Friday, February 08, 2008

More "Papergate": The Cardinal as "Magnet"

That the above ran as today's editorial cartoon in Ireland's biggest-selling newspaper underscores the extent to which "Papergate" -- the row between Dublin's past and present archbishops over the release of documents to a state inquiry into clergy sex abuse -- has dominated a week's worth of news-cycle on the Emerald Isle... and isn't going away just yet.

In today's developments, as all sides look toward a third High Court hearing on Monday, current Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wrote the capital's priests to defend his preference for transparency in the inquiry:
In a week which saw him pitted against his predecessor Cardinal Desmond Connell, over a High Court application relating to sensitive files, Dr Martin shored up his leadership....

In a letter to the 200 parish priests in his Dublin Archdiocese, he wrote: "I'm acutely aware that the events of recent weeks have been unsettling.

"I have been contacted directly by victims who say this has reawakened the hurt they have felt in the past.

"When Pope Benedict met the Bishops, he outlined the essential elements of policies to protect children.

"In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.

"This policy is what inspires me and the policies of the archdiocese of Dublin. This will not change. I have made discovery of all relevant documents and the commission is in possession of all documents including those in respect of which a claim of privilege has been made."
And in the opinion pages, presenting Connell (depicted in the above cartoon) as a "broken man," the Independent's David Quinn -- formerly editor of the national Irish Catholic -- reflects on the cardinal's tendency to be a "magnet for controversy":
The first thing to be said is that no Church figure attracts controversy like Desmond Connell. He doesn't seek it. It just happens. Either he feels compelled to take positions that are unwise, or unpopular, or both, or he says things in such a way that they are bound to be misinterpreted, and badly, by the wider public, often egged on by a media determined to sock it to him.

For example, there was the uproar that attended his comment on President Mary McAleese's decision to receive Holy Communion at Christ Church cathedral a decade ago. He called it a 'sham'.

There was the uproar that followed when he said that parents who use family planning might love their children less. Then there was the time when he said that his then Church of Ireland counterpart, Archbishop Walton Empey, was not a 'high-flyer' theologically.

All of this is apart from the way he handled the clerical sex abuse scandals, which is what really damaged his reputation. To be fair, the way in which he handled these wasn't so different from the way in which practically all the bishops handled them; which is to say, very badly. In fact, in some respects he handled them relatively better than some of his colleagues. He was the first to 'defrock' a paedophile priest, for example.

But as Archbishop of Dublin, and along with Brendan Comiskey in Ferns, he became a lightning rod for public anger over the scandals. In this regard the 'Cardinal Secrets' programme of 2002 sealed his fate.

That programme also helped lead to the setting up of the commission that is inquiring into sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, an inquiry that is completely dominating Cardinal Connell's horizon in retirement. Those close to him know it is practically all he thinks or talks about.

Those who have met him recently also say he is in a very bad emotional and physical state. This probably won't win him much sympathy among victims; understandably so, given what happened to them, but it needs to be said all the same. He is practically a broken man.

He has taken this case against the commission because he obviously believes very deeply that certain advice a person receives from a lawyer is confidential and should remain so. The entirely unsubstantiated accusation that he is trying to hide something could be made, but could also be made against anyone who claims legal privilege. So we must consider whether we believe in legal privilege or not.

He was probably also deeply annoyed because Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (it would appear) had not told him all his files had been given to the commission. He may also feel that it is easy for the very media-friendly Dr Martin to hand over the files because none of his fingerprints are on them. He does not have to take the fall.

Desmond Connell is the sort of man who, if he was a bishop under Henry VIII, would have gladly submitted to the executioner's axe rather than sign the Oath of Allegiance recognising Henry and not the Pope as head of the Church in England. But that does not mean he is correct in this instance, even if he is within his legal rights.

Perhaps there is a very convincing reason why he has taken the case that we don't know about. But if there is, he owes it to the victims, the general public, and the Church to tell us.

And if there is no such reason, not even one that will convince Catholics who might be naturally sympathetic to him, then he owes it to those victims, to the general public, and to the Church, to drop it.

As it stands, what he is doing is causing yet more damage to himself, and to the Church he cares so deeply about. He must tell us why he is doing this, or else he must instruct his lawyers not to go into the High Court on Monday morning. The scandals have caused enough harm. Leave it be. Please.
Had the dust-up taken place just a matter of weeks ago, a key player in the media response would've been the Dublin church's director of public affairs, Msgr Paul Tighe.

Back in November, however, the Pope named Tighe as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Suffice it to say, he's already missed at home.