It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that Pope Benedict XVI's decision to refuse the resignations of Dubln auxillary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field has unleashed an outpouring of outrage in Ireland. The bishops had resigned at the urging of Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who demanded that some accountability be shown in the wake of the poor judgment and oversight detailed in the devastating Murphy report on clerical sexual assault and abuse in Ireland. The Vatican decision is being interpreted in Ireland as a rebuke to Archbishop Martin's persistent focus on greater accountability and penance among the hierarchy in the face of decades of apparent indifference and ineffectual leadership during which many priests were allowed to continue to molest children and adolescents while parish-shifting and coverup kept their crimes out of the headlines and away from police inquiries.
In an Irish Independent editorial, "Church policy is clear as mud," the editors complained: "Once again, the public—and the congregation of the Catholic diocese of Dublin in particular—are left wondering what's going on behind the scenes.
"The refusal by Pope Benedict XVl to accept the resignations of two Dublin auxiliary bishops appears to be a rejection of the views of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin. As usual, no clear explanations are on offer. . . Although no reasons were given, it could be assumed the Pope refused to accept the resignations because neither Dr Walsh nor Bishop Field were heavily criticised in the Murphy Report.
"In May, the sense that more goes on than meets the eye intensified when Dr Martin told the Knights of St Columbanus, in an address, that 'strong forces' in the Catholic Church wanted the truth about clerical sex abuse scandals to remain hidden. The Archbishop of Dublin confided then that he had never felt so disheartened and dejected since assuming the post six years ago. It is unlikely that he has had reason to cheer up in the past day or two."
Irish abuse survivor Andrew Madden said the announcement came as no surprise. "Today's announcement also shows how utterly meaningless the instruction was that Pope Benedict gave to Irish bishops to identify steps that would bring healing to victims of clerical child sexual abuse." He said, "Victims asked for those who were part of the governance of the archdiocese when sexual abuse was being covered up to resign, and this is ignored."
In the United States, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests joined the criticism:
"By rejecting the resignations of two complicit Irish bishops, the Pope is rubbing more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of thousands of child sex abuse victims and millions of betrayed Catholics. He’s sending an alarming message to church employees across the globe: even widespread documentation of the concealing of child sex crimes and the coddling of criminals won’t cost you your job in the church. The two bishops said, when announcing their resignation, that they hoped 'to bring peace and reconciliation' to the victims. The Pope’s callous decision has done the opposite."
It is truly becoming difficult to comprehend the thinking going on within the Curia on this issue. Here were two men who, after some episcopal arm-twisting that no doubt cost Archbishop Martin a great deal, offered themselves up in a small gesture of accountability—so much more is required—but even this meek effort has been rejected in Rome. Could the Curia truly be so oblivious to the anger and frustration of average Catholics worldwide trying to make sense of the church's response to years of sexual abuse by clergy on Catholic children? It doesn't seem possible.
And if it isn't, if this move represents the Curia's strategic road ahead on the sex abuse crisis, one is tempted to join Archbishop Martin in his dejection.