It is difficult to find words to describe how I feel today. As Archbishop of a Diocese for which I have pastoral responsibility, of my own native diocese, of the diocese for which I was ordained a priest, of a Diocese which I love and hope to serve to the best of my ability, what can I say when I have to share with you the revolting story of the sexual assault and rape of so many young children and teenagers by priests of the Archdiocese or who ministered in the diocese? No words of apology will ever be sufficient.
Can I take this opportunity to thank Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team for their diligent and professional work in producing this Report, which I expect will provide an invaluable framework for how we can better protect the children of today and the future.
The Report of the Commission gives us some insight into the crimes that took place. But no report can give an indication of the suffering and trauma endured by the children, and indeed the suffering also of their family members.
Many survivors have not yet been able to speak about abuse they experienced. For them the publication of the Report must be truly traumatic. I urge them to turn to some trusted friend, to a counsellor or counselling service of their choice, to the health services, to the Gardai or if they so wish to the Diocesan Child Protection Service.
The report focuses on a representative sample of cases, but the Commission examined many other cases. The Report highlights devastating failings of the past. These failings call on all of us to scrupulously apply clear guidelines and norms. There is no room for revisionism regarding the norms and procedures in place.
The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Report is that while Church leaders – Bishops and religious superiors – failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved. Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children. Their motivation was not about money or revenge; it was quite simply about that most basic human sense of right and wrong and that basic Christian motivation of concern for others. The survivors of abuse who courageously remained determined to have the full truth heard by all deserve our recognition and admiration.
How did those with responsibility dramatically misread the risk that a priest who had hurt one of those whom Jesus calls “the little ones” might go on to abuse another child if decisive action was not taken? Excuses, denials and minimisations were taken from priest abusers who were at the least in denial, at worst devious in multiple ways, and decisions were taken which resulted in more children being abused.
Efforts made to “protect the Church” and to “avoid scandal” have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.
The damage done to children abused by priests can never be undone. 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.
The fact that the abusers were priests constituted both an offence to God and affront to the priesthood. The many good priests of the Archdiocese share my sense of shame. I ask you to support and encourage us in our ministry at what is a difficult time. I know also that many others, especially parents, feel shocked and betrayed at what has been revealed. I hope that all of us – bishops, priests and lay persons – working together can rebuild trust by ensuring that day after day the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin becomes a safer environment for children.
I ask the priests of the diocese and the Parish Pastoral Councils to ensure that the wide reaching measures introduced into our parishes and organizations regarding the safeguarding of children are rigorously observed and constantly verified and updated. This scandal must be an occasion for all of us to be vigilant so that the abuse of children – wherever it takes place in our society – is addressed and the correct measures are taken promptly.
The hurt done to a child through sexual abuse is horrific. Betrayal of trust is compounded by the theft of self esteem. The horror can last a lifetime. Today, it must be unequivocally recalled that the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood which survivors endured and the diocese failed in its responses to them when they had the courage to come forward, compounding the damage done to their innocence.
For that no words of apology will ever be sufficient.