News in the UK has been dominated this weekend by the religious equivalent of a diplomatic row. In comments to be broadcast tomorrow on a BBC radio programme, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the Church in Ireland had "lost all credibility" over its handling of sex abuse. The comment provoked an angry response from the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who said he was "stunned" and "discouraged" by the remarks, which in turn provoked an apology from Dr Williams.
But he didn't retract his comments -- and rightly, because they were true. He told BBC's Start the Week:
"I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now. And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just a problem for the church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."
I went on television news yesterday twice to say that these comments were not only accurate, they were issued in sympathy - -to which the interviewers objected that it wasn't just what was being said, but who was saying it. One even suggested to me that this was "payback" for the Pope's attempt to "poach" Anglicans through the ordinariate scheme. Anyone who knows the Archbishop of Canterbury knows how absurd that idea is.
Easter homilies by church leaders in Britain and Ireland made mention of the crisis -- in contrast to Rome, where the Pope made no allusions to sex abuse. Cardinal Sodano told Benedict XVI before the Easter Sunday Mass: "Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not allow themselves to be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials which sometimes buffet the community of believers."
The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, spoke of "the serious sins committed in the Catholic community", and said he had been "reflecting on them deeply". There was a need, he said, to acknowledge "our guilt and our need for forgiveness."
"Crimes against children have indeed been committed and any Catholics who were aware of such crimes and did not report them brings shame on us all", said Cardinal O'Brien in Scotland.
"There is no hiding place for abusers in the Church", Cardinal Brady told his congregation.
In Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn apologised for the abuse at an emotional pre-Easter mass. "For some of us, the Church's immaculate appearance was more important than anything else," Schönborn said. "We confess our guilt to the many whom we have wronged as the church, and whom some of us have wronged very directly."