The pre-Christmas season in Ireland was dominated for Catholics by a revelation of the total failure of four Archbishops of Dublin, and of their auxiliaries, to protect defenseless children - over three decades.
The Irish government's Murphy report of November 26 was based only upon a sample of sexual abuse cases, so the full scale of the Dublin horror will never be known.
Even so, the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference felt compelled to utter a stark summary of the Irish situation on December 9th. They said that the cover-up revealed in the Murphy report 'indicates a culture that was widespread in the Church.'
It follows that although only three Irish dioceses have so far been investigated, no other Irish diocese can be supposed to have been immune to this catastrophe, and no Irish bishop who served in this period can be supposed to be entirely free from the same condemnation. Nor is this disgrace by any means confined to Ireland.
Knowing full well that only the papacy has the authority to discipline errant bishops, and incensed by the failure of the Irish Apostolic Nuncio and the Vatican to cooperate with the Murphy commission, Irish Catholics then looked to a meeting of Ireland's premier archbishops with the pope on December 11th.
This meeting failed to end their justifiable anger. A papal communique did not address the issue of bishops' resignations, nor the issue of Vatican non-cooperation with the commission. Worse, it implied that this Irish crisis was merely a local matter and could be resolved by a papal pastoral letter addressed to Ireland alone.
The Irish are bewildered because they know well that this analysis of the situation can be refuted simply by mentioning a name'the name of a former archbishop who behaved exactly as the four disgraced archbishops of Dublin had done.
In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned his post in the scandal-ridden Boston archdiocese in the midst of an intense public outcry over his cover-up of decades of sexual abuse of children by priests. Yet he now presides over one of the great basilica churches in Rome.
Even if most Irish bishops were sacked tomorrow, the same cardinal sits on the Vatican body that would appoint a new set of probably more powerful Irish bishops.
The Church still refuses to hold to account bishops who endanger children. We know that only secular agencies have done that - civil courts, media, and the state. Only upon the public outcry as a result of the Murphy Report did four Irish bishops finally resign, each protesting his innocence.
The Church is still unable to regulate itself. Its central system of governance is dysfunctional. The papacy appears entirely willing to tolerate this state of affairs, misrepresenting this Dublin crisis as though it had nothing in common with Boston in 2002, Philadelphia in 2004 or Los Angeles in 2007, not to mention Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Rome proves its obliviousness by offering the patronage of the Holy See to the person who best symbolizes the total unaccountability of Catholic bishops globally.
The still-influential Bernard Law.
It was survivors of abuse in Dublin who called to account five bishops who had served in Dublin during the period of the cover-up. These bishops had to be reminded by survivor Marie Collins that we Catholics have all been taught about 'sins of omission''the culpable evil of failing to act when action is required'in this case to protect the innocent.
What is it that prevents the Vatican from imposing accountability upon Bernard Law and other Catholic bishops? Why does it wait for a local storm to blow any bishop from office? Why can it not make any connection between this policy and the 11 million former US Catholics who no longer practice their faith? Why is Dublin's present Archbishop Diarmuid Martin the church's only example of a bishop seeking to hold other failing bishops to account?
Irish Catholics are increasingly asking these questions as are Catholics in the US, and throughout the world wherever the abuse scandal has been revealed. They are coming to an inescapable conclusion: their church's system of government subverts its mission and makes a mockery of the rigid code of sexual morality to which it seeks to hold the laity and pretends to hold the clergy. It is a formula for endless scandal and disgrace.
If this papacy is to rise to this challenge it must stop behaving as though there were no systemic weakness paralyzing its mission everywhere. Unaccountable bishops misbehave precisely because they are unaccountable. Rome needs to demonstrate that it has finally gotten the message that the people of Boston sent it in 2002.
How? First, by sacking and secluding Bernard Law and then by undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of the present clerical governance structure of the Catholic Church.