The Irish Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010
PADDY AGNEW in Rome
THE CLERICAL sex abuse scandals in Ireland are not representative of the behaviour of the vast majority of priests in the Catholic Church, a senior Vatican figure has said.
Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, said the abuse by priests in Ireland constituted “painful” and “criminal” behaviour.
However, in an interview yesterday in the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, he said it would be wrong to “make generalisations” as a result of the Irish experience.
The cardinal was asked if events “in certain parts of the world” did not suggest that something had “gone wrong” in relations between bishops and their priests.
“The painful Irish happenings – which by the way have seen some bishops assume their responsibilities and resign – simply do not relate to the entire episcopal ministry.
“The bishops are good fathers for their priests,” he said.
“Certainly, there are some unbecoming situations but they are very limited in number. Unfortunately, we are talking about situations linked to the human condition. And that’s what happened in Ireland.
“This is a very painful business which, it is true, hurts above all the victims but it also profoundly wounds the heart of the church. Once responsibility for so much evil has been objectively established, then we need to go all the way, handing the matter over to the state judicial authorities.”
L’Osservatore asked Cardinal Hummes if, in his view, the credibility of priests worldwide has been undermined by such scandals: “Unfortunately, in a society that has little inclination to dig deep in its search for the truth, [such scandals] damage the image of the priest. Above all because the media concentrate on these events rather than on all the good that is done by the vast majority of priests.
“It is undeniable that painful episodes have happened but we are talking about a limited number of cases which, according to the numbers, are proportionately modest.
“These are of course very serious, criminal happenings which the church can in no way tolerate. But let me repeat it, the vast majority of priests worldwide are decent people, committed to their ministry, ready to give their entire lives, often lose their lives, for the Gospel.”
Appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Cardinal Hummes is a Franciscan who himself was often considered a possible candidate for pope at the 2005 conclave which elected Benedict. He is known as a moderate on social justice issues.
Cardinal Hummes’s reference to Irish church scandals is further proof that, while the Vatican may well have kept a very low initial profile with regard to the fallout from the Murphy report, the matter of the Irish church, its scandals and its reorganisation is currently weighing heavily on Holy See minds.
Pope Benedict is to deal with all these matters in his forthcoming pastoral letter to the Irish faithful, expected on or before Ash Wednesday, February 17th.