Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Papergate" Closed; Docs Opened

After ten days of public spatting between Dublin's past and present archbishops and a weekend intervention by Ireland's newly-elevated cardinal-primate, lawyers for Cardinal Desmond Connell yesterday dropped the Dublin emeritus' assertions of privilege over thousands of documents sought for a state inquiry into clergy sex abuse:
No reason for this dramatic withdrawal was advanced by the 81-year-old cardinal's legal counsel in an action which only a week ago attempted to block over 5,000 documents which were privileged to him.

It was earlier divulged by his friends that he was prepared to go to prison rather than break strict confidences of non-disclosure which he had given to some victims who did not wish to refer their violations by certain accused priests to the gardai or the health authorities. Cardinal Connell's initial preventive action unleashed national outrage against him personally, as well as against the Church which he has served as priest, scholar and prelate.

Through his ill-judged initiative, brooded upon for months of silence in his retirment home in Dublin's Glasnevin, Dr Connell came belatedly in the past few days to the realisation that he had initiated a course of action which was now universally denounced as a return to the old culture of secrecy and cover-up.

The damage sheet was extensive. Dr Connell's desperate action through his own Cork-based legal team had cut across the more open policy of co-operation pursued with the Government-appointed Commission of Investigation by his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who at times must have worried that the old guard in the Roman Curia had encouraged Dr Connell to take his stance, contrary to Pope Benedict's counsel to get to the roots of "the filth".

Worst of all for Archbishop Martin, Dr Connell's unilateral move was putting the victims of abuse through a second hell.

This was the dire message Archbishop Martin delivered to the cardinal when they met briefly in Rome and again when he visited Dr Connell at the Sacred Heart nursing home in Dublin's Raheny.

By now, Dr Connell, still in pain from a fractured pelvis caused by a fall on the steps of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome after attending a service in his titular church of San Silvestro in Capite, had time to reflect, pray and consult about his dilemma, as to whether, like Samson, he was bringing down the temple of his beloved Mother Church rather than defending principle and his own reputation.

There, each day, with senior retired priests also resident in the nursing home, as well as with respected visitors given access to him, the cardinal took stock of the overwhelming advice to withdraw his legal right.

Particularly powerful influences were the eloquent public statements of victims Marie Collins and Andrew Madden, along with the opinions of his former media adviser, Senator Ronan Mullen, and the plea from Francis Street curate Fr Martin Dolan for him to place the integrity of Christ and his Church above that of his own place in history.

At times, almost despairing of having been abandoned by his guardian angel, the cardinal meditated on his motto, 'Secundum Verbum Tuum' -- According to Your Word -- said by Mary at the Annunciation.

In the end, Cardinal Connell made up his own mind to withdraw his application, and he submitted himself to what he perceived to be his divine destiny as manifested by the clerical and public will.

While the cardinal's renunciation may give him some personal peace of mind, the whole messy episode has reminded a younger generation -- and rekindled memories in older folk -- of how closed, repressive, clericalist and authoritarian the Irish Church was since the foundation of the State, to its meltdown with the abuse revelations that marred the Connell era.

While Cardinal Sean Brady and other bishops reaffirmed their determination to remain united and determined to get to the roots of the abuse scandal, they avoided speaking out against Cardinal Connell out of loyalty and by dint of a policy which makes each bishop responsible only for what happens in his diocese.

Many priests, whether out of fear of breaking ranks that would marginalise them from the mainstream, or the habit of deference and 'not rocking the barque of Patrick', failed to speak out, leaving the laity wondering if their voice will ever be taken seriously.

However, both the Commission of Investigation and Archbishop Martin have emerged stronger from the Connell debacle, and are determined to reach their September deadline.

Moral theologian Fr Vincent Twomey has expressed his fear that the final outcome of the [Dublin] investigation will be messier and worse for the Irish Church than the Ferns Report.