‘Mistake’ to overlook abuse – Primate

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Archbishop Eamon Martin tells Cathal Barry why he chose to tackle the issue of abuse at the Synod of Bishops

The leader of the Church in Ireland has said it would be a “mistake” for the Synod of Bishops to overlook the “shattering” effects of clerical child sex abuse on families.

Archbishop Eamon Martin criticised the synod’s working document which he claimed had “failed to recognise the awful shattering of family life that can be caused by abuse”.

The Archbishop of Armagh made his remarks to The Irish Catholic from Rome following his own personal intervention at the Synod on the Family which focused primarily on the issue of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Archbishop Eamon admitted that his “very deliberate intervention” had “undoubtedly been influenced” by the experience of the Church in Ireland.

“The Church in Ireland has become very painfully aware of the impact of abuse in what I call our family of families which is the Church and through that we have become very aware of the horrific reality of abuse.


“This is a major synod on the vocation and mission of the family, and for us to ignore the whole issue of abuse in the discussions and indeed in the synod hall would be a mistake,” he said.

During the course of his intervention, Archbishop Eamon urged his fellow bishops to “not forget families which have experienced the trauma of abuse and domestic violence”.

“We know only too well the horrific impact of sins and crimes of abuse in the Church family: the betrayal of trust, the violation of dignity, the shame - both public and private, the anger and alienation, the wound that never seems to heal,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon said the topic of his intervention was “very deliberate” because he felt the synod’s working document, the Instrumentum Laboris, had “failed to recognise the awful shattering of family life that can be caused by abuse”.

“I was referring here to sexual abuse by clerics and religious but I was also very conscious from what our health and social services are telling us which is that the vast majority of abuse takes place within a family setting,” he said.

Noting that he also referenced domestic violence, Dr Martin said he felt that the synod document “had not sufficiently taken account of the awful impact and horrible reality” of such issues.

“I felt that the synod, being more conscious of these realities, may be more careful in its portrayal of what we like to call the ‘Good News’ of the family.

“We are very much aware that an awful lot of families go through immense pain, immense suffering, immense hurt and trauma and if we are able to hold that terrible sense of betrayal, shame, lost childhoods and lost lives that abuse domestic violence represents, then it may make our approach to families more pastoral, more compassionate and more understanding.”

The Primate of All-Ireland also said he was opposed to granting individual bishops’ conferences permission to interpret Church teaching on contentious issues such as Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

While he struggles to see how the Church could lift its ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics while remaining faithful to its teachings on the indissolubly of marriage and the Eucharist, the archbishop insisted there was a need to “reach out” to couples and families who feel excluded from the Church because of its teaching on marriage.

“I think there is a lot of room in the synod for discussion about what Pope Francis has termed ‘pastoral accompaniment’ and that is how we reach out to people who are in family situations that are perhaps not in full keeping with what the Church understands to be marriage and the family.

“I would be very much of the view that we need to be prepared in our mission and in our going out to families to be with couples and families who are not totally in line with what Church teaching is,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon insisted, however, that he did not support “the idea that somehow it’s up to individual bishops conferences to interpret the teaching of the Church”.

“I think if we are part of a universal teaching Church, then we do have a very clear vision for marriage and the family and I don’t think that should be subject to interpretation at the level of individual episcopal conferences,” the Archbishop of Armagh said.

“I do believe that there is very much room, even in a country like Ireland, to engage with couples whose marriages have perhaps not worked out despite their very best intentions, to make them feel welcome in the Church.

“We could be much more welcoming to couples and families who perhaps feel excluded completely from the life of the Church, because of what they perceive as the Church’s judgement of them. I think there is an awful lot of room in that for us to show a more welcoming and Christ-like pastoral approach,” he added.

Dr Martin, who has been voted moderator or chairman of one of the four English speaking language groups, also said he finds it “difficult” to see how the Church could lift its ban on Communion for remarried divorcees while remaining faithful to its teachings.

“I’m waiting to hear the range of opinions on it, but for me, I personally find it difficult to be able to reconcile the idea of Communion for divorced and remarried with our understanding in the Church of the dissolubility of marriage and therefore also our understanding of the Eucharist as being in communion with the Church and what the Church stands of,” he said.

With regard to the calls for a less condemnatory language around gay people, Archbishop Eamon stressed the need to be “very aware that some of the language that can be used in Church circles about gay people, is to them disrespectful and offensive”.

“While we may not see same-sex marriage as something that is in any way on a par with marriage between a male and female, at the same time we have to be careful in our teaching and talking that we are not offensive,” Dr Martin said, adding that he was “interested to see how that conversation develops” in the synod in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the synod that Ireland in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum is still marked by a “very strong family culture”.

In his own personal intervention, the Archbishop of Dublin insisted that it was too simplistic to infer that an authentic Christian culture of marriage has disappeared in Ireland on the basis of the referendum outcome.

“The numbers who get married – and who get married in Church – are high and divorce statistics are among the lowest in Europe. Families are strong and generous. That has not changed substantially,” he stated.

Archbishop Diarmuid also suggested that the marriage referendum was passed because those who supported a ‘Yes’ vote had “based their campaign on what was traditionally our language: equality, compassion, respect and tolerance.”

Elsewhere in his intervention, the archbishop said the Church had to find “a language which helps our young people to appreciate the newness and the challenge of the Gospel”. 

“We have to find a language which is a bridge to the day-to-day reality of marriage – a human reality, a reality not just of ideals, but of struggle and failure, of tears and joys.

“What the Irish referendum showed was a breakdown between two languages.  It showed also that when the demanding teaching of Jesus is presented in a way which appears to lack mercy, then we open the doors to a false language of cheap mercy,” he said.

 Cathal Barry; Irish Catholic; 15 October 2015