

So what to do? Well, we need to take action now. We need to take action beyond more retrospective wailing and gnashing of teeth, more toothless truth commissions, more national days of shock as we discover the nitty-gritty of what we all half knew but didn't want to believe.

Even the Church itself now recognises that more apologies and expressions of regret and begging for forgiveness are no longer enough. Diarmuid Martin apologised again last week. He also became the first senior Irish Churchman to speak like a trenchant critic of the Church rather then someone trying to excuse it.

In an extraordinary Prime Time on Thursday night he seemed at times almost unable to speak.

There even seemed to be some confusion when Mary Raftery and others, who were clearly expecting some class of an argument with Martin, discovered that he was agreeing with them about everything.

He sat there enumerating, in a shocked manner, the crimes of the Church.

You could argue that it was hypocritical of him to sit there giving out about the Church when he is part of it and rose up through its ranks, but it was a very human response and it also signalled that the Church, or at least some significant players in the Church, accept that there is no argument to be had about what happened.

In short, Diarmuid Martin seems as sickened as the rest of us, and that seems like a start.

So, again, now that we are all agreed on this, what to do next? We are in the unprecedented position of having an institution whose tentacles are everywhere -- in education, health and every community in the country -- that is rotten and that has facilitated the worst kind of evil.

The Catholic Church is still at the heart of Irish life. It is the centre of social life in many parishes for many people. It counts among its members the vast majority of our politicians, our lawmakers and our law-keepers. Most of its members act, literally, in good faith. Shutting it down is not an option.

But neither can the Catholic Church be allowed to continue without a complete overhaul. What has become clear in the last week is that this is not just a tragic story of some men who went deviant because of the celibacy imposed on them by the Catholic Church. Neither is this a story of some sad, sick men who happened to be priests.

It is now clear that one of the functions served by the Catholic Church in Ireland was that of a club. It was a national club for paedophiles. Clearly, for decades in Ireland, those in the know were aware that if you had certain sick inclinations, the Catholic Church was the place for you.

Not only would it offer you access to little boys and girls, not only would it put you in a position of trust with gullible families, but you would also be protected if anything went wrong. So you had the physical access. And you also had reasonable cover because of the special status innocent parents and God-fearing children afforded you. This meant you were unlikely to be questioned or complained about.

But on top of all that you had a whole structure in place that would protect you at all costs, that would move you out of any situation that became dangerous for you or where anything threatened your ability to access children.

You would be sent to fresh hunting grounds if there was any hint of trouble or if word got around that people should keep their kids away from you. And the icing on the cake was that this structure, this hierarchy that would protect you above all other considerations, inspired fear and awe among everyone from gardai to government.

So your habit was fed and you were untouchable.

What wouldn't a paedophile pay for a lifetime subscription to this club? No wonder the Church was a magnet for sickos. And you were surrounded by patsies in the form of good priests and good Catholics who gave your whole game a gilt-edged reputation.

We don't need to go into the details again right now. But it is the little details that can sometimes break your heart. Andrew Madden was part of Newstalk's excellent coverage of this on Friday morning.

At one point, he told Claire Byrne and Ivan Yates, matter of factly, that he eventually got away from his abuser because he told his abuser he couldn't call down to his house any more because he had to study for his Inter Cert.

Besides, he observed, at 14 he would have been getting too old for his abuser. So the big hope of some abused children was clearly that they would eventually become less childlike and then they would be left alone, that they would no longer be to their abuser's taste.

So what to do with this institution, riddled with evil but the focus of so much that is good in the lives of so many good people?

First, we should acknowledge how difficult it is to change the culture in any organisation. Many great minds have spent lifetimes thinking about the challenges of changing the focus in the simplest of manufacturers or service companies.

Imagine, then, how mammoth a task it would be to change an organisation as arcane and complex and ideological and wide-ranging and labyrinthine as the Catholic Church. And take into account that this is an organisation that has fiercely resisted change for hundreds of years.

In recent years it has fought change tooth and nail and has conceded nothing about any wrongdoing until it has been exposed, having fought to the death those who tried to expose it.

And even when it has been exposed it has not undergone fundamental change.

No, for the good of the Church and for all of us, change now needs to be imposed from outside. And the problems in the Church, both historical and current, need to be dealt with as what they are -- problems caused by a massive organised crime ring.

We need to take that law and order imperative and we need to put it together with the change imperative. Now, as anyone in business will tell you, an organisation will generally find it very difficult to change itself. Often what is required is some form of consultant to come in with a cold eye and diagnose and manage the process of change.

So it seems clear that this is what needs to happen in the Church: a special unit of the Garda Siochana needs to be set up.

This unit needs to be financed, in so far as is possible, by money taken from the Church.

It could also work in conjunction with some international experts in things like canon law, ecclesiastical matters, childcare, treatment of sex offenders and whatever other specialist skills are required.

Then this organisation, which could be temporary and perhaps set up by special statute, needs to do a root and branch investigation of every priest and every parish in Ireland. The Church should cooperate and actively assist in this if it really wants us to believe it is sorry and wants to change.

There needs to be thorough examination of the whole organisation as a matter of urgency and criminal proceedings and defrockings need to be pursued in an urgent and transparent manner.

This might all sound unlikely but then again, 20 years ago it would have seemed highly unlikely that the Church in Ireland would turn out to harbour such evil.

The imperative now must be to root out any further abuse, to punish by law those involved and to try and save the Irish Catholic Church for the millions of good people for whom it is a central part of their daily and spiritual lives.

The Church has demonstrated it cannot do this on its own.

It needs our help and even in these straitened times this is a job worth doing, to try and show the children of the past that we have heard their pain and that we take it seriously, to protect the children of the present, and to give the believers of the present and the children of the future a functioning Catholic Church in this country, one that will not destroy their lives.

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The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that we agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.


Diarmuid Martin must learn an American lesson (Contribution)

For anyone from Boston, the report from the Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese has a sad, sickening familiarity to it.

Only the names have changed. Actually, in a few cases, the names are the same, which is not surprising, given how many priests in Boston are of Irish descent.

The shocking portrait that emerged - of a Church and its bishops who cared more about their image and assets than they did for innocent children abused by priests - is roughly the same.

The arrogance, cynicism and denial of the bishops is the same.

The indifference of the Vatican is the same.

The lingering, horrific impact on the shattered lives of the victims is the same.

Given the similarities of the Catholic Church in Boston and Dublin, the fallout will probably be the same.

The Catholic Church in Boston, once the most important non-governmental institution in the city, is still reeling from the effects of the abuse crisis that became an international scandal after a series of investigative reports in the Boston Globe in 2002.

Attendance at Mass is down, and the Church’s moral authority is a shell of what it was in the past, when what the archbishop of Boston said affected public policy, and mattered to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, was brought in specifically to clean up the scandal, replacing Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as archbishop because of his complicity in the scandal.

During his tenure as archbishop, Law had made the situation worse, enabling abusers and sending soothing letters to serial predators, while ignoring the children those priests raped.

The archdiocese has since paid out more than $100 million to victims, pushing what was once the nation’s most financially solvent archdiocese to the verge of bankruptcy.

O’Malley had to sell off much of the archdiocese’s property, including the archbishop’s posh Italianate mansion.

He has had to close nearly 100 parishes, and scores of parochial schools, infuriating many of the faithful who had stuck by the Church through the scandal.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the archdiocese doesn’t have enough money to pay retired priests their pensions. Few in Boston think this is too high a price to pay for what was done to children by a Church that consistently looked the other way.

The Church, and especially the Vatican, was no more forthcoming in Boston than it was in Dublin.

At the Boston Globe, we spent nearly $1 million in legal fees to force the archdiocese to give up its records.

As in Dublin, those records showed in precise detail how bishops moved predator priests from parish to parish like pieces on a chessboard, how the only concern bishops such as Law expressed was for criminal priests, not victimised children.

Counselling services in Ireland reported a surge in calls in recent days with the publication of Judge Yvonne Murphy’s report.

A similar phenomenon occurred nine years ago when we began publishing a series of investigative reports, detailing the massive cover-up of criminal activity by bishops.

More victims came forward, but many did not.

Some abusive priests were prosecuted. Most were not, because statutes of limitations had expired. One priest who was prosecuted was murdered in prison.

The attorney general at the time, Tom Reilly, the son of Irish immigrants, said he would have prosecuted Law but lacked the statutes to do so.

The Massachusetts legislature responded by creating a law that makes it illegal not to report suspected abuse to the authorities.

The Vatican’s response was to reward Law with a sinecure at one of Rome’s seven great churches, convincing many in Boston that the bishops remain sorry, not for what they did, but only that they got caught.

Slowly, but surely, contributions to the Boston archdiocese have crept back up since then. The Catholic Church is still the biggest non-governmental provider of social services in and around Boston, and its work with the poor is laudable.

But time has done little to improve what is perhaps the Church’s most important asset: its moral authority.

This was driven home just last week, when it was reported that Bishop Thomas Tobin had instructed congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late senator Edward Kennedy, not to receive Communion at Mass.

Bishop Tobin based his position on Patrick Kennedy’s legislative support of abortion rights.

But perhaps the most cutting response, indicating just how devastating and lasting the legacy of the complicity of bishops in the sexual abuse of children is, came from Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, who is the odds-on favourite to win Kennedy’s vacant seat in a forthcoming special election.

Coakley has prosecuted sexuallyabusive priests and knows first-hand how such behaviour was enabled by bishops.

‘‘It seems to me a little bit ironic that a Church that was willing to overlook the victimisation of many, many children over several years is now turning around and saying to people who are good Christians, good Catholics, that, ‘You can’t join this’," said Coakley.

From now on, anything and everything that Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, does or says will be measured against what Murphy has established as fact.

That’s not necessarily fair, but it’s certainly true. O’Malley is a good man, but wherever he goes, whatever he does, the shadow of the Boston abuse scandal follows.

O’Malley has struggled to create a post-scandal archdiocese, one that will restore some of the Church’s lustre, if not its influence.

The archdiocese continues to spend more than $5 million a year on counselling victims.

The scandal remains a real, living, humbling legacy.

It’s an indelible stain, a burden, and it gets fainter and lighter as the years go by.

But, like the horrible memories of its victims, it never goes away.

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Martin calls on public to support 'good priests'

The Archbishop of Dublin has called on the Irish public to support and encourage the "good priests" that are in the religious orders.

Dr Diarmuid Martin celebrated mass at St. Andrews Church on Westland Row in Dublin city, where President Mary McAleese was in attendance.

Dr Martin reflected on the Murphy Commission Report published this week, which highlighted the widespread cover-up of abuse by priests in the Dublin Archdiocese over three decades.

Dr Martin once again apologised to those who were abused by members of the clergy and told the congregation that no words of apology would ever be sufficient:

"The fact that the abusers were priests acting in the name of Christ constitutes both an offence to God and an affront to the priesthood," he said.

"The many good priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin share my sense of shame and I ask you all to encourage and support them in their ministry at this time."

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"St Mary's in Exile" going strong: Kennedy

Father Peter Kennedy, who was stripped of his holy orders and banned from preaching, hearing confessions and officiating at weddings since June, says his "St Mary's in Exile" community is still attracting large numbers.

About 500 people turned out to attend weekend services which are being held in a conference room in the Trades and Labour Council building in South Brisbane, The Courier Mail reports.

"Things have been going very well," Father Kennedy was cited saying.

"Our numbers have kept up.

"I still say our community numbers around 2,000 but not everyone comes every week of course."

Fr Kennedy said he was looking forward to the launch next Saturday of a book on the St Mary's controversy.

He also said there were plans for the church community to raise money for its own property.

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Long line of leaders who failed to act

THREE assistant bishops in Dublin dealt "particularly badly with complaints".

Bishop Dermot O'Mahony, assistant from 1975 to his retirement in 1996, was aware of 13 priests in the sample of 46.

He did not inform Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Ryan about a number of complaints, the Commission of Investigation found.

He agreed that it was "a wrong policy" to give little or no information to a parish priest about offenders assigned to their parish.

The commission also named the late James Kavanagh, a former professor of social science at UCD, who was the number two in Dublin from 1972 to 1998.

He failed to deal properly with Fr Bill Carney after he pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse, and tried to influence garda handling of criminal complaints against Fr Carney, the report said. He also persuaded a family to drop a complaint to gardai against another priest.

Bishop Donal Murray, a respected theologian promoted to head the diocese of Limerick, "dealt with a number of complaints and suspicions badly".

When "factual evidence" of Fr Thomas Naughten's "abusing emerged in another parish Bishop Murray's failure to reinvestigate the earlier suspicions was inexcusable", the report said.

Bishop Brendan Comiskey, who resigned as Bishop of Ferns in 2002 for failing to deal with pervert priests including the late Fr Sean Fortune, was aware for years of complaints or suspicions of abuse in Dublin.

Accusing religious orders of also knowing about abuse, the report says the Columban Order had "clear knowledge of complaints against one of their members, Fr Patrick Maguire".

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Legion of Christ head urges ‘limitless confidence’ in Christ and asks for forgiveness

Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, the Director General of the Legion of Christ, has sent a letter to members of Regnum Christi about the nature of Christ’s Kingdom and the need to show “limitless confidence in Christ.”

He also asked forgiveness from those who have suffered on account of the “sorrowful circumstances” of the order.

His letter, which is customary for the Feast of Christ the King, began by noting the words of the Our Father “Thy Kingdom come!”

“We pray these words because we know that the Kingdom is a gift from God rather than a goal we can reach through our own efforts,” Fr. Corcuera began.

He said that members of Regnum Christi, the Legion of Christ’s lay branch, find “the meaning of our existence and our mission” in God’s will that mankind cooperate in the coming of the Kingdom.

“Christ’s Kingdom is not an abstract or ill-defined reality,” Fr. Corcuera continued. “If Christ is calling us to establish his Kingdom on this earth, we can ask ourselves where and how we are to do so.”

Christians are to begin the Kingdom in their own hearts, he said.

“But Christ’s sovereignty must not be limited to our own heart,” he added. Christians are to be “real torches of Christ’s love” by helping others open themselves to Christ, by imitating Him and by letting Him “take ownership of our thoughts, words and deeds.”

“We desire to live this day with a spirit of reparation and humility, united to Christ the King, who is rich in mercy. I want to take advantage of this letter to again sincerely ask forgiveness from all those who have suffered or are suffering on account of the sorrowful circumstances we have lived. God is inviting us to live this time by intensifying our prayer life, our acts of charity and penitential spirit, so we can unite ourselves more deeply to Christ and to our fellow brothers and sisters.”

The Director General’s words are apparently an allusion to the revelations earlier this year that Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel led a “double life” and fathered a child.

Fr. Corcuera continued, saying that Regnum Christi’s only justification for its existence is its service to the Church, the bishops, and laity.

“All our apostolates, all our activities, our whole life is to be focused on this service,” he added, thanking God that the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi are able to offer many activities and apostolates.

He invited Regnum Christi members to serve the “local ecclesial community” under the directions of the bishops and pastors. He said a “limitless confidence in Christ” is fundamental to the mission, noting Old Testament examples of this confidence.

“They were all men, aware of their own limitations and human condition. However, they knew how to open their heart to God’s action.”

“We are not alone because Christ never leaves us. We are not alone because Regnum Christi is not an isolated reality. We are part of the great family of God in which the variety and beauty of paths enriches and encourages us all,” he added. “Our movement is only one of so many realities that God has raised up in the Church as a way to help us live out our baptismal commitment.”

“On this day of Christ the King, let us also entrust ourselves in a special way to Mary, the mirror of the Church, so that by contemplating her we will come to understand the greatness of our vocation,” Fr. Corcuera concluded, citing Mary’s words in the Gospel of John to “do whatever He tells you.”

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Archbishop in call over abuse shame

The head of the Catholic Church in Dublin has told bishops implicated in a sickening report into child sex abuse to look in to their consciences.

Diarmuid Martin said he had no authority to ask anyone to resign over the scandal, but revealed a bishop could be removed if criminal proceedings are brought.

Gardai are currently studying the disturbing report which found senior clerics - some still in positions in Ireland - shielded paedophile priests when they were based in Dublin.

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Abuse report ‘beyond belief’

The former head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said the report of the Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese is ‘‘almost beyond belief’’.

Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh from 1990 until his retirement in October 1996, told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘I am deeply, deeply saddened by it all. It is a very, very difficult time for the Church and it will pain a great number of people - particularly the victims, who are our first concern. But then there is the much wider hurt of Catholics who are distressed by the whole matter, which is almost beyond belief."

Daly would not discuss the issue of any bishop’s resignation, but Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told Vatican Radio that bishops would ‘‘admit their responsibilities’’.

Asked whether Church leaders should take responsibility in a more open way, Martin said he thought that ‘‘people will admit their responsibilities where they took place’’.

‘‘Many of these abusers were at times in total denial, at times extremely devious," he said. ‘‘The problem was that decisions were taken not to treat their offences as seriously as they should. Maybe bishops were deceived. Decisions were taken that permitted other children to be abused.

‘‘There’s no point in saying it’s back to business as before," he said.

‘‘The Church has to change, and I believe we will be the better for having fully addressed this chapter.

‘‘I think of the people who have never been able to tell their story and for whom reading this report will obviously awaken in them terrible emotions which they haven’t been able to come to grips with.

‘‘It’s very hard to put yourself in the position of someone else . . . Somehow or other, Church leaders didn’t seem to have the same sense [as parents and victims] of how disastrous this was for children."

Martin said a ‘‘huge amount of progress’’ had been made, but it was ‘‘not going to be possible ever to eliminate [the risk]. But you have to do everything you can to make sure that risk is least’’.

The archbishop said that many parents now had a real crisis of confidence about allowing their children to take part in Church activities.

‘‘You can’t expect confidence to be rebuilt overnight," he said. ‘‘I know from what I hear that parents want these strong protection measures to be applied, and there to be no compromise."

Martin said priests also had to accept the facts set out in the report.

‘‘There might be a tendency to go into denial [but] they should recognise that good child protection measures are good priest protection measures."

But Dublin auxiliary bishop Eamon Walsh said he believed the focus should now be on ensuring that the abuse and cover-up did not happen again, rather than on uncovering more evidence.

‘‘I think we have the full truth,"

he said. ‘‘We know the pattern in Ferns. We know the pattern in Dublin. I would much prefer that we put the scarce resources that we have - as a country and as a Church - into consolidating our services."

One of the bishops who came in for the most trenchant criticism in the report for his handling of abuse complaints was the Bishop of Limerick, Donal Murray.

He was appointed auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in March 1982 and Bishop of Limerick in February 1996.

Now aged 69,Murray is not required to offer Pope Benedict his resignation for another six years, but there have been calls for him to stand down early.

However, not everyone agreed.

One Dublin diocesan priest, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘‘I don’t think that, for the bishops, it’s a resigning matter."

‘‘The people on these commissions are basically hunting for the bad guys. There’s no attempt to look at how these things were considered at the time. People used to try and hush them up."

‘‘But most priests didn’t know what was going on. And [the head of one major Catholic institution], who would have dined regularly at Archbishop’s House, told me this morning that it never came up at the table."

‘‘What Donal Murray did was inexcusable, and I’m not trying to defend him, but it was more that he did not give the matter the attention it deserved. He used to say that the only job of an auxiliary was to go round opening scout halls."

‘‘Murray is not an arrogant, uncaring person, and I don’t think he deserves to be hounded. That said, however, he has indicated that he is at peace now that the report has been published. That could mean he is contemplating resignation but, if I were him, I’d stay on."

Bishop Murray is a member of the bishops’ Liaison Committee for Child Protection and is chairman of the bi shops’ committees on bioethics and Catholic education.

His spokesman told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘Bishop Murray will continue to serve on these committees as long as the Bishops’ Conference wishes him to do so."

A culture of denial, arrogance and cover-up

The Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese found that four successive archbishops of Dublin responded to complaints of child sex abuse by clerics in the diocese over three decades with ‘‘denial, arrogance and cover-up’’.

‘‘The Dublin archdiocese’s preoccupations 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," the report found.

‘‘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."

The report covers the cases of 46 priests from a representative sample and examined complaints in respect of more than 320 children against those priests.

Of the 46 priests, 11 pleaded guilty to or were convicted in the criminal courts of sexual assaults on children.

However, the report said the full extent of child abuse was much greater.

In total, it received information about ‘‘complaints, suspicions or knowledge’’ of child sex abuse against 172 named priests and 11 unnamed priests. Of those, the commission found 102 priests were within its remit.

According to the report: ‘‘Of those investigated by the commission, one priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another accepted that he had abused on a fortnightly basis during the currency of his ministry, which lasted for over 25 years."

The commission was chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, who was assisted by Ita Mangan and Hugh O’Neill. Based in offices in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin, the commission comprised senior and junior counsel, five researchers, six support staff and solicitor Maeve Doherty.

The commission’s brief was to inquire whether the Catholic Church and state authorities had ‘‘enough knowledge of, or strong and clear suspicion of, or reasonable concern regarding, sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy’’ between January 1, 1975, and May 1, 2004, to act against accused clerics.

If the commission discovered specific allegations against any individual, it then investigated any other allegations against him.

The estimated cost of the commission was to be €4.5 million and it was due to present its final report to the Minister for Justice by September 2007.

But Murphy ran into a series of problems and had to seek a number of extensions to the deadline.

She completed her report last July and it was published last Thursday after legal delays.

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Why Ireland Is Running Out of Priests

Wanted: Clean-living young people for a long career (women need not apply).

: Varied. Spiritual guidance, visiting the sick, public relations, marriages (own marriage not permitted).

Hours: On call at all times.

None, bar basic monthly stipend.

He hasn't placed classified ads in the Irish press just yet, but according to Father Patrick Rushe, coordinator of vocations with the Catholic Church in Ireland, "we've done just about everything" else to attract young men to the priesthood.

And yet, the call of service in one of Europe's most religious countries is falling on more deaf ears than ever.

Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, made a grim prediction about the future of the church in Ireland: If more young priests aren't found quickly, the country's parishes may soon not have enough clergy to survive.

He told the congregation at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin that his own diocese had 46 priests aged 80 or over, but only two under 35 years old.

It's a similar story all over the island.

According to a 2007 study of Catholic dioceses in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, about half of all priests are between the ages of 55 and 74.

Ireland's ties to the Catholic Church run deep. The ordination of a family member was once regarded as a moment of great prestige, especially in rural areas. Even as recently as 1990, over 80% of Irish people said they attended Mass at least once a week.

But the country's relationship with the church began to change dramatically in the mid-1990s when Ireland's economy began to take off, ushering in years of unprecedented growth. Soon, disaffection replaced devotion among Ireland's newly rich younger generation.

Most devastating of all, however, were the sex-abuse scandals involving pedophile priests that surfaced around the same time. Criticism over the handling of the case of Father Brendan Smyth — a priest who had sexually abused children for over 40 years — even led to the collapse of the Irish government in 1994.

(Prime Minister Albert Reynolds was forced to stand down amid public anger over the lengthy delays in extraditing Smyth to Northern Ireland, where he was wanted on child abuse charges.)

But more was still to come. Last May, the government published the findings of a nine-year inquiry into child abuse at church-run schools, orphanages and hospitals from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The report, which described "endemic sexual abuse" at boys' schools and the "daily terror" of physical abuse at other institutions, shook Ireland to its core and left the reputation of the church and the religious orders that ran its schools in tatters.

Then, this week, another government inquiry found that the church and police colluded to cover up numerous cases of child sex abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, prompting the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to apologize to the Irish people.

"No one is above the law in this country," he said. There are now calls for similar inquiries to be held in every diocese in Ireland.

The scandals have undoubtedly made it difficult to bring new men into the priesthood. Father Brian D'Arcy, superior of the Passionist Monastery in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, says the only way to reverse the trend may be to relax the strict rules governing priests' lifestyles.

Top of his list?

The vow of celibacy.

"Of course it would be a big help if priests were allowed to marry or if we could ordain married men," he says.

Earlier this month, he says, a priest in the Derry diocese, Father Sean McKenna, announced to his congregation that he was in a relationship with a woman and was stepping down. His parishioners gave him a standing ovation.

"Good men are being driven out by foolish [rules]," D'Arcy says.

But some clerical leaders say that allowing married or female clergy won't solve the problem. "They're easy solutions on paper but the crisis is deeper," says Father Patrick Rushe, vocations coordinator for the 26 dioceses in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He points out that the Anglican Church, which permits both married and female clergy, is also facing a shortage of vocations.

"[Becoming a priest] is a lifetime commitment and a sacrifice. I think that's what's putting people off. It's not just celibacy," he says.

The church's solution was to launch a recruitment campaign last year, holding special Masses, workshops and conferences aimed at attracting young men to the priesthood. The initiative seems to have paid off, at least in the short term.

Last September, a total of 38 Irish men began to study for the priesthood at seminaries in Ireland and Italy.

The figure may pale in comparison to the 100 or so new seminarians who signed up annually in the 1960s, but it was the highest intake for the church in a decade.

Five years ago, there was only one ordination in Northern Ireland out of a Catholic population of 700,000 people.

"You're not just going to pull somebody off the street and they'll suddenly become a priest," Rushe says. "It's a decision that can take a long time to make."

Vincent Cushnahan, 29, currently the youngest serving priest in Ireland, says the church also needs to carry out structural reforms, such as cutting the number of parishes (and, therefore, the number of priests required to fill them) and giving greater responsibilities to lay people.

In some Irish parishes, for example, non-ordained church members are now responsible for roles such as youth ministry.

Cushnahan knows how hard it is for the church to recruit young men these days — becoming a priest was a difficult decision for him to make.

"I had to forsake married life, my own house, money," he says.

"[Being a priest] can be more isolating and counter-cultural than it has been in the past. It's more challenging, but also more rewarding because of that."

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December 1st - World AIDS Day

A Franciscan Prayer to Mark World Aids Day

Lord, make me an instrument of peace:

What concrete steps can we take to promote peace and reconciliation in situations of conflict, violence and sexual exploitation to help reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and promote a culture of peace and reconciliation?

Where there is hatred, let me sow love:

How can Franciscans and religious leaders create welcoming communities of faith for persons living with HIV/AIDS and those affected by AIDS and eliminate all instances of discrimination and social stigma?

Where there is injury, pardon:

Do we hold those who are living with HIV/AIDS as evil, immoral persons? How can we set them free and allow them to discover the face of God in their current situations?

Where there is division, unity:

Do our fears and prejudices lead us to commit acts of violence against our sisters and brothers living with HIV/AIDS?

Where there is darkness (untruth), light (truth):

Can we preach and speak about HIV/AIDS openly, exploring its origins, its impact, and the fears we have about it? Can we begin to speak the truth in the light, in our parish communities, our religious houses, and everywhere?

Where there is doubt, true faith:

Can we reach out to one another, particularly our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS, in a way that restores faith in God? Can we draw upon the power of resurrection to remove all fears, fears of contagion that lead us to reject or withdraw our love and support from persons living with HIV/AIDS?

Where there is despair, hope:

How are we fostering communities of hospitality, receptivity, and healing where our brothers and sisters can find 'home', a place of welcoming and love.

Where there is sadness, new joy:

Do we recognize the power and grace in our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS? Do we allow ourselves to be 'evangelized' and transformed by the witness of our sisters and brothers living with HIV/AIDS?

Fianna Fáil senator in row over 'fairy' slur on gay people

A FIANNA Fáil senator who has expressed annoyance that he can't call gay people "fairies" and who claims women working outside the home are one of the main causes of depression in young people, has defended his views in the wake of strong criticism from members of the gay and lesbian community.

Jim Walsh from Co Wexford made his remarks in an interview with a member of the public he invited to talk to him after she complained about views he had previously expressed on the civil partnership bill. The bill will be discussed in the Dáil this week.

Christina Murphy, a supporter of LGBT Noise, a group campaigning for gay marriage in Ireland, said the senator had numerous "misconceptions" about the gay and lesbian community and "backward opinions about equality". An account of her interview can be read on

In her piece, Murphy alleged that the senator, from New Ross, Co Wexford, claimed there were "different reasons why people are gay" and said he had "spoken to psychologists about this".

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune this weekend, Walsh said: "That was in the context of young people having difficulty coming to terms with their sexuality. Many people may be inherently gay while others may be gay because of environmental factors."

Murphy said that "the senator focused on the breakdown of the family con­tributing to problems among young people – most specifically depression.

"He claimed that women working outside the home are a main factor in this… This is 2009 and yet the senator seems to disregard the Women's Rights Movement," she said.

She claimed that Walsh asked her how members of the LGBT community could be expected to be taken seriously when "men walk around half naked during demonstrations".

Walsh said: "We had an amiable conversation and we agreed to disagree. People, regardless of their colour, creed or sexuality, are all citizens of this republic and are entitled to be treated with respect."

Murphy's article quotes Walsh as wondering why he cannot call people fairies.

"If I were to call people fairies I would be called a bigot and all sorts of things, but David Norris says it all the time and nothing is said".

Walsh conceded that "it wasn't appropriate to be calling members of the gay community fairies". That leads to homophobia, he said, "and we have to rule that out".

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Pope says Christ is 'relevant' to all, addresses fight against AIDS

Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the beginning of a new liturgical year during his traditional addresses before and after the Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace on St. Peter's square today.

His words included a message concerning the relevance of Christ to all the world and prayers for the fight against AIDS.

Before reciting the Angelus, the Pope spoke to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in the square of how the liturgical year is seen from different perspectives and how Christ is relevant in all of them.

The Second Vatican Council, he said, established that the Church should "present the entire mystery of Christ in the annual cycle, from the Incarnation and Nativity to the Ascension, to the day of Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope in the return of the Lord."

The Holy Father presented a metaphor for the Council's insistence on the centrality of the liturgy of Christ, saying that He is like "the sun, around which, as planets do, revolves the Blessed Virgin Mary - the closest of all - and then the martyrs and other saints that 'in Heaven sing with God the perfect praise and intercede for us.' "

This, said His Holiness, is "God's part."

"And, what about the part of man, of history, of society?" asked the Pope of their part in the interpretation of the liturgical year. "What relevance do they have?"

"The answer is given to us through the path of Advent, that today we undertake. The contemporary world needs, more than anything, hope: developing countries need it, but also those that are economically evolved."

He said to always keep in mind that "we are on one boat and we should save each other together."

Especially in this time of crisis, the Pontiff told the crowd, "we need a reliable hope, and this is found only in Christ, who, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, is the same yesterday, today and forever."

"The Lord Jesus has come in the past, comes in the present, and will come in the future."

"He embraces all the dimensions of time, because he died and rose, he is 'the Living One' and while he shares our human frailty, he remains always and offers us the same stability of God."

The Holy Father explained that Christ is 'flesh' as we are, while at the same time being 'rock' as God is.

"Whoever yearns for freedom, for justice, for peace can rise again and raise his head, because in Christ liberation is nearby - as we read in today's Gospel (Lk 21, 28)"

Thus, said the Holy Father, "we can affirm that Jesus Christ does not only regard just Christians, or only believers, but all men, because He, that is the center of the faith, is also the foundation of hope. And every human being is in constant need of hope."

Pope Benedict then called for the Mass to be as the Virgin Mary, "who incarnates fully the humanity that lives in hope based on the faith in the living God," so as to "truly enter in this time of grace and reception, with joy and responsibility, the coming of God and our personal and social story."

After reciting the Angelus with the faithful, the Pope directed attention towards the coming World Day Against AIDS which will take place December 1, saying that his "thoughts and prayers go to each person afflicted by this illness, in particular the children, the very poor, and those who have been rejected."

The Church, he continued, is unceasing in its efforts in the fight against AIDS. He exhorted the crowd to focus their prayers and attention to those affected by the malady until "those affected by the HIV virus experience the presence of the Lord, who gives comfort and hope."

The Holy Father concluded this wish by expressing his constant hope that, by "multiplying and coordinating efforts," the world can "stop and defeat" this sickness.

In the Pope's words after his address, he made sure to welcome the Family Love Movement, a group of Italians who had walked across the city this morning in protest of the recent European legislation prohibiting crucifixes in classrooms.

He commended them on "recognizing the religious, historic, and cultural value" of the cross.

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'Raze the church's structures to the ground'

'If we had bishops and archbishops who were married, and had children of their own, they would not have moved abusers from parish to parish like they did… The whole structure of the church is antiquated, it just doesn't fit in the modern world. Each bishop is totally independent of each other. They can do whatever they like. The whole structure needs to be razed to the ground and a completely new one built."

As someone whose suffering at the hands of the church was so painstakingly documented in last week's report from the commission of investigation into the Dublin archdiocese, Marie Collins is as well-placed as anyone to critique how it is working now.

Having fought repeated battles down the years to have her story heard, amid deliberate attempts by church authorities to brand her as a liar or to downplay her abuse, she says she is concerned that the level of progress since then is severely limited in nature.

This is despite claims to the contrary by others within the Catholic church.

She points out that the welcome lead provided by Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin in his archdiocese is by no means guaranteed to continue should he move on to another assignment.

She adds that Martin can only do a "limited amount", particularly when it comes to his bishop and archbishop colleagues in other dioceses.

"Even an archbishop has no power or authority over fellow bishops. Even Cardinal Brady does not have that. And a lot of people don't realise that individual bishops are all powerful and subordinate only to Rome."

One of the most striking – and disturbing – features of last week's report was the way in which senior clergy sought to move abusers from diocese to diocese, frequently not even informing their fellow clerics about the accusations which had been made against these priests.

Yet Collins, who helped put together the church's landmark 'Our Children Our Church' guidelines on how to deal with allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church, is extremely concerned that such actions may occur in the future.

'Our Children Our Church' has since been replaced with a new document, 'Safeguarding Children', which was introduced last February.

Collins believes this has been "watered down" significantly when compared to its predecessor, undoing much of its good work.

The result, she says, is that the type of resistance which she received from church authorities could happen again.

"The one thing we have in the leadership of the church is a total absence of humility or acceptance that they can be wrong. It is the arrogance of power."

Collins is not alone in her criticism of the current church structures. But some look at the problems differently.

Outspoken Augustinian priest, Fr Iggy O'Donovan, says there has been a noticeable centralisation of power towards Rome in recent years. He says many of the reforms of Vatican II have been rolled back, while liberal voices have been quelled.

Yet he notes, as does the commission's report, that the issue of child sexual abuse is a serious crime under canon law.

"Even if the church authorities had followed the church's own guidelines, they could have avoided much of this abuse," he says. "So they failed even by their own criteria."

This was due in no small part to a "misplaced loyalty" to an all-male clerical set-up which was inherently unhealthy, he says. At the time, Irish society itself was locked in a form of "antisexual terrorism".

There is little doubt reform of the current church is needed, he says.

Key to this is an expansion of the role of the layperson, and a rolling back of clerical domination.

But he does not agree that the maintenance of the current hierarchical structures means the abuses of the past will necessarily be repeated.

He stresses that Irish society's deferential relationship with the church has significantly changed, diminishing capacity to cover up abuse.

"The old church as we knew it in Ireland is dying, and we could not bring it back even if we wanted to," he says.

"I don't think the bishops and the church have anything like the power they did have."

Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the Irish Catholic, agrees there is a need for structural reform of the church. Like O'Donovan, he believes the focus should be on an increased role for the laity.

This should extend, he says, to the inclusion of lay people in the selection process for bishops, with a list of suitable candidates drawn up from which an appointment would be made.

"There is absolutely no transparency in how leaders are appointed," he says. "It seems to me the general approach, particularly when appointing bishops… is that they won't rock the boat."

Meanwhile, as the church continues to grow in the developing world and elsewhere, the risks of a repeat of what happened in Ireland must surely be a pressing concern.

Others go even further, suggesting that closer to home, the claims last week by church leaders ring hollow in the face of little real structural change and a policy of reform whose ultimate aim is the self-protection of the existing institution of the church.

"Let's ignore the church officials who use words like 'failure' to describe their deliberate, callous, deceitful and reckless wrong-doing," said Barbara Blaine of the USA-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"It's not a 'failure' or 'mistake' that led to the commission and cover up of thousands of clergy sex crimes. It's the willful, intentional short-sighted selfishness of powerful, cold-hearted men masquerading as spiritual figures.

"Our hearts ache for the thousands of kids now at risk in the Dublin Archdiocese because so little has changed in the church hierarchy. In our view, perhaps the main reason so many children were so severely violated and so many Catholic employees hid the crimes can be summed up in just a few words: the rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy that is the church hierarchy. Sadly, despite all these crimes and revelations, that structure and culture remains fully intact," she says.

"It's foolish to assume or believe that what's happened in the past isn't happening now. It's reckless to buy into a false sense of security. While the report said "the structures and rules of the Catholic church facilitated [the] cover-up" of child sex crimes, merely changing church rules is insufficient.

"It's the centuries-old secretive and monarchical culture of the church that needs reforming. Church rules are largely irrelevant, because given the nearly limitless power of bishops, there's rarely any real recourse when bishops break such rules."

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