Monday, June 22, 2009

In Dublin, "Martin of Television" Faces the Storm

With Ireland still reeling from last month's Ryan Report, a TV documentary aired nationally last week raised the curtain on the next major look into the Isle's staggering history of clergy sex-abuse and chancery cover-up: the Murphy Report of the state inquest on the archdiocese of Dublin, first expected this summer but seemingly to be delayed pending "ongoing court proceedings."

Yet while the testimony of victim-survivors has become crushingly commonplace in the reporting of their stories, what made TV3's Abuse of Trust unique and significant was the cooperation of the Republic's top prelate, the capital's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (left, at mic), who spoke on the program of his "personal torment" at reading through some of the 60,000 in-house files he handed over to the state panel (but only after his predecessor dropped a court challenge to the papers' release).

"One weekend I decided to try and get through these documents," Martin said.

"I came to the stage when I simply threw them onto the ground because I couldn't keep reading.

"This is reality. It can't be hidden and it shouldn't be hidden," he said, adding that some of the decisions he's made along the way have kept him up at night.

Amid a wave of public incandescence that's seen the abuse likened to the Holocaust, the Irish church compared to the Taliban and, on the whole, made 2002's Stateside outbreak feel sedate by comparison, in the report's lead-up the former Vatican diplomat dubbed "Martin of Tours" for his oft-globe-trotting ways has arguably turned in the finest public response by a hierarch not just to the abuse, but the manner in which his predecessors and their aides mishandled the victims and the accused alike.

Lest any doubt remained, how the church chooses to face the revelations remains as important as the response is still, in many places, lacking... and for proof of the "second chance" a genuine (and genuinely contrite) tone can bring about, one Dublin broadcaster took to the papers to say that Martin deserves a shot at rebirthing the scandal-ridden church:
As the nation gets to grips with the horrors of the Ryan Report and prepares for the further revelations to come in the report into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese, the Archbishop's voice is the only one in a position of authority that rings true and clear with genuine humility. If the Church has any future, it will be up to him to deliver it....

It would be easy to give up entirely on the Catholic Church, given the disgraceful way the victims allege they were treated by the clergy when they asked for help – from the parish priests all the way up to more senior figures. The Church has behaved appallingly and deserves to see the Irish public turn its back on it for good.

Having read the Ryan Report I, along with countless others, have been thoroughly disgusted by the attitude of the institution of the Catholic Church to the evil in its midst. I expected TV3's documentary to entrench that view, but then a truly Christian voice emerged from the hell of abuse and subsequent cover up.

Archbishop Martin is a man of the cloth who is visibly shaken by the knowledge that innocent children were raped and their lives ruined. He doesn't hide behind euphemisms for the terror they experienced, but allows himself to react with tears, like any other human being, to the abject torture that was inflicted upon them.

Towards the end of the programme, Archbishop Martin makes a statement of intent. He wants full disclosure and acknowledgement of the full extent of the abuse.

He wants the Church to repent and compensate. He wants children to be protected, but most importantly, he accepts that Catholicism in Ireland will be utterly changed in the aftermath of this scandal and he admits that the Church will have to take what's left and rebuild an institution that operates in a completely new way.

It has been hard to stomach the Catholic Church and its pleas for forgiveness in recent weeks, but Archbishop Martin might just represent a new era and a rebirth of what it means to be a Catholic in Ireland.

He deserves to be given the chance to make a difference.

In a speech last week to the Dublin church's teachers, the archbishop said that Catholic education's "almost monopoly" of Ireland's schools system was "certainly not tenable" in the future.

With 92% of Irish schools "sponsored" by the church, Martin called the arrangement "a historical hangover that doesn't reflect the realities of the times and is, in addition, in many ways detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools."

Given the backdrop, the talk made national headlines.

PHOTO: Dara Mac Dónaill/
The Irish Times