Catholic Church has lost all credibility, making me a pagan in Ireland
The recent publication of the state commission of inquiry into the behavior of priests and bishops in the Dublin diocese since 1975 has been a tipping point as far as the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned. The outcome has rocked the church, not just in Dublin but throughout the country.
It is the second inquiry of its kind here, since the accusations about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland started to snowball about 10 years ago. The first was the inquiry in Wexford and that was shocking.
But the scale and depravity and then the cover-up revealed by the Dublin inquiry is far worse. Dozens of priests were implicated, successive bishops knew what was happening, yet it went on and on.
The numerous abusing priests were shifted from one parish to another when complaints arose, leaving them free to abuse again.
The priority of the church was always to protect itself, even if it meant children continued to suffer.
In the Dublin diocese, which is so big that it has an archbishop at the top and auxiliary bishops as well, meetings between the bishops were held on a monthly basis, and it is hard to believe that the problem of abusing priests would not have been discussed.
The report makes clear that all the archbishops over the past 30 years or more knew what was going on, yet did nothing effective to stop it.
The present archbishop is in the clear because of the new procedures put in place in the recent past for protecting children, part of which means immediate reporting of accusations of abuse by priests to the police. That's a big change from previous decades when the church dealt with these matters itself, under canon law.
But the present archbishop's predecessor, still alive but now retired, is implicated in the cover-up, as are the auxiliary bishops who served under him and are now full bishops in other dioceses around Ireland. One of them has already resigned, after a trip to Rome to consult the Pope, and the other three are hanging on by their fingertips.
As I said, this is a tipping point for the Catholic Church in Ireland. It's a crisis that has shaken the Irish Catholic Church to its foundations and damaged its reputation and standing, perhaps permanently.
One indication of the sea change in attitude to the church is the way people here are now questioning everything. Is it right that the local bishop should be the patron of all the Catholic schools in the area if the church cannot be trusted with children? Should people be taking moral guidance from bishops when the culture in the church was corrupt?
The old deference is now completely gone. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin, for example, publicly criticized the failure of the Papal Nuncio to cooperate with the commission of inquiry and provide access to church files, something which the judge who ran the inquiry commented on. It's a long way from the days when government ministers here used to sink to their knees to kiss the bishop's ring.
This end to the deference and respect that used to be shown to the church is not confined to senior figures like government ministers. Ordinary people -- with the exception of the elderly faithful -- have been scathing in TV news interviews not only about how the church behaved in Dublin, but about the decades of orchestrated cover-up.