Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said that the “catastrophic manner” in which allegations of abuse were dealt with by the Irish hierarchy was symptomatic “of a deeper malaise within the Irish Church”.
In a homily delivered at the Church of the Assumption, Ballyfermot, Dublin, the leader of the Church in Dublin told those attending Sunday Mass, “in many aspects the Church in Ireland had allowed itself to drift into a position where its role in society had grown beyond what is legitimate”.
Archbishop Martin added that the Church in Ireland had often “acted as a world apart”.
“It had often become self-centred and arrogant. It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathised with the hurt of children”, he said.
Ballyfermot is the parish where the ex-priest, Tony Walsh, who was jailed last week for sexually abusing three boys, was based when the abuse took place.
The Archbishop said on Sunday that he came to the parish to renew his apologies to the people for the facts that had emerged in relation to the abuse of children in the parish by Tony Walsh and for “the way this abuse was hushed-up by people with responsibility in the parish and in the diocese”.
Ballyfermot is where the Archbishop himself grew up.
Acknowledging that he personally owed much to the parish and community, Dr Martin said, “It is a parish to which I belonged and to which I feel I still belong. It is a parish which grew up in hardship, but whose people worked hard and supported each other and above all gave themselves so that their children could do well in life.”
“Ballyfermot is a community which can be proud of its achievements and of its people especially its young people.”
But Dr Martin then asked how could he explain to “a community marked by such honesty, good neighbourliness and hard work that the Church failed many children of this parish? How do I explain to those who were abused? How do I explain to parents and family members, especially to those who had courage to come forward and denounce what was happening?”
He said that many of those who came forward did not want to damage the Church they loved, they simply wanted abuse to be stopped effectively and definitively. “Their love of the Church was betrayed by leadership in the Church”, he added.
Referring to the readings for Gaudate Sunday of John the Baptist as a voice crying in the wilderness, Archbishop Martin said the story of the abuser, Tony Walsh, “shows that for far too long ‘wilderness’ was allowed enter into the life of the Church”.
He underlined that the first step on the road to renewal was for the Church to honestly recognise, with no conditionality, the gravity and the extent of what happened.
“Renewal is not about going back to business as before”, he said.
He underlined that both the diocese and the parish had to work to sustain and develop robust child safeguarding procedures.
Fifty-seven-year-old Walsh, who was named in last year’s Murphy Report, was sentenced last Monday to 16 years in prison, with four years suspended, for abusing the three boys.
The now defrocked priest, known as Fr Filth and the Singing Priest for his Elvis impersonations at talent shows, was previously jailed for sexually abusing six other boys.