Compassionate face of an arrogant Catholic Church

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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is out of place in a disgraced and dishonoured Church, writes Emer O’Kelly

Sunday July 19 2009

HIS Grace Diarmuid Martin, DD, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, a 64-year-old scholar now in religious charge of his native city, has been much in the news lately. Not least because his is the name which automatically springs to the minds of non-Catholics who want to find some excuse for his Church. They don’t want to believe that the Roman Catholic authorities are vicious, arrogant, uncaring, amoral, power-hungry and often sadistic. And Diarmuid Martin is the one man who seems to offer reassurance.

He offers it consistently and persistently. When the Ryan report into institutional child abuse was published in May, Diarmuid Martin called its contents “stomach-churning”. Prior to the publication, he had uttered dire warnings of expectation that the findings would be shaming and shameful for the Church. And even the faithful thought, if they thought at all, that he might be exaggerating; what could be revealed in the report that was not already known? That the Church — through many of its ordained and consecrated members who chose to desecrate the vows which imposed compassion and decency on them — had abused their positions and the trust Church and State vested in them?

But more, much more, came out. It was deliberately sadistic, vicious, and institutionalised. It was not the actions of a few disturbed or psychopathic men and women. It was the system. Hundreds of thousands of children were subjected to a regime which, under the United Nations definition, amounted to torture: daily torture of years’ duration directed against suffering helpless children who had committed no crime, but were poor or unruly.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Diarmuid Martin’s direct superior, said what he had been saying for several years beforehand, and what we expected him to say: that he was “profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed”.

Diarmuid Martin, on the other hand, called the contents of the Ryan report “stomach-churning”, his usually rubicund, cheery face grey and furrowed, his eyes as haunted as though the children had been his own blood. It was a phrase a father would use.

And what was the response from the men who shared Holy Orders with him? In the words of Redemptorist priest Father Tony Flannery, angered that the cardinal and the archbishop had gone to discuss Ryan with the Pope without consulting the heads of the orders, he had “betrayed the religious orders”. They felt “enormous anger at being scapegoated”, especially by Diarmuid Martin, who “led the public criticism”.

All of which is hardly fair on Diarmuid Martin, a man who speaks four languages, five if you count Latin (which, apparently, he can actually converse in). He was ordained a priest in 1969, and soon rose through the ranks. By 1994, he was at the dizzy height of being Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In 2001, he left Rome for another placement; with some reluctance, it is said. He was appointed Permanent Observer for the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva.

A pattern had been established: this was an ambassador who used his considerable abilities and intellectual force in defence of the weak. But, unlike many who see only the big picture of rights violation, he has shown that he sees the million small pictures which form it, and that each picture of human loss and indignity involves a single helpless being denied civil and human rights.

Uniquely — or so it seems, from what we have experienced in Ireland in recent years as the forces of the right try to make us act against civil liberties — Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is also prepared to support rights which Canon Law condemns. When Cardinal Brady roundly condemned the government’s (then) proposed Civil Partnership Bill, saying it “undermined the will of God”, and suggested that those committed to “the word of God” might have to “pursue all avenues of legal and democratic challenge to the published legislation”, it was absolutely bang-on for Catholic teaching: you can’t have any rights unless they fit under Roman Catholic Canon Law. That’s always been the way in Ireland from the days when General Sean McEoin marched into a cabinet meeting and told his colleagues that the Mother and Child Scheme was gone: “He won’t wear it” — he being John Charles McQuaid, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin (ref: the memoir of Dr Noel Browne, Against the Tide).

When Sean Brady let fly from his Canonical tower, Diarmuid Martin held his fire for a couple of weeks, then announced quietly that other bishops “might have put the matter differently”. But there was no rush to support him when he added, “I am aware of the need to protect the rights of a variety of people in caring and dependent relationships different to marriage.”

On Holy Thursday he told the congregation in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin that the two biggest problems for the young in relation to the Church’s credibility were its condemnation of gay couples, and suicide.

“They see through the superficial answers we give,” he said devastatingly.

A father of the Church accepting that Catholic answers are superficial? He has even suggested that the Church divest itself of control of many of the schools, and called the current figure of 92 per cent control a “near monopoly” and “untenable”, an exact description that would make the blood of most “self-respecting” school patrons boil.

This extraordinary man has even suggested that if parents have the right to avail of schooling alternatives “inspired by other philosophies”, Catholic education will actually be strengthened. He actually wants to open children’s minds.

It has been cynically suggested that Diarmuid Martin is playing a very careful political game, opposing Sean Brady in order to undermine and succeed him for a cardinal’s hat. If that is the case, he’s going a very odd way about it, and not one which will endear him to Rome.

For myself, I can’t understand why this extraordinary, compassionate, moral, free-thinking man is sticking with his dishonoured, disgraced and morally bankrupt Church. He doesn’t belong there.

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2 comments on “Compassionate face of an arrogant Catholic Church

  1. Anybody who knew about institutional abuse and did nothing about it, is not fit enough to hold office. He’s as lily livered as his forbears. He was more concerned in his own progression through the ranks than taking responsibility for the information he’d been given. Breath of fresh air – Nah!

  2. Hard labour, deprivation of family life, lack of education, and sexual exploitation are the UNICEF’s description of child slaves and exactly what prevailed in Ireland when the Archbishop was a seminarian. Dr Diarmuid Martin, has said he did not do more about concerns he felt 40 years ago about Artane industrial school because his role “as a seminarian in my 20s was in helping those young people to integrate into society”.

    It would be a good idea now to trace any of ‘those young people’ who managed to integrate into society!

    I like this Archbishop – compared to the gang that went before him he’s a breath of fresh air.

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