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Resignations Refused

It should come as no surprise that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision not to accept the resignations of Dublin’s auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field has unleashed outrage in Ireland. The bishops had resigned at the urging of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (pictured), who demanded that some accountability be demonstrated in the aftermath of the Murphy Report on sexual assault and abuse by clerics in the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Vatican decision is being interpreted in Ireland as a rebuke to Archbishop Martin and his persistent focus on greater accountability and penance among the hierarchy.

Archbishop Martin has been perceived not just as a rare pastoral presence in the midst of this international crisis, but a prophetic voice offering direction to a church looking for a way to right itself. He has been a model of a responsive, proactive prelate. Hence the discouragement at this inexplicable reversal. During an address in May to an Irish church group, Archbishop Martin worried that “strong forces” in the church wanted the truth about clerical sexual abuse to remain hidden and confided that he had never felt so disheartened and dejected.


Two bishops offered themselves up in a small gesture of accountability. Much more is required, but even this effort has been rejected in Rome. Can the Roman Curia really be so oblivious to the anger and frustration of average Catholics worldwide who are trying to make sense of years of clerical parish-shifting and coverups? It does not seem possible. But if they are, one is surely tempted to join Archbishop Martin in his dejection.

Ethics by Default

The latest installment in the nation’s evolving debt crisis has been an upsurge in home equity loans and lines of credit defaults. Consumer-borrowers are walking away from obligations on such loans in record numbers after watching home values plummet or losing to foreclosure the homes that originally generated the credit. Too many lines of credit were tossed out to consumers eager to put the money to good use on powerboats and motorcycles when both lenders and borrowers had trouble imagining a time when home values would not keep escalating.

Borrowers electing for “strategic defaults” follow a new ethic that somehow absolves them of their obligation to repay on the grounds that lenders, as professionals, should have been more skeptical about making such loans in the first place. It is hard to sympathize with that position, which has already proved, and will continue to prove, costly to taxpayers and consumer-bystanders stuck bailing out failing institutions. That attitude reveals something, however, about the state of America’s debt-drenched society in which the only people morally on the hook for commitments they make are “bag-holders.” Now where could consumers have learned that lesson? During the Reagan era and again under President George W. Bush, government spending beyond its revenue stream has been elevated to a fiscal virtue. Likewise, corporate players rolled the dice on risky investment strategies with little intention of accepting personal or institutional responsibility for their decisions. We live in a world where trickle-down economics has never actually worked, but trickle-down morality seems to be functioning just fine.

The Real Islam

Again and again since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Islam has been unjustly portrayed as a religion that fosters violent and extremist behavior. The fierce resistance to the proposal to build a community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York is rooted in the false belief that the Muslim faith is somehow to blame for the 2001 tragedy. Not only is this an erroneous reading of events (Al Qaeda is no way representative of Islam); it is emblematic of a larger misunderstanding of Islam as a triumphalistic force in history.

A welcome corrective to these historical misconceptions is now available from Harvard University Press. Muhammad and the Early Believers, by Fred M. Donner, is a bracing re-evaluation of the earliest days of Islam. Drawing on recent research, Donner explains how the “believers” movement (a term taken from the Koran) was ecumenical in nature, including Jews and Christians because they too were monotheists who believed in the God of Abraham. Citing architectural evidence, Donner also contends that the early “Islamic conquests” were not as violent as history books have portrayed. The believers’ rise to political power, for instance, did not rely on forced conversions; theirs was a monotheistic movement that was often compatible with local traditions.

The interfaith spirit of Islam’s founding is reflected in the plans for the community in New York. Park51, as the project is now known, is meant to be a cultural center where people of all faiths can gather to learn about the Muslim tradition. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf hopes it can serve as a bridge between Islam and the Western world. The blinkered responses to that proposal are proof enough that such connections are desperately needed.

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William SMITH
8 years 5 months ago
How naieve you are!
8 years 5 months ago
Not quite so simple! Under Islamic law, a Saudi judge asked several hospitals to damage the spinal cord of an attacker who left his victim paralyzed. (NYTimes 8-19-2010) The 9/11 terrorists proclaimed their Islamic motivation. The media reports the deaths by stoning for adulterers under Islamic law. Salmon Rushdie and a Danish artist live in fear of death under fatwas proclaimed by Islamic clerics. Apostates are marked for death under shahira. Husbands can beat their wives to the point of blood-shedding.

The public will accept the self-proclaimed peacefulness of the Ground Zero mosquetiers when the mosque - community center - initiators publicly reject in writing the principles of the Koran on which the above examples are based. Can the "peaceful" founders assure that the center will never be infiltrated by jihadists, as has occurresd in England?
Andrea McGovern
8 years 5 months ago
While I wish with all my heart for interfaith understanding, and applaud Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's good hearted gesture to the community, I can't help but wonder why he did not think this grand idea through a bit more before taking it to the streets. He and his community have every right to worship and speak wherever they want, but should also not be surprised that their plans, centered in that location, were taken as an affront by those who lost everything on 9-11. Where is political correctness when you need it most? This is all really too bad, because in theory the intentions are so very good, but the plan was, to say the least, tactless! You just can't make the horse drink! Why not rethink the thing and just accept proposals for a different site? Nobody loses face when we admit we weren't quite as right as we had thought.
Caoimhin O'Laoide
8 years 5 months ago

For balance, your readers should read the following from The Irish Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010. The situation as regards the refused resignations is more complex than your comment suggests.

Archbishop criticised on handling of abuse issue

PATSY McGARRY Religious Affairs Correspondent

ARCHBISHOP DIARMUID Martin has been strongly criticised by a former spokesman for his predecessor as Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, over his handling of the clerical sex abuse issue.

The criticism by Eddie Shaw, who was spokesman for Cardinal Connell from September 2002 to October 2003, is contained in a book, The Dublin/Murphy Report: A Watershed for Irish Catholicism?, launched yesterday.

In the book Mr Shaw criticises what he claims is Archbishop Martin’s failure to support the auxiliary bishops of his diocese in the fall-out from the Murphy report.

The report, into how cases of sex abuse of children by priests were handled by the Dublin archdiocese, was published in November.

In Chapter 13 of the book Mr Shaw asks Archbishop Martin: “Are you aware of a perception you have created that in attempting to separate yourself and your career so comprehensively from the abominable behaviour of some priests of the past and the catastrophic consequences of that behaviour in this archdiocese, that you may have added a further injustice to this appalling story?”

Mr Shaw, a director of public relations at Carr Communications, continues “do you have any awareness that in your efforts to put right the abominable injustice of clerical child sexual abuse you have added a further injustice in your treatment of your auxiliary bishops whom you have failed to support and in whom you have, in reality, expressed no confidence”?

He is particularly critical of Archbishop Martin’s appearance on RTÉ One’s Prime Time programme on December 1st last.

The archbishop said he was writing to all auxiliary bishops who served in Dublin and were named in the Murphy report as he was “not satisfied” with some of their responses so far. He pointed out that those bishops named in the report, but no longer serving in Dublin, could not tailor their responses to people in their current dioceses.

“My view is they should publicly come forward and answer the questions to the people where these abuses took place,” he said.

Mr Shaw asks the archbishop whether he believed using Prime Time was “an appropriate way to communicate this message for the first time to the survivors/victims of clerical child sexual abuse, to five past and present auxiliary bishops, to your priests and to your people?”

He also criticises “the comprehensive failure of the communications offices of the Dublin archdiocese and the Irish Bishops’ Conference” for not having in place “a robust crisis communications procedure, including rebuttal, clarification and correction” which, he claimed, “adds one injustice to another”. It also allowed for serious “errors of fact and misrepresentation” in the media, he said. As an example he referred to a view “that there was widespread cover-up among all priests – this was never adequately corrected and clarified”.

Another erroneous view was “that there was ‘collective responsibility’ and consequently ‘guilt by association’ and ‘general responsibility’ among auxiliary bishops (and others), all concepts introduced by Archbishop Martin.”

And there was the view “that there was no learning curve, individually or collectively for the archdiocese, in relation to clerical child sexual abuse and the issue of paedophile priests”.

Mr Shaw was “firm” in his view that “a grave injustice has been done in the last three months to the lay faithful, good women, good men, good priests and good bishops. I have worked with Bishop Walsh and Bishop Field [former auxiliary bishops of Dublin] and so I single them out for that reason . . . This is a grave matter of injustice and to remain silent is to concur.”

A Dublin archdiocese spokeswoman said neither Archbishop Martin nor she had any comments to make on Mr Shaw’s criticisms.

Edited by Fr John Littleton and Eamon Maher, The Dublin/ Murphy Report: A Watershed for Irish Catholicism? is published by Columba Press. Contributors include Andrew Madden, Marie Collins, Fr Paddy McCafferty, Fr Enda McDonagh, Bishop Richard Clarke, Fr Eamonn Conway, Breda O’Brien, Garry O’Sullivan and Louise Fuller.

Dennis Thiel
8 years 5 months ago

My understanding of history is Mohammad was a prophet, war lord, and mass murder. And the writing in the Koran is a political manifesto. Islam is a political ideology that is committed to annihilate all non-believers. It would seem that it would be near impossible to get ecumenical understanding under these circumstances?

Thomas Farrelly
8 years 5 months ago
The peaceful nature of early Islam is contradicted by its assault on the Christian Byzantine Empire, and conquest of the Levant and North Africa.  And the assault went on to conquer Spain, and attempt to conquer France.  Islamic aggression continued for centuries, subjugating Christain peoples.  And today, Christians are persecuted in Islamic lands.  America itself, as well as National Geographic and other publications, has made it clear that Christians are fleeing from Islamic persecution. 
James Caruso
8 years 5 months ago
You say that the fierce resistance to the proposal to build a community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York is rooted in the false belief that the Muslim faith is somehow to blame for the 2001 tragedy.  This simply is not true.  All you have to do is get out and talk with people, instead of flasely attributing motivations to them.  It was not Islam that motivated the 9/11 attacks, but it was radicals who attacked in the name of Islam. 

Yes, Muslims have every "right" to build a mosque near ground zero.  No, it is not in good taste, and it does offend millions of people, not because they blame Islam for 9/11, but because 9/11 was perpetrated in the name of Islam.  Also, in point if fact, the Imam behind the building of the proposed new mosque is one of those clerics who blames the 9/11 attack in part on the US and its policy.  Such a person could only see the building of such an edifice as a triumph of his ideology over the West.  Ask yourself, if you, as a person of good will, found that your proposal to build offended millions, would you persist in demanding your right?  No, obviously a person of good will would not wish to offend and would quickly propose a new and satisfactory location as a gesture of good will and friendship.  There has not even been an inkling of such sentiment. 

James Caruso
8 years 5 months ago
Two bishops offered themselves up in a small gesture of accountability. Much more is required, but even this effort has been rejected in Rome.

Were these bishops responsible for the problem, or simply wishing to express their willingness to accept responsibility for it?  Was this an admission of guilt, or a gesture of extreme humility offered by bishops who wished only to save the Church they loved from any more scandal?  Much more is required?  By whom, if I may ask?  Is the Church now subject to the expression of justice as practiced by the Irish or American legal systems?  Where blame can be attributed, that is one thing.  Where ineptitude is found, that is one thing.  But where it is difficult to put one's finger on what went wrong, and where the guilty parties are not clearly seen as acting from base motives, and where the coverup of wrongdoing is not that easily ascribed to evil intentions, what would you have the Church do, offer up several scapegoats to the implacable god of vengeance?  Can this "liberated" free thinking Church of America ever bring itself to see prudence and propriety in anything that comes forth from the Vatican?  I have no idea of the details of the two bishops or the culpability of the Irish hierarchy, but I am happy to see that the Church is not quick to throw its representatives to the dogs as an easy way to placate an angered and not always clear thinking public- as a way to conveniently and cheaply restore its credibility.  It's more difficult to act not only in justice but in charity.  The right way is not always the best public relations.  Unless we know all the details, I would refrain from characterizing the Church as a body that rejects what is right. 
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 5 months ago

It appears that the American bishops have an immense catechetical task on their hands: to persuade many Catholics of the truth of what the Church’s teaching authority tells us in section 3 of Vatican II’s document on non-Christian religions (*Nostra aetate*).  I hope that *America* is planning to publish a stream of articles developing all the implications of those words:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims.  They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to human beings; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.  Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.  They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion.  In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead.  Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

“Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

As for the refusal to take seriously the Church’s teaching on Christian-Muslim relations, is it not the case that this dissent also reflects “cafeteria Catholicism”?

Pierre Bonnici
8 years 5 months ago
All religions can be and have been misused and abused for political purposes. Maybe we should speak of good religion and bad religion. Isn't it a sign of good religion if a religion takes responsibility and makes amends for what was done in its name? The Catholic Church is trying to do that with the sex-abuse scandals ... wouldn't it be a sign of good-will if Islam did the same with all acts of terrorism committed in its name? I think that would be much more profitable for humankind the a mosque built in such a sensitive place.
8 years 4 months ago
To the Editors:

Re: "Resignations Refused."

My comment is short and sweet.  Thank you for speaking out on this very troubling and frustrating issue.  It is somewhat comforting to have a Catholic magazine of your stature willing to take Rome to task for mishandling this matter.

Thank you again.

An angered and frustrated "average Catholic." 


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