Cardinal Sean O’Malley will wash the feet of Irish abuse victims in an extraordinary church service in Dublin today.
O’Malley is in Ireland as part of a Vatican-ordered investigation into how the Irish church is dealing with the fallout of the horrific abuse scandals that have rocked the church to its foundation there.
In Dublin, he will help preside over a “service of lament and repentance," which will be written in part by abuse victims. As a token of his remorse he will wash the feet of the abuse victims.
O’Malley’s move is seen as a definitive moment by many in the church, a final acknowledgement after years of prevarication and denial that the abuse was horrific and deeply damaging.
Observers credit Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin with cutting through the obfuscation and cover-ups. After the Murphy report on pedophile priests in the Dublin archdiocese, Martin made a plain spoken apology that was welcomed by abuse victims.
“As Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, I offer to each and every survivor my apology, my sorrow, and my shame for what happened to them," he said. “I am aware, however, that no words of apology will ever be sufficient."
“When it first came out, the church was very defensive — ‘This is just a few rotten apples,’" the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University told the Boston Globe.
He said many church leaders have gained “a much better understanding of the situation, so they’ve done a better job."
Experts compared the legalistic apology nine years ago from Cardinal Egan in New York to the blunt apologies of recent times.
Back then Egan said: “If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry."