Op-Ed: In Ireland, Pope's Letter Falls Short Pope Benedict XVI has released an apology to Catholics in Ireland who were sexually abused by priests. Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times argues that while the letter is refreshing, it fails to hold church officials responsible.
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Op-Ed: In Ireland, Pope's Letter Falls Short

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Op-Ed: In Ireland, Pope's Letter Falls Short

Op-Ed: In Ireland, Pope's Letter Falls Short

Op-Ed: In Ireland, Pope's Letter Falls Short

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125021831/125021820" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Church goers read an extract from the 'Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland' at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland, on March 20, 2010. Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Church goers read an extract from the 'Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland' at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland, on March 20, 2010.

Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI has released an apology to Catholics in Ireland who were sexually abused by priests. The letter was read in churches across Ireland. The letter, which can be seen in its entirety here, characterizes the abuses suffered at the hands of priests and other church officials as "sinful and criminal."

The pope goes on to advise the perpetrators to "openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy."

Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent for The Irish Times, argues that while the letter is refreshing, it fails to hold church officials responsible. His piece, "Pastoral Letter Strays Far From Facts But Has Merit," appeared in Monday's Irish Times.


And now on the Opinion Page. This past weekend, Pope Benedict issued a letter of apology to Irish Catholics after many decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-up by their superiors came to light. The letter was read in churches across the country in which the pope says he is truly sorry for the tragedy. It's a long letter. We've posted a link to the full text at our Web site.

But it reads in part: In order to recover from this grievous wound, the church in Ireland must first acknowledge, before the Lord and before others, the serious sins committed against defenseless children. Such an acknowledgement accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.

In The Irish Times, religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry gives the pastoral letter a mixed review - a significant step on the road to reform that nevertheless, he writes, ignores reality. We want to hear from Catholics in our audience. After our own sad litany of abuse and cover-up, what would you like to hear from Pope Benedict: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And again, you can join the conversation at the Web site, go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. There, you can also read Patsy McGarry's op-ed. Again, npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And the writer joins us now from his office at The Irish Times in Dublin. Patsy McGarry, thanks for being with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. PATSY McGARRY (Correspondent, The Irish Times): My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: And why don't you tell us the good news first? What did you like about the papal (unintelligible)?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Yeah, well, I suppose, let's start on a positive note. I mean, the language, for starters, is refreshingly accessible. It didn't have a lot of theological terms and didn't have any, really, that we often associate with papal encyclicals or such documents. The English was plain. It was direct. His words to people who have been abused were quite sincere and moving. His words to priest abusers were very, very blunt, no holds barred.

His words to priests who were innocent priests who were tarred by association of this shocking problem who are also very sympathetic and moving in themselves. And for me, particularly I suppose, I was very impressed by the frankness with which he criticized fellow bishops - some fellow bishops here in Ireland - for their grave errors, their failure of leadership and their serious mistakes in dealing with this abuse issue. He encouraged them to follow church norms in the future, in dealing with it, and most importantly to cooperate with civil authorities, a problem that you would have in the past years here, as indeed you have in the United States.

CONAN: Indeed.

Mr. P. McGARRY: And he also called for transparency and decisive action.

CONAN: You said one of the most important things he wrote was a decision to hold an apostolic visitation of certain diocese, and - well that is language that some of us might have a little trouble parsing. What does that mean?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Well, you have one over there already yourselves. There is an apostolic visitation to female religious congregations in the United States, to bring them into line with Vatican orthodoxy.

Here, it involves seminaries, religious congregations, and some diocese - it's not clear which ones, it doesn't say. And it will have a similar function. Basically, Vatican officials will come over here and look at these places and see where they are, or are not deviating from ideal practice where the Vatican itself is concerned. It basically is a vote of no confidence in the way things are being done here, and it's something of a slap on the face for our bishops.

CONAN: Nevertheless, those bishops are remaining in place, are they not?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Well, it's only a few days since the letter just came out. Some of them are under a severe pressure, since the Murphy Report (unintelligible) Dublin archdiocese, where clerical child sex abuse is concerned, was publish at the end of November. One of those has resigned already, three others have offered their resignations and they have yet to be accepted by the pope.

One is - the remaining one is under severe pressure to resign. Last week, it turned out that the cardinal, Primate of All Ireland, Sean Brady, has questions actually going back 35 years when he swore two teenagers to secrecy in a canonical trial, and didn't report the matter to the police or to the health authorities.

CONAN: Indeed, the pope had some questions to answer about his actions, when as Cardinal Ratzinger, he was asking, well, people Catholic officials all across the world to basically keep quiet about these things.

Mr. P. McGARRY: This is true, too, Neal. And, I mean, it somewhat lessens his authority in addressing the issue where Ireland is concerned. But he remains pope, even if he has questions to answer himself. On the more negative side about the letter, he did blame secularization and moral relativism for -clerical child sex abuse, the incident of it here in Ireland, which is a bit ridiculous, at least about its because the time in Ireland, which is most loyal to Catholicism, would've been the middle decades of the 20th century when orphanages, and industrial schools and residential institutions were run for children by 18 richest congregations here in Ireland.

And the Ryan Report last May exposed shocking abuse - sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect of children, tens and thousands of them, in those residential institutions through the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s in Ireland, long before Vatican II, long before secularization ever hit the shores and the basis which he says is the cause for it all. We must see in that context. So it does make his letter that, part of it, any how, look ridiculous.

CONAN: And you argue that, in fact, this is his particular hobby horse, and he has no place putting Ireland sufferings in this particular context.

Mr. P. McGARRY: No. I mean, he's been harping on about this since he moved to Rome in the early 1980s, to The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a type of roll back on the more liberalizing moves of Vatican II, and he tends to see everything in the light of secularization and moral relativism. And I do believe it diminishes the shocking tragedy that we've had in Ireland, which are clerical child sex abuse and the suffering the people injured, to have it reduced to a simple weapon in his war against secularization.

CONAN: And there are - as in our own set of scandals in this country, there were priests in Ireland who said, I tried to blow the whistle and were shuffled off into obscurity, if it will.

Mr. P. McGARRY: Absolutely. I mean, the case that gave rise to the current crisis facing Cardinal Sean Brady the moment - well, that of Brandon Smith, the notorious priest who abused children for approximately 40 years, and was simply moved from parish to parish to parish in Ireland, in Scotland and in your country.

And the one - a fellow priest of his - he was in the Norbertine Congregation warned, back as far as 1968, about this man's carryon. He went to his superiors, he went to the papal nuncio at the time, he went to the local bishop and they all ignored him. That man left the order, eventually, and was killed in an accident later in Germany. But his experience, sadly, is not unique. Did you have some examples in your own country.

CONAN: Is there any instance in this letter, of saying, we, the church in Rome should also take some responsibility in this affair?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Absolutely not. Even though the Vatican, the congregation, indeed, of which he'd been prefect for so long until he became pope in 2005, refused to cooperate and even ignored all the correspondence with the Murphy Commission set up by the state to investigate how clerical child sex abuse allegations were handled in Dublin's Catholic Archdiocese. So, too, did the papal nuncio to Ireland. He ignored two such letters. He refused to appear before our parliament's foreign affairs committee, last month, to talk about it.

So, I mean, the Vatican has been somewhat, to be kind about it, disingenuous in that element of its own role where abuse in Ireland is concerned. And furthermore, it refused to give recognition or backing to three sets of guidelines introduced by the Irish bishop's child protection guidelines, that is in 1996 and 2005, and again, in 2008, whereas, they did give such backing to your bishop's guidelines in 2002 and 2006.

CONAN: The papal nuncio, as you mentioned, is essentially the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland...

Mr. P. McGARRY: Yes.

CONAN: ...would he now be covered by this - the pope's urging to cooperate with secular authorities?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Well, we've had no indication that he has or will.

CONAN: That remains to be seen, I guess. We're talking with Patsy McGarry on the opinion page this week, religious affairs correspondent for The Irish Times, about the pastoral letter that was read aloud in Irish churches over the weekend - from Pope Benedict XVI apologizing for the sexual abuse and cover-up scandal. That would sound all too familiar to many Americans. And we want to hear from our listeners today. What would you want to hear from Pope Benedict? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us; talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Stephanie(ph), and Stephanie with us from Caldwell in Idaho.

STEPHANIE (Caller): Hi. Hey, I've got a question about - well, a comment, I guess, about what I would have liked to have seen addressed, and that would be how this happens and why it's so rampant in the Catholic Church with these priests? And is there anything that can be done for this to be prevented in the future, rather than just laying blame and guilt at this point?

CONAN: Is there anything prescriptive in the papal letter?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Not really. I mean, the pathologic(ph) visitation we spoke about. And there are some spiritual exercises, too, as well, which the bishops are advised to undertake; fasting, penance, retreats, that sort of thing. But there's no - I mean, suggestion. I think, the ladies have indicated that possibly celibacy in an issue. And I mean, that will be a fairly widespread view. The first statutory inquiry into how the church handles clerical child sex abuse allegations in this country was in 2005 and it found that celibacy was a factor in the abuse.

CONAN: Stephanie, does that answer your question?

STEPHANIE: Yes. Yes. Somewhat. But I just wish something more could be done, you know, to help prevent this, rather than, you know, focusing so much on the guilt and the blame now. You know, do something, you know, to help prevent and, you know, help these priests in the very beginning before, you know, the behavior even happens.

CONAN: Stephanie, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

STEPHANIE: Thank you.

CONAN: And she was talking about how rampant it is, and that's the question that's come up in the investigations in this country as well. How widespread is this? A few rotten apples, or is this worse than that?

Mr. P. McGARRY: No. We are way beyond the few rotten apple phase. That was just an initial explanation. I mean, you've had a pretty massive problem in your country. It's erupted in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, here, laterally in Germany, Holland, lately in Italy, some South American countries. And, really, it seems to be compounding in terms of the growth of it. It was described last week by a Vatican spokesman, a tsunami type effect. So it's beginning to erupt everywhere. I mean, significant in this has been the role of the media in your country, here, I suppose, and in other Anglophone countries, particularly.

And incidentally, in Germany, it was the media again who got to work and began to expose it there. And I suspect that that will be a pattern repeated elsewhere.

CONAN: We're talking, on the Opinion Page this week, with Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent for The Irish Times. And again, you can read his op-ed that appeared in this paper - in that paper, by going to our Web site at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Buzz(ph), and Buzz with us from Aspen in Colorado.

Mr. BUZZ McGARRY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

Mr. B. McGARRY: By the way, my last name is McGarry, too, Patrick.

Mr. P. McGARRY: Wow.

Mr. B. McGARRY: Are we related?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Not many of us out there, you know?

Mr. B. McGARRY: So, listen - yeah, I'm a former altar boy with a priest and a former nun in my extended family. And if - in the U.S., the kind of stuff that's going on were done in - by the Catholic Church were done in daycare centers. All those centers were shut down, those people would be going to jail. And when you look around the global problem with these abuses, these things could not be happening, were it not for the fact that it was a giant conspiracy perped by the Catholic Church. And to me the fact that these guys are going to jail in droves, really, really irritates me.

CONAN: In this country, Patsy McGarry, some of these cases were covered by the statute of limitations. After a certain period of time, they could not be charged. And obviously...

Mr. B. McGARRY: And you know what - another word. But when Cardinal Mahoney out in L.A. swished these guys out of the country so they wouldn't be prosecuted, that guy is still popping off.

CONAN: And I was going - but I was going to asked Patsy McGarry, do such preventions from prosecution exist in Ireland? Have any priests been sent to jail or other religious...

Mr. P. McGARRY: Absolutely. Quite a few have done jail terms, and some are currently before the courts. I don't think that such limitations operate to the same degree here as it does in the United States. And as I say, some are - some of the more notorious ones are currently going to their second and third cases before the courts here. So - and so it was the jailing of one of the man I spoke about earlier on, Brendan Smyth, in Northern Ireland and then here in the Republic of Ireland, which led to the exposure to this whole phenomenon from the start, back in 1994 in Northern Ireland and 1997 here in Dublin.

Mr. B. McGARRY: Yeah, but you know something, we're talking about a - not only in this country, but across the globe, a worldwide conspiracy, top to bottom.

CONAN: All right...

Mr. P. McGARRY: Well, in 2001, the current pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent two letters to every Catholic bishop in the world - one directing that all allegations, all credible allegations, of clerical child sex abuse be referred to him in Rome and he would decide whether it will be dealt locally, with locally in the diocese, or by him. And the second letter, also in Latin, both were in Latin, instructed that this be kept secret.

Now, they say that in that letter, their defense of it is it didn't say you shouldn't cooperate with civil authorities or report to police, but there's no mention of civil authorities or police, whatsoever, in either letter. And with the injunction to be a secret, the human reaction is not to talk about any of these things to anybody.

CONAN: Buzz, thanks very much. And a good Irish name that is.

Mr. B. McGARRY: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. P. McGARRY: Also a McGarry.

CONAN: Also a McGarry, yes.

Bob(ph), Bob is with us from Central California.

BOB (Caller): Really quickly, my wife was abused by a priest that was put in to the priest protection program out of central Ireland, and he came to Central California. And when my wife complained to the archdiocese of Central California, she was treated with some type of an inquisitional-type arrangement and really made her so uncomfortable. She left the church and now is part of the largest-growing religious affiliation after leaving the Catholic Church, and that's atheism. And thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: All right, Bob, thanks very much. And we're sorry for your wife's suffering. Can I ask, Patsy McGarry, we've read your op-ed and heard a little bit about it, can you tell us about other reaction to the pope's letter in Ireland?

Mr. P. McGARRY: It's really mixed. We have a lot of abuse representative groups here and they're being very divided. Some are very disappointed, particularly that he hasn't acted on the resignations that had been offered to him to date; that he hasn't offered to meet Irish abuse victims, so far, though people believe that that will happen in time, some are happy with it and welcomed it -about two groups did it in particular, and see Cardinal Brady to discuss the matter further.

It was in - among the Catholic faithful, the ordinary Catholics, themselves, there's a fairly mixed reactions also. People are still in shock over here, particularly older Catholics were reeling after the findings of the Murphy Report that there was a concerted cover-up of this issue in Dublin for so long, that archbishops and bishops as the Murphy Report found were only concerned with the damage (unintelligible) institution, the protection of its assets and the protection of what the report described as its most important people, the priests. It also found that the welfare of children - and the area or period of investigations is in 30-year period, wasn't even a factor for the church's concern. And that really has stunned loyal, all Catholics in Ireland.

CONAN: We just have a few seconds left, but is - are the churches' assets vulnerable to civil suit as they were in this country?

Mr. P. McGARRY: Of course, they are. And people have to be taken successful civil actions against the church, just paid out millions of euro in compensation, and would pay out more. In fact, one diocese has appealed for help to its congregations to assist it in paying compensation and indeed, ironically, in paying its legal fees (unintelligible) try and frustrate this whole business for coming out.

CONAN: Patsy McGarry, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. P. McGARRY: Very welcome, Neal.

CONAN: Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent for The Irish Times, with us on the phone from his office in Dublin. Again, you can get a look at his op-ed and get a link to the pope's letter to the Irish Catholics at our Web site at npr.org.

Tomorrow, Iraq, seven years on, given the horrific cost in blood and treasure, what did the war accomplish? A new debate is emerging. Join us for that tomorrow in this hour. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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