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Critics, analysts question Pope's decision not to accept Irish bishops' resignations

August 12, 2010

Pope Benedict’s decision not to accept the resignations of two Irish bishops has prompted new speculation about the role of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the handling of the sex-abuse scandal.

Victims of sexual abuse decried the Pope’s decision, saying that it showed a failure to appreciate the gravity of the problem. The Vatican, critics said, was more interested in protecting bishops than in demonstrating compassion for abuse victims.

In Dublin, the Irish Independent described the Pope’s decision as “a severe blow to the authority of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.” The archbishop has repeatedly called for a full accounting of the handling of sex-abuse complaints, and said that bishops who were involved in covering up such complaints should be held accountable. Although Archbishop Martin did not openly call for the resignation of his auxiliary bishops, he also pointedly refrained from saying that they should remain in office. Church insiders report strained relations between the archbishop and the two auxiliaries whose resignations the Pope declined; the Independent noted that Archbishop Martin had not been seen in public with either bishop since they offered their resignations in December. In announcing that the Pope had not accepted those resignations, the archbishop made a point of saying that the two auxiliaries would be assigned to new responsibilities within the archdiocese.

Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field had initially resisted calls for their resignations, but eventually acceded to those requests. They came under fire, along with several other bishops affiliated with the Dublin archdiocese, after the publication of the Murphy Commission Report, which catalogued efforts by Church officials in Dublin to cover up evidence of sexual abuse by priests. Two other bishops who had been auxiliaries in Dublin, and later become heads of their own diocese-- Bishops Donal Murray of Limerick and James Moriarty of Kildare—have had their resignations accepted by the Holy See.

The fact that Bishops Murray and Moriarty had been diocesan bishops, whereas Bishops Field and Walsh were auxiliaries, might offer one hint of the reason for the Vatican’s decision not to accept the resignations of the latter two prelates. The Irish Times advanced another hypothesis, saying that the Vatican might have feared an avalanche of calls for the resignations of other Irish bishops.

But the veteran Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli had another explanation. Whereas Bishops Murray and Moriarty had offered their resignations freely, he said, Bishops Walsh and Field had sent their resignations to the Vatican along with statements explaining that they did not believe they were culpable for the cover-ups in Dublin. In effect, Tornielli said, the two Dublin auxiliaries had signaled to the Vatican that they did not believe they should be removed from office, despite their willingness to resign.


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  • Posted by: - Aug. 13, 2010 6:03 AM ET USA

    We have to bear in mind-as Dr Martin pointed out -that "taking responsibility" doesn't always mean resignation.The Pope could feel (as much as it disappoints abuse victims) that there are things these 2 bishops have to "clean up" in the Archdiocese for the sake of justice. Even harder for victims to accept,but also a possibility,is that the 2 bishops were not guilty of wrongdoing and therefore should not have even offered their resignations- this is clear in the case of bishop Walsh at least.

  • Posted by: opraem - Aug. 12, 2010 7:25 PM ET USA

    actions like this make the pope's call for reforms sound hollow. all talk and no action. no wonder we're still stuck with his rogerness despite his testimony and track record.