Three Cheers for Diarmuid Martin

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Anyone who wants to know how Catholic prelates should be addressing the abuse crisis should read the remarks that Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin delivered a couple of days ago at the Marquette University International Dialogue on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal. Martin has walked the walk to deal with the crisis in his own diocese; no one has confronted these realities more honestly and straightforwardly. But in what he had to say, he frames the issue in ways that the rest of the hierarchy seems incapable of understanding, much less conveying. It was itself an exercise in the restorative justice he sees as necessary for the church to heal.

Consider, for example, how Martin addresses the issue of reckoning with the extent of the scandal.

Statistics can be used in different ways. If I take a Father Z, I
can categorise him statistically in various ways. He can be
statistically registered as one priest; it can be determined however
that he abused perhaps one hundred known victims; there can be valid
indications that he had probably abused hundreds more other children;
the number of family members affected will then easily reach into the
thousands. And that is just for one priest. And in Dublin you must
multiply Father Z by about ten real serial abusers. More dramatically
still there are no accurate statistics about those who took their own
But even those numbers, though shocking,
have not got the right focus. Statistics are too often
offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the
person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the
victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient
the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One
victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint
Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened
around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little
ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd
who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost.
Now compare this with New York archbishop Timothy Dolan’s recent account of his response to a fellow airplane passenger, who asserted that the Catholic Church was “the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I
observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate
of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than
that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.”

That’s a striking statistical rebuttal, but let’s just say that it doesn’t bear up well under scrutiny. According to the archdiocese, it’s based on a report that found 78 substantiated abuse cases by New York teachers in 2009, and 73 such cases last year. Did Dolan mean that there have only been seven or eight substantiated abuse cases by priests over the past couple of years?

There are almost 50 times as many public school teachers in New York City as there are priests in the New York archdiocese. If “cases” refers to abusers, then on a pro rata basis 75 public school cases would be the equivalent of 1.5 priest abuse cases; one-tenth the rate would be .15 per year–i.e. almost none. Is Dolan saying that there have been no substantiated cases of priest abuse over the past two years? If there were seven or eight per year, that would in fact be five times the rate of sexual abuse among school teachers.

But the real point is this: Diarmuid Martin would not have given the same response had he been in Tim Dolan’s seat.

  • Lorenzo-NY

    Diarmuid Martin is the real hero in the hierarchy in this whole sordid mess. Why is he is only one? This is the only bishop I have been able to count, who has unequivocally sided with victims, called for the resignation of fellow bishops who did the dirty work of the wholesale cover up and to tell the truth about the abuse and abusers without the Dolanesque riders.
    The American hierarchy likes to tell us all this scandal is behind us, as they trumpet their child protection policies. And then every month or so another Philadelphia kind of tsunami inundates us. Dolan in his interview with Morley Saffer showed his true colors when he responded to the question about the Church’s failure to remove and discipline offending bishops. Dolan could only offer a half hearted ” perhaps” and with his “ha ha” style moved the conversation away from that nasty, nagging and heretofore overlooked matter.
    The Vatican has failed us miserably. In fact I believe that the Vatican is force behind the cover up. We read the recently revealed letter in which Rome told the Irish bishops to reverse their decision to cooperate with civil authorities. Benedict for all his rhetoric and meeting with victims needs to tell us the truth about Vatican policy of protecting bishops and ordering them to hide their files.
    Anyone who glances at the daily downloads on can see the worldwide scope of not only clerical abuse but more importantly the consistent and categorical cover up. Just look at the present Karadima case in Chile.
    Not one bishop has been removed for reasigning a pedophile priest. Many chancery officials who executed and collaborated in the protection of pedophiles were subsequently made bishops. Just look at the case of John McCormack in New Hampshire. His recored in Boston is one of the worst. He protected some of America’s worst monsters; Birmingham, Geoghan and Shanley. And let us never forget that Bernard Cardinal Law still luxuriates in his Roman basilica cum palazzo, along with a stipend of $200,000 and a member of the Vatican congregation that names bishops all over the world. Wow!
    How sad is it that among the thousands of bishops in every corner of the globe, only Diarmuid Martin dares to tell it like it is?

  • Carolyn Disco

    The contrast between Diarmuid Martin and Timothy Dolan could not be more stark or revealing.
    Martin and Geoffrey Robinson in Australia are the only bishops of whom I am aware who even begin to “get it.”
    How small Dolan looks, with his statement: “I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.” Wound? Seriously? What narcissism; it’s all about him.
    Here is Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea, the psychologist who spoke in Dallas in 2002, who has a whole chapter on clerical narcissism in her brilliant book “Perversion of Power”:
    “Instead of communicating guilt, shame or remorse” bishops portray themselves as humble bearers of a cross of unearned rebuke. “Under the circumstances, that self image depicted the narcissistic sense of moral superiority and false humility endemic to clericalism.”
    While I’m at it, John McCormack showed the same narcissism in his reflection on his tenure:
    priests who disillusioned him, his suffering, his wounds, his sorrow, his anguish as well.
    McCormack told our group in 2004 that the scandal was the ‘passion of the church’ and described himself as a ‘victim.’
    He also emphasized that he did nothing legally or morally wrong. He actually disputed that any of his decisions led to a child being abused – barring one minor incident. There was no sign of understanding by McCormack of the real human suffering he caused. Such entrenched self-delusion is sad if not tragic in a bishop.
    His latest gambit is using intimidation to ‘out’ a victim who filed a lawsuit.
    See the details at
    McCormack needs to learn from Diarmuid Martin what it means to tell the truth.

  • Lorenzo-NY

    Good post Carolyn. You also reminded me that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney, Australia is one other member of that micro club of bishops who get it, or have the guts and other anatomical endowments to admit it. I think we can also add to that list Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit who was forcibly retired by the archdiocese for his honesty and advocacy for victims. I was also impressed by the late Bishop Joseph Sullivan, Brooklyn auxiliary, whom I heard at Voice of the Faithful gathering several years ago. As for the rest of them – shame, shame, shame!

  • The Roman Catholic Church all over the world is not good for your Spiritiuality.
    Jesus Christ is the “Good Shepard”…HE watches over HIS Sheep.
    These people are nothing but manipulaters of the”dumb sheep that we’ve been called for centuries. We’VE BEEN OUT(of the RCC) FOR 10 YRS.Allelulia!!
    Get out of it, before you are held accountable for the CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY THAT THEY HAVE COMMITTED against our most vunerable ones…
    One man apologizes and you think that’s great.
    What would you say if the pastor in Fla. said he was sorry for burning the Koran? Do the Abused childern and their families care about an apology any more than those that died care anymore about any and all of it.
    Good Sheparding comes from God to the Shepards who Love HIM!

  • Diarmuid Martin recently washed the feet of supposed victims of child abuse in his Cathedral in Dublin.This is what UK cultural historian Richard Webster wrote a few years ago about one of these ladies:
    In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church.
    The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home. The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches. No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim.
    The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department. Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate.” [3]
    [3] Sunday Times (Ireland), 28 April 1996, citing the views of the surgeon, J. B. Prendiville.
    The Archbishop’s comments about serial abusers, each supposedly abusing hundreds of children, should be read in the light of the above. My own article on the Archbishop is at