There is at least one bishop who has been willing to critique both his fellow bishops and the church culture that helped enable the abuse: Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin.
Martin's was an impressive resume, to be sure, but not one generally considered ideal for the kind of prophetic voice necessary to shake up an entrenched church culture -- which is exactly what was needed in Dublin as the first decade of the new millennium opened.
In the early 2000s, as the clergy sex scandals were breaking in the United States, Ireland, too, was beginning to come to grips with its legacy of a suffocating church world whose culture of silence was abetted by the government and social institutions that were de facto partners with the church in running schools and other sectors. Two reports in 2009 were the coup de grace to the Irish church's once sacrosanct status.Note, he came onto the scene only after all the bad stuff happened and was starting to be revealed:
In 2003, with reports of these abuses beginning to churn in the media, and the then-Dublin archbishop, Cardinal Desmond Connell, isolated and seemingly incapable of responding, Pope John Paul II announced that Martin would succeed Connell within a year or so. It was a thankless task that Martin didn't expect or want, but it turned out he was the best man for the job.
"The church in the past was extraordinarily authoritarian, in some cases one might even say abusively authoritarian, it was actually disrespectful of people's autonomy in many ways," Martin said at a press briefing the week he was installed as co-adjutor of Dublin, a kind of "co-bishop" with right of succession when the incumbent retired. Cardinal Connell hadn't held such a meeting with the media in over a decade, and Irish Catholics were amazed at the appearance and Martin's language. "I think we have to avoid any type of authoritarianism, and also any type of clericalism -- which is some kind of closed idea of a priestly grouping that somehow or other seeks privilege rather than being there to serve the mission of the Church."
The church as authoritarian? Priests ruling as an elite caste? Those were fighting words to many church insiders, and almost revolutionary slogans in an Irish church defensive and entrenched after centuries of persecution under the English, and institutionalized by decades of sharing power with the civil authorities.
But Martin wasn't done. "I think that a Church that is humble in its style will be much more effective in today's world," he said. "I have to find a different style of being archbishop."
He certainly did that.
From the start Martin rejected the common approach of denying problems, or denouncing modern Catholics for bad faith or bad behavior [a common theme that self-righteous "good Catholics" love to hear: how bad their peers are. But he rightly rejected such preaching-to-the-choir], and he accepted the church's responsibility in creating the current difficulties. "It's no longer a question that you just learn your Catechism or your religious education in school and that will take you clearly through life," he said. "We have to have a constant dialogue and deepening of the realization of what it means to be a believer in a world where things change so much for the future." In light of Ireland's tradition of almost reflexive Catholic practice, that was a startling break from the past.
Rather than berating young people for living together, he lobbied the government to enact policies to support working couples, since so many more women were working outside the home than ever before. He made an outreach to Ireland's new immigrants a priority, and insisted children who were not Catholic should not have to receive religious instruction in Catholic schools. "For example, I would have no difficulty with the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in a Catholic school -- as I have no difficulty with nuns wearing a veil or priests wearing a religious habit," he has said.
In a message last year at Holy Week, he acknowledged that "there is a dramatic and growing rift between the Church and our younger generations and the blame does not lie principally with young people. Our young people are generous and idealistic but such generosity and idealism does not seem to find a home in the Church," which he said for many "remains an alien place."
He appointed lay people to positions that had always been reserved for clergy [that I have mixed feelings about. If he's talking about, like, Chief Financial Officer for the dioceses or something, very good. But if we're talking clerical liturgical roles, I'd say the solution is not to appoint lay people qua lay people, but rather to simply open the clergy to more men in the parish, through ordination to at least minor orders, etc], and he sought to make churches handicapped accessible even as he tried to cope with declining revenues and higher costs for maintaining increasingly empty old churches.
And as always, he was accessible to the media -- even if his words sometimes came back to bite him.
During a television interview in 2006, for example, Martin said he would welcome a debate over priestly celibacy, and while he said he didn't see the tradition changing soon in the Catholic Church, his openness on the question stirred controversy. He also said that while he did not expect to see women ordained, he wanted women to be given prominent roles in the Church so that it would not be seen as an "all boys club." [though I'd point out that the "prominent roles" wouldn't need to extend any further than that of Priest's Wife to have great influence and effect]
He also said he has many friends who are gay, and said he understood their feelings or anger and alienation from the church, though again he backed church teaching that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. In 2005, when the Vatican announced a policy that seemed designed to bar homosexuals from seminaries, Martin was diplomatic but straightforward in his view: "You don't write off a candidate for the priesthood simply because he is a gay man."
Perhaps the biggest headlines from the 2006 TV piece came when the interviewer asked him if he'd ever been in love. "I would probably say yes," Martin answered, adding, "Sometimes you only realize that afterwards. It's heartbreaking at times." He also spoke of missing the children of his friends in Rome who were like nieces and nephews to him.
Of course a prelate showing such humanity was big news and led to some media exaggerations, all of which irked the archbishop and brought him some grief in church circles, as did his other references to women and gays and the need for the church in Ireland to change its way of doing business.
But it was Martin's response to the sexual abuse crisis that generated the most controversy, and represented his biggest challenge.
Even before Martin took command of the archdiocese, he had begun going through the personnel files that the government commission was also reviewing. On occasion he would become so angry at what he read he would hurl the files across the room. "I was so furious -- you couldn't but be."
Not everyone was of the same opinion. In early 2008, Cardinal O'Connell, now retired, tried to have a judge keep thousands of documents related to the clergy abuse under his tenure from the Ryan Commission. Archbishop Martin, now 65, threatened to sue to ensure the documents would be sent to investigators, and after weeks of negotiations, Connell finally relented.
When the Murphy Report was released last November, Catholics were shocked by the revelations, as Martin had long been warning they would be. Martin held a press conference to apologize, and had a letter to the priests and laity read out at all masses the following Sunday. "The damage done to children abused by priests can never be undone," he wrote. "As Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin I offer to each and every survivor, my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them. I am aware however that no words of apology will ever be sufficient."
Then Martin went further, and did what no bishop in the United States ever had by publicly calling for several bishops named in the report to hold themselves accountable and even resign.
The bishops initially rejected Martin's pressure, saying they had apologized and that was sufficient. But the archbishop was not satisfied, and said so. "I believe that the people of the archdiocese of Dublin, where this abuse took place, have a right to have these questions addressed today," he told Irish television. "My view is they (the bishops) should publicly come forward and answer the questions to the people where these abuses took place. I would much prefer to be in that situation than to be hunted or pushed."
In the end they had to be pushed. Four of the five bishops named resigned, two on Christmas Eve, while a fifth has refused to step down.
The bishops had their vocal defenders. "These bishops are not recalcitrant teenagers [well, they act like it]; they are intelligent and mature men, so it was pathetic of Diarmuid Martin to use the media to communicate with them," a prominent Redemptorist priest, Father Tony Flannery, said in late December. "It showed scant respect." Many priests of Martin's own clergy were furious with him both for publicly pressuring the bishops and for what they saw as selling out priests that he should have been defending. After a contentious meeting in January with many of the Dublin priests, Martin was ripped by some for being a "divisive" figure.
But he stood his ground, telling the Irish Independent last week, "I believe my reaction was to recognize something terrible happened on our watch. . . . We got it spectacularly wrong," he said of the abuse of children. "We have to admit that, and admit it unconditionally."
All that has led Martin, most prominently among the next generation of Irish bishops, to demonstrate his willingness to open the church to the modern world without compromising her teachings -- to learn from what the secular culture has to offer in hopes of transforming Irish Catholicism into a leaven, again, for civilization.Wow. This guy sounds great. He's certainly saying all the right things.
In several important and closely argued speeches, Martin has rejected the idea that Catholicism should retreat into a defensive crouch, and has highlighted what he says are a number of encouraging signs of spirituality and even religiosity among people who don't consider themselves churchgoers .
"In today's world, a strong faith can only develop within the public square, in a challenging debate and dialogue with the realities of life and progress, with the physical and the human sciences, and indeed with the concrete realities and experiences of the individuals and the interactions of individuals who make up society," Martin said at a February 2009 event honoring Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, an Anglican archbishop. "The danger to the faith of young people in Ireland is due, in my opinion, as much to the inadequacies of the Church's efforts at evangelizing, as to the dominant atmosphere of university culture or Irish culture in general."
"What is clear to me is that young people in search for faith or in dialogue or even in conflict with the concept of faith, judge individuals and religious institutions in terms of integrity," he continued. "They may feel little identity or affinity with institutional expressions of religion, but they can respect the personal integrity of those who belong to the institution or even those who have leadership within institutions. If however they perceive the Church as an institution standing up for its own institutional interests, then they will be unmerciful in their rejection and hostility."
"A humble and listening Church" was the title of a 2006 address he delivered elsewhere. "When I imagine organized religion in the future, I imagine it then more distant from the structures of power, and thus all the more free to influence power," he said in 2004.
Not that Martin has any illusions about the challenges, nor is he talking about watering down the faith or the notion of the Church as a strong and cohesive community of believers. "People say: 'We will be charitable, we will be good', but can you be a Christian without participating, being a member of a worshiping community and taking part in the Eucharist?" he said in a 2005 interview.
His constant theme is that Catholics ought to be "mature Christians" who can live out their faith in a modern society without falling prey to consumerism or secularism on one hand, or falling back on a dangerous fundamentalism on the other.