Read more: If abuse won't cost your job in the Church, what will? 

Read more: Pope Benedict rejects Irish bishop's resignation

Dublin abuse victim Andrew Madden has said he is “not surprised” at the Pope’s decision not to accept the resignations of two Dublin bishops despite the lack of confidence shown in them by their Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The two bishops resigned on Christmas Eve last after coming under immense pressure from media and the public in general not to mention their own Archbishop.

While many Irish American Catholics will be angry at the Church for essentially stirring up this whole abuse debate again with this controversial decision, there is a lot to chew on in this latest development. 

On one side of the argument is the camp that says an injustice was being done to the two bishops to satisfy a lynch-mob in the wake of the Murphy report.  This argument is strengthened by the fact that the Health Services Executive (HSE) here was dragged kicking and screaming to admit that over 25 children died in its care in the last 10 years.  However, the other camp will see this as the Vatican protecting its own and slapping down the liberal reforming bishop Diarmuid Martin who has such public support he could be the only person in the country with enough public goodwill to run for the Presidency next year!

There is a lot to back up the thinking that Archbishop Martin ran afoul of the Vatican for his very public dressing down of fellow bishops.

For instance, Archbishop Diarmuid  Martin came back from the Irish Bishops’ meeting with Pope Benedict last February, his first instinct was to meet and brief survivors. 

One of the survivors of abuse in Dublin, indeed the main whistle blower on the cover-up in Dublin of gross sexual misconduct by priests and mismanagement by Bishops, Andrew Madden, told waiting media that Archbishop Martin “was a changed man” since his return from Rome.  The implication was that Archbishop Martin had got a dressing down for his very public appearances here calling on fellow bishops to be accountable and to take responsibility.

Wednesday’s news that Pope Benedict has decided not to accept the resignations of the Archbishop’s two remaining auxiliary bishops appears to verify Madden’s statement.  Rome does not agree with Dr Diarmuid Martin’s approach of shoot first and ask questions later.  The fact that the Pope has not accepted the resignations, means that Dr Martin will have to sit across the table from two men he refused to express confidence in last December.

When the Murphy report was published last November, Bishop Eamonn Walsh was part of the communications team set up by Archbishop Martin to deal with the media fall-out, indeed he was the Archbishop’s right-hand man at the press conference and is one of the most experienced bishops in the country on this issue given his time in Ferns during the Ferns Inquiry.
Most observers expected that the two prelates would go the same way as Bishops Donal Murray and Jim Moriarty and have their resignations swiftly accepted. However, it is now clear that a rearguard action was fought by the Walsh-Field alliance that has ensured that they got Papal support to the detriment of Archbishop Martin.  Many ordinary Catholics were involved.

In the days following the announcement of the resignation letters, an intensive letter-writing campaign got underway and dozens of clerics and laity wrote to the Vatican to protest at the way the two long-serving prelates had been treated by Archbishop Martin.

Bishop Eamonn Walsh in particular must have felt hard-done-by. He had appeared alongside Archbishop Martin at the initial press conference on the afternoon Judge Yvonne Murphy issued her devastating report in to the cover up of abuse in Dublin.

It’s not yet clear when the Pope told Archbishop Martin that he would not be accepting the resignation of the two prelates. Dublin has probably known about the decision for at least two weeks. The Vatican grinds to a halt and virtually closes down for the entire month of August as the Pope departs the heat of Rome for his summer residence and his advisors enjoy theferragosto holiday.

The Vatican, it seems likely that in a bid to save embarrassment a compromise was hatched. For the Italian-dominated Curia, la brutta figura (a bad public impression) is to be avoided at all costs and compromise becomes the order of the day. In his letter to the priests this week the archbishop notes: “following the presentation of their resignations to Pope Benedict, it has been decided that Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field will remain as Auxiliary Bishops.”

He goes on to say they “are to be assigned revised responsibilities within the diocese”. He did not specify what these revised responsibilities would involve, but he is now left with two auxiliary bishops who he evidently does not want.

No matter how balmy our Indian summer is this year in Ireland, the next meeting in Archbishop’s house with his exonerated bishops will certainly not be frost free.

Read more: Pope Benedict rejects Irish bishop's resignation

Read more: If abuse won't cost your job in the Church, what will? 

(Garry O’Sullivan is editor of the Irish Catholic and broke this story)