Two European prelates take on clergy abuse issue

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (CNS photo)

As Holy Week entered its most solemn days, two European archbishops used the occasion to issue strong statements on the clergy abuse crisis that has rocked their continent, saying their church needs to do much more to regain teaching authority.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Primate of Ireland, told priests and laity at a Holy Thursday celebration April 1 that the church in Ireland cannot “proclaim closure and move on.”

Martin criticized Catholics who say their church should move on from grief about the child abuse scandals. He said that there was "no way" his diocese could "impose fast-track healing" on victims.

“This has been a difficult year,” he preached. “We see how damaging failure of integrity and authenticity are to the Body of Christ. Shameful abuse took place within the church of Christ. The response was hopelessly inadequate.”

Martin’s comments, in particular, come in contrast to some other European bishops who have defended Vatican statements on sex abuse and who have criticized the media for suggesting Pope Benedict could have dealt with the issue more forthrightly.

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Said Martin: “I do not wish to give the impression that I want to go on forever hammering home a message of grief about the past, that I am obsessed with the past,” Martin said, adding that some ask him 'Can we not leave all that aside now, proclaim closure and move on?'

"I cannot agree. There can be no overlooking the past. There is no short-cut in addressing the past. The credibility of the church in this diocese of Dublin will only be regained when we honestly recognize the failures of the past, whatever our share of responsibility for them. There can be no rewriting history. There is no way we should impose fast-track healing on those whose vulnerability was abused."

Also addressing the sex abuse issue was the head of Germany's Catholic bishops' conference who issued a Good Friday statement denouncing past failures and mistakes in the church's handling of abuse cases. Clerics have neglected helping abuse victims by a "wrongly intended desire to protect the church's reputation," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg said.

Zollitsch condemned what he called "the appalling crimes of sexual abuse" and urged the German Catholic church to face its painful record on the handling these cases. The church is appalled by the harm done to victims who were often unable to speak about their pain for decades, he said. "Wounds were inflicted that are hardly curable," the archbishop added.

On Tuesday, the German church opened a telephone hot line for people who allege they were abused by clergy. On its first day of operation, it received more than 1,000 calls. A similar Dutch hot line has received 1,100 calls since early March and similar services in Austrian dioceses have recorded 566 contacts this year.

Benedict issued a letter to Irish Catholics March 19. It contained no words of solace to the German Catholics, many of whom have criticized the pope for not attempting to address their pain.

Martin, meanwhile, is viewed by some in Ireland as a prelate who has attempted to face the scandal squarely. He has spoken many times of his anger and dismay at the extent to which clerics and religious harmed children in his diocese, and nationwide, over the last 50 years.

In February 2006 The Irish Times published a front page article which stated that Martin was due to receive a red hat in the next consistory, which appoints new cardinals. However, the next day Pope Benedict XVI announced the names of the 15 new cardinals to be created and the list did not include Martin.

In October 2007 Benedict announced the next batch of names to be elevated to the cardinalate and once again Martin's name was not on the list.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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