DUBLIN – DUBLIN (AP) — Catholic leaders must confront their cover-ups of child abuse honestly and completely if they want to fulfill their mission as Christians, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said Thursday as the pope arrived in neighboring Britain.
"Abuse was reinforced by covering it up," said Martin, the Irish church's most outspoken advocate for Catholic openness on its child-abuse scandals.
Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat before taking the Dublin post in 2004, has clashed with other bishops over their culpability in shielding priests from the law for decades in this predominantly Catholic country.
In his own March pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the abusers but sidestepped any Vatican role in promoting a culture of concealment.
Last month the Vatican appeared to undermine Martin by rejecting the resignation offers of his two Dublin auxiliary bishops. Martin had sought their removal because both were implicated in a state investigation into the cover-up of more than 170 cases of suspected pedophile priests in Dublin from 1975 to 2004.
Martin also handed the church's long-secret Dublin abuse files to the government investigators, whereas his predecessor sued to try to keep them locked away.
Martin told a Dublin audience he had "never for a moment imagined, in my work as a pastor, that I would have had to address the sexual abuse of children on such a wide scale." And he said the church still had a painful road to travel to complete its penance.
"There is no way forward for the church in carrying out its mission without adequately addressing its past," he said. "Assessing the truth of the past objectively and accurately is a precondition for assessing what is happening today. ... The church has to address its past honestly and completely."
Martin noted that the Dublin Archdiocese employs an official to monitor and support pedophile priests who have been released from prison, but this was only "one small step" and not regular practice in the church.
"There is no adequate monitoring of perpetrators who are living in society. Many may constitute serious ongoing risk to children," Martin said, calling for Irish mental therapy and child-protection services to be beefed up.
"It is not a question of witch-hunting, which is never in the interests of child protection and safeguarding," the archbishop said. "We must provide programs which provide support to perpetrators and which at the same time protect children."
Dublin Archdiocese report, http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB09000504
Pope's letter to Ireland, http://bit.ly/9nqWTU