Regular readers of DatingGod.org know that I have a very complicated relationship with Maureen Dowd’s New York Times columns. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I do not. Her style, something that is often caustic and biting, turns many people off, but the tone is not really what gets to me. Occasionally I find her assessment on maters, particularly as they relate to the Church and the world, to be off-base. Such was the case when Dowd unabashedly defended the feeling of rejoicing — what I recently described as ‘jingoistic catharsis’ in an academic paper at a conference this week — after the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Today’s column, however, offers a perspective that I am much more willing to welcome and pass along to you, if you haven’t already seen it.
Dowd opens her column, titled, “An Archbishop Burns While Rome Fiddles,” in part with this set-up, “I went to see him [Archbishop Diarmmuid Martin] at his office in Drumcondra in north Dublin because he is that rarest of things in the church’s tragedy: a moral voice.”
In what follows is praise for Martin and disdain for Martin’s brother bishops and the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership in Rome. She goes on,
In return for doing the right thing, he has been ostracized by fellow bishops in Ireland and snubbed by the Holy See.
Showing again that it prefers denial to remorse, the Vatican undermined Martin’s call for accountability. In 2009, after the Irish government’s 700-page Murphy report on sexual abuse came out, Pope Benedict XVI refused to accept the resignations of two Irish bishops who presided over dioceses where abuse cases were mishandled.
The following year, when Martin expected to be named cardinal, the pope passed him over.
“Martin is standing alone against the tide right now, but he’s on the right side of history,” said Jason Berry, who has written two books on the church scandal. “I think he is probably the single best hope for the church within the hierarchy.”
Yet Martin, famous protector of victims, is an outlier of the club, while Cardinal Bernard Law, notorious protector of pedophiles, has a cushy Vatican sanctuary. And Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was in league with the notorious abuser of seminarians and inseminator of women, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, is the dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome.
While the distinction that Dowd presents, between Martin and Rome, is a bit simplistic, her point is well placed. There is a contradictory atmosphere concerning the pace and effect of papal (or, more precisely, discastery) reaction in matters of concern for the Vatican. It has been noted in other places, not the least among them America and Commonweal magazines, that Church leadership was seemingly quick to respond to purported concerns about the advocacy of discussing the possibility (the overly qualified structure of this sentence is deliberate for it reflects the originally tentative context) of women’s ordination stands in stark contrast to what Dowd describes as the “Vatican’s glacial pace on reform” concerning child abuse.
Having interviewed Bishop Martin in his Dublin office, Dowd cites: “‘The danger now is to think, well, that’s in the past and we can sit back and relax and say it can’t happen again,’ he said. ‘It can happen again.'”
I asked why he decided to wash the feet of victims. He said the service was planned by victims with help from his staff. Three times, survivors of abuse interrupted to extemporaneously air their grievances, and the archbishop welcomed it. “It brought a real sense of reality,” he said.
I agree with Dowd that Bishop Martin is a “rare moral voice” in an age where one is often difficult to find. I am also saddened by the continual snail’s-pace reform and transparency continues to take throughout the Church. Other bishops can learn from Martin’s example, just as they can learn from Sean Cardinal O’Malley’s in Boston. It’s time to readdress our priorities as the Church, the Body of Christ, and see to the most important matters before being concerned about the less important or immaterial.