Monday, November 30, 2009

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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