In passing over Dublin’s courageous Archbishop Diarmuid Martin when he named a batch of new cardinals at the Vatican today, Pope Benedict XVI has finally closed the book on the shocking child sex-abuse scandal and its cover-up in Ireland.
What’s that, you ask? How can the case be closed when there are still priests and other Church officials whose roles in the crime have not been fully explored, when there are very likely still guilty clerics who deserve punishment – both from the Church and from judicial authorities? And what has been done to trace the “exporting” of predator priests from Ireland to all corners of the world where they can escape investigation and continue their crimes?
And what became of justice for the victims of this horror?
Well… We said we were sorry, Benedict and his Vatican entourage endlessly repeat, as if to ask: What else can anybody expect? Why can’t everybody just forgive us and start paying up again when the collection plate comes around?
It’s the understatement of the century to say that Irish Catholics are not in a forgiving mood, and it’s hard to blame them. They have heard all the Church’s regrets, apologies, anguish, concern, contrition, disappointment, discomfort, dissatisfaction, grief, heartache, heartbreak, lamentation, misgivings, nostalgia, penitence, remorse, repentance, self-accusation, self-condemnation, self-disgust, self-reproach and sorrow for a long time now.
Benedict has even allowed the hard-charging Martin to evict a few obvious targets from their lofty Church positions.
But is that all there is? By stacking his list of new cardinals with longtime Vatican insiders – like himself – and carefully avoiding anyone who might bring a reminder of “problems” back to front-and-center – like Martin – Benedict is veering back to the closed and conservative Vatican that vigorously condemns other people’s sins, but hides its own.
Martin is not perfect, but his courage and conviction in fighting the scandal and rooting out the guilty has not earned him the high respect in Ireland he truly deserves from Irish Catholics, who expect instant justice and results from an institution that is simply not built for speed.
His zeal was originally lauded by Rome, which was happy to have someone – anyone – doing something about the mushrooming scandal. But at some point, the increasing volume and stridency of Martin’s campaign grew too sharp and incriminating for the Vatican. They were fine when he fingered and cast out a few of the worst abusers, but as he saw the true scale of the crimes, he knew and proclaimed that it was the Church as an institution that was the biggest part of the problem.
And that was a no-no. The always-right, supreme judge of others was guilty of something? Impossible! Almost heresy! There were just a few bad apples, Rome claimed. A little housekeeping and the dirt would be gone – so what’s this guy Martin trying to stir up?
Small wonder that Benedict called off the crusade – refusing in August to accept the Martin-inspired resignations of two Irish bishops named in the Murphy Report, and then reinstating them. There had previously been wide speculation that Martin was soon to wear a new red hat as one of the Church’s cardinals. Up in smoke!
In a letter to seminarians a few days ago, Benedict – for the first time – spoke of the Church’s much-debated policy on priestly celibacy in the same breath as the sex-abuse scandal:
“Even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure … in the life of celibacy.” This from the same pontiff who has cynically invited conservative Anglicans and their married priests to leave their church and join the Catholic Church!
Does Benedict just not get it? Far from it: Passing over and undercutting the fiery Martin is simply part of the overall strategy to fill the Curia with even more-conservative loyalists who will, at any cost, protect the Church from its “enemies.”
Like the innocent victims of predator priests and their fellow conspirators.
Father Tim is an Irish-American Jesuit missionary and a frequent contributor to IrishCentral.