'Truth Must Be Told,' Says Archbishop: Martin Recounts Irish Abuse Scandal at Marquette Conference

By Roberts, Tom | National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

'Truth Must Be Told,' Says Archbishop: Martin Recounts Irish Abuse Scandal at Marquette Conference


Roberts, Tom, National Catholic Reporter


MILWAUKEE * In the early years of the priest sex abuse crisis, Catholics often expressed their frustration with how bishops handled the scandal by saying, "They don't get it." Arcbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, may be a member of the hierarchy who begins to reverse that perception.

In a keynote address April 4 at Marquette University Law School here, Martin described the struggles he encountered in bringing to light the "disastrous situation" of abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, from assembling documentation to facing the resistance of priests and other bishops who opposed disclosing the history of abuse. "I tell these events," he said, "not to reopen history, but to illustrate just how difficult it is to bring an institution around to the conviction that the truth must be told."

Martin spoke at the start of a two-day conference titled "Harm, Hope, and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal." The conference is the latest in an annual series presented by the law school focusing on restorative justice, an approach that goes beyond the traditional judicial system's emphasis on punishment and involves both perpetrators and victims of crimes.

The Dublin archbishop has been a rare voice in the Catholic hierarchy in his blunt description of the damage the abuse scandal has caused and in his call for the church to divulge the details of abuse, to reach out to victims and to examine clericalism and other elements of church culture that may have contributed to the scandal's longevity.

"Archbishop Martin said what many Catholics want to hear, and they haven't heard it from their Catholic leadership," Janine Geske, a professor at the law school who heads its Restorative Justice Initiative, said following Martin's talk.

"I have not heard anything like that from the American bishops," said Amy Peterson, victim assistance coordinator for the Milwaukee archdiocese. She said she was impressed with Martin's deep understanding of the victim's point of view, his humility and his willingness "to hold the institution accountable."

"All institutions have an innate tendency to protect themselves and to hide their dirty laundry," said Martin, who became archbishop of Dublin in 2004. "We have to learn that the truth has a power to set free which half-truths do not have."

He repeated what he said in Dublin during a recent "liturgy of lament," which victims of abuse had primarily planned. "The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not like smooth designer soap but like a fire that burns and hurts and lances."

That observation may have been spoken, at least in part, from personal experience. When Martin took over as archbishop, a complaint about a priest came across his desk. He investigated to see if prior complaints had been made about the priest. Somewhere in the file he found a note: "Father X seems to be back to his old activities."

"Clearly there was knowledge of 'old activities,' but no clear understanding that these activities indicated an ongoing serious pattern of grooming which should clearly have raised red flags," Martin said. The archdiocese took action, notified civil authorities and removed the priest from ministry.

After that experience, Martin mandated a review of all personnel files by an independent outside expert to examine whether there were signs of other worrisome behavior by priests.

As that investigation was under way, the Irish government formed a commission known as the Murphy Commission to begin its own investigation of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese. The commission "had the power to request discovery of any documentation that the diocese possessed regarding any priest against whom allegations had been made or about whom suspicions existed," said Martin.

The commission, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, produced a report that severely criticized the church for being preoccupied with "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of its assets. …

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