Saturday January 2, 2010

The Irish bishops “get it”

by Phil Lawler

(Republished excerpt from The 5 most positive developments of 2009)

January 2, 2010 ( – The damaging revelations about abuse in the Irish Catholic Church were, as I noted yesterday (#1), the most depressing story of 2009. But the agony of the Irish Church has already produced one very positive result. Unlike their brethren in the US, the Irish bishops have acknowledged their own culpability.

Within a month after the release of the Murphy Commission report, four Irish bishops had resigned. They stepped down under heavy pressure from public opinion, at the clear prompting of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who stated that any bishop involved in the Dublin cover-up should seriously re-assess his position . (Archbishop Martin did not openly call for resignations, but his intent was clear enough.)

One of the outgoing prelates, Bishop James Moriarty, denied that he himself had ignored complaints of sexual abuse, but conceded: “I should have challenged the prevailing culture.” Exactly. Any bishop who could tolerate sexual abuse—or even stand by while others in authorities tolerated it—thereby showed himself incapable of sound pastoral judgment. A bishop who responds to a scandal by covering up the evidence must have either a complete indifference to the welfare of the souls assigned to his care or a severely warped vision of what constitutes the good of the Church. In either case he has disgraced himself, and made it impossible to maintain confidence in his pastoral leadership. Resignation is his best option.

In the US, where literally dozens of dioceses have been dogged by sex-abuse scandals for the better part of a decade, only one bishop has resigned because of his mishandling of the crisis. In Ireland, four have taken that step in less than a month, after the problems of a single diocese were exposed. The Irish bishops are showing a pastoral sensitivity that their American counterparts lack.

There is one more positive aspect to this unhappy story. Pope Benedict has promised a pastoral letter in response to the Irish crisis. The Holy Father’s deft handling of the sex-abuse scandal in America, during his trip to this country in April 2008, encourages the hope that the Pontiff will draw important new lessons from the Irish problem.