Dublin could be the new Damascus for a Church in need of significant reform

On the eve of the Papal Visit to Dublin, our Ireland correspondent, GREGORY DILLON,  writes about how much the country has changed since the last visit by the now sainted Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – immersed in intense phase of clerical abuse scandal. Picture by Bill Heaney


Martin’s the man to map out the route to the future

After 14 years as skipper of the battered barque of St Patrick in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, a no longer young Diarmuid Martin, 73, is grappling stoically with the supreme navigational test of his pastoral rule and diplomatic acumen.

As host to Pope Francis at the lightning-struck ninth World Meeting of Families (WMOF) from August 21-26, Archbishop Martin finds himself immersed in a new and more intense phase of the clerical child abuse crisis erupting from across the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean.

Ever since Francis, three years ago, assigned him to host pilgrims from 116 countries, Martin has planned a programme to educate, edify and entertain attendees.

Although knowing that Francis would be unable to replicate the turnout for Pope John Paul II in September 1979, Martin announced his intention of making the 2018 WMOF inclusive of all shades of church opinion – traditional Adam and Eve families and families composed of lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBTS).

Yet, in the 2015 referendum which voted for gay marriage and in the recent reversal of the 1983 Pro Life amendment, Martin has been on the losing side. This prompted him to regret that “the Irish Church is widely regarded with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of culture here.” Clearly, Ireland has not respected John Paul’s injunction to remain ‘Semper fidelis – Always faithful’.

However, it was just in the past few weeks that Captain Martin had to don his life-jacket when it became clear that this second  ever papal visit was being blown off course by a tsunami driven by fresh discoveries of a systematic cover-up by the Vatican and national church leaderships in Latin America, Australia, England and America. In particular, the documentation of how at least 301 children were abused by their pastors in six dioceses of Pennsylvania over 70 years has caused Martin the same revulsion that the abuse files in Dublin did.

Diarmuid Mary Martin was born in Dublin in April 1945 with dark brown eyes which he inherited from his mother, Mary. He grew up in working class Inchicore but was educated by the Marists at the Marian College in Ballsbridge. In a biography, his older brother, journalist Seamus, recalled how at home he served as altar boy to Diarmuid playing priest and using a lemon as host.

Pope Francis portraitThis was a prelude to Diarmuid studying for the priesthood at the Holy Cross College in Clonliffe and UCD. He was ordained in May 1969 by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who sent him to Rome for further studies at the Gregorian University. On his return to Dublin in 1974, he spent two regimented years as a an assistant priest in Cabinteely before the most important career break came his way. In 1975, he was sent back to Rome by McQuaid’s successor, Archbishop Dermot Ryan, to be a tourist guide for Irish pilgrims visiting the Eternal City during a Holy Year. This brought him to the attention of Roman officials working for Pope Paul VI, who spotted his potential talent. Naturally, Ryan approved his recruitment into the papal civil service.

For the next three decades Diarmuid climbed the Vatican career ladder.  From 1988 to 2001 he was undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In 1991 he was “raised to the purple” as Titular Bishop of Glendalough (while still residing in Rome). In 2001 he ascended to the prestigious post of Holy See Permanent Envoy to the United Nations, based in Geneva and commuting to New York.

Life changed dramatically for him in 2003, however, when Pope John Paul nominated him as coadjutor archbishop of Dublin with right of succession. After an apprentice year as assistant to the unpopular Cardinal Desmond Connell, Martin took over in April 2004 with a papal mandate to clean-up the Irish Church after decades of hidden sexual abuse of minors by clergy that devastated the self-pitying Connell’s 19-year reign.

No sooner had Martin settled into the job in the vast grounds of ‘the Palace’ in Drumcondra than he realised how lowly weekly religious attendance had plummeted, especially in inner city parishes. He also frequently asked why so many young people leave Catholic schools with little understanding of their faith, many of them abandoning religious practice.

In his WMOF capacity Martin is cast in a role akin to that of a director of an ecclesiastical Edinburgh Festival orchestrating celebrity highlights and fringe shows. Operating from Clonliffe with a full-time staff of 58 under Father Tim Bartlett, Anne Griffin and Brenda Drumm, Martin immersed himself in preparatory detail, as is his wont. In addition to briefing trips to Rome, he co-chaired a steering group with Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach.

With an army of volunteers, they have arranged for Francis to meet President Michael Higgins, the Taoiseach, Government ministers, other public representatives and accredited ambassadors in Dublin Castle; a three-day Pastoral Congress in the RDS, a Festival of Families at a concert on Saturday August 25 in Croke Park, where  the main attraction will be Andrea Bocelli, a devout Catholic; a lightening sweep to Knock Shrine in Co Mayo on Sunday 26 ahead of his return to Dublin for Mass in the Phoenix Park.

This is Martin’s biggest performance yet on the world stage. Renowned for his polished prose in headline-making press releases and his selection of the mot juste to sugar bitter pills, Martin knows only too well that what Francis says in Ireland, particularly on August 26, will make or break the visit. He has been subjected to an avalanche of advice from outspokenly serious players and from a clamorous media.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International, recalled how a year after John Paul came, he, then a 13-year old devout youth, was raped in Wexford by the notorious Father Sean Fortune. Writing an open letter in the Irish Times, O’Gorman told the Pope of the pain inflicted by the bestial Fortune on his own family. “Tell the truth. Admit the cover-up. Please,” O’Gorman pleaded.

Similarly, Francis’s fellow Jesuit, Peter McVerry, noted bluntly: “The success of your visit will depend on the challenge which you present to the Irish church to move from maintenance mode to mission to the marginalised.”

In the Sunday Business Post, Michael McDowell, politician, senior counsel and religion commentator, noted the holding in Dublin of an alternative conference staged by intransigent Catholics under the banner of Lumen Fidei: its main speaker is American Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of four prelates who accused Francis of teaching heresy in his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitiae, The Joy of Love.

Martin has accumulated good will among the laity, especially women, and from victims themselves for his zero tolerance approach to abuse allegations. For this he has incurred unpopularity with many clergy. Often in broadcast interviews he has worn his heart on his sleeves, for instance, agreeing with radio personality Miriam O’Callaghan about the presence of misogyny in the church, and calling for more women in leadership positions, though he does not believe he will see female priests in his lifetime.

On other occasions he became upset as he recounted telling the pope about the discovery of the bodies of the Tuam babies. And who forgets his account of how he threw diocesan files in disgust on the floor when reading the allegations he inherited from Cardinal Connell.

But the biggest jolt for Martin came from Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland and supporter of his more open style of Catholicism. This shock was delivered via Patsy McGarry, the Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent. McGarry reported how McAleese refused to discuss a suggestion by then Vatican secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in November 2003, of an agreement with Ireland that it would not access church documents.

This story prompted former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, to contact McGarry with the follow-up story that Sodano, in private discussion with him at the Vatican in November 2004, suggested Ireland might indemnify the Catholic Church against legal actions for compensation by clerical child sexual-abuse survivors.

The Rome based journalist Paddy Agnew recalled how the now 90-year old Sodano, in February 2005, asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, if the US Government could stop a class-action before a district court in Louisville, Kentucky. This case was seeking to make the Vatican financially responsible for the sexual abuse of minors. “This is not how the US system of justice works”, the she hissed ever so delicately, years ahead of the final bill costing the American church more than $3bn.

A clearly shaken Martin told the indefatigable McGarry that he “was not informed of any such interventions at that time by either side”. However, Martin was closer to this Vatican ruse than he knew when he spoke at a conference at the Pontifical Irish College in May 2006 on the occasion of Connell’s eightieth birthday. Significantly, this conference was attended by Sodano, who spoke of the deep respect he always had “for our dear Cardinal Connell”. In response, Connell acknowledged how deeply indebted he was to Sodano for his advice and encouragement. A forthcoming biography will reveal that Sodano told Connell about his plans to secure the Irish church’s silence, and that Connell backed Sodano on this cover-up policy. This would explain how Connell later attempted to stop Martin handing over 74,000 documents to the Murphy Commission on abuse of minors.

At this juncture, you might be excused for concluding that this papal visit is “inopportune”.  One Belfast priest even called on Francis to cancel his trip to Ireland. Leo Varadakar, Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach, says he will advise Francis to address the abuse issue. Mary McAleese is angry that Francis did not reply to a letter she sent him earlier this year but will welcome him in Dublin Castle. Minister Joanna Madigan says she will press for the ordination of women.

Martin has been resolute in his selection as a speaker of American Jesuit priest James Martin, who has received “oceans of hate and threats” on account of his sympathetic attitude to LGBTS.

Martin is determined that Francis address the issue with renewed realism while in Dublin. Many people resent the taxpayer paying half of an expected 36-million-euro bill for a visit lasting only 36 hours.

Among the most durable legacies of 1979 is of Canon James Horan, once an assistant priest in St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, who turned Knock Shrine into the Lourdes of Ireland. Among the most embarrassing is the picture of the now disgraced crowd-cheerers at the Galway youth Mass in Ballybrit racecourse: Bishop Eamonn Casey and Father Michael Cleary.

Martin is intent on persuading Francis to listen to survivors, especially after the withdrawal from the visit of Cardinals Sean O’Malley of Boston and Donald Wuerl of Washington DC. However, even before Francis boarded his flight for Ireland, he issued a letter on Monday August 20 recognising once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse and pledging “no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and its cover up”. This failed to produce a plan of action.

In Dublin, Martin will ensure that Francis meets victims. Francis needs Diarmuid more than he needs Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who has overall responsibility for the visit. He also needs to heed the words of Ian Elliott, the former chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, who dismissed the papal record on child protection as “a dismal failure” in contrast to Martin’s successful approach.

Martin Archbishop“Just one Irish bishop stood out,” Elliott said. “Without a shadow of a doubt that would be Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, pictured left, because he had the courage of his convictions. He was prepared to be unpopular, he was prepared to say ‘this is not right, it should not be happening’, and he was a very strong person and I admired him. We’d have rows, we wouldn’t always be on the same page but I respected him because I always felt he had the best interests of children and young people at heart and that he could not in his conscience come to terms with the fact that any member of the clergy could abuse a young person. He was outstanding.”  Indeed, in his homily on Sunday in the Pro-Cathedral, Martin gave Francis sound advice when he pointed out that “the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors is too small and not robust enough”.  Survivor Marie Collins who quit the Commission because the curia was blocking its work would say Amen to that.

With the Dublin event likely to be followed by more resignations by church leaders, especially in America, Francis would be inspired if he puts Martin in charge of this commission.

With Martin having recently hinted that he may offer his resignation sooner than April 2020 when he becomes 75. Francis may act quickly to shift him to Rome and give him a red hat at the next consistory possibly next February.  Diarmuid Martin’s destiny may be to rescue Francis’s papacy and the universal church from the worldwide scourge of clerical child abuse.

Once elevated to the cardinalate, Martin would be well placed to become the first Irish pope at the next conclave to succeed Francis as the churchman who rid the church of the paedophile snakes from the hierarchical and clerical ranks.

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