Anglo Ire-ish

While Catholic Church leaders have been on the defensive in recent weeks as a result of the pedophile scandal, the Archbishop of Dublin has emerged as one senior cleric who has been expressing himself in words that stand out for their unequivocally contrite and self-critical nature.

By virtue of his prominence, Dr. Diarmuid Martin has been cast into the role of front line defender, even as he tries to position his church for cleansing and renewal.

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Martin was confronted by Irish abuse victims when he arrived at the Pro-Cathedral on Sunday to celebrate Easter Mass. And as Martin engaged in a dialogue with the protestors, it was more than their critical words that were ringing in his ears.

Martin had also to fend off damning comments from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who set off a firestorm by asserting, in a BBC interview, that the Catholic Church in Ireland was losing “all credibility” as a result of the pedophile scandals in the country.

Not some credibility, not even a lot, but “all.” With Cardinal Sean Brady fending off calls for his resignation, it was left to Martin to react.

And he too went for the max. He said he was “stunned” by the archbishop’s words, which were released in advance of the full interview broadcast on Easter Monday. Archbishop Williams subsequently apologized, expressing his “deep sorrow and regret.”

Interestingly, among the first to rush to the defense of the Catholic Church in Ireland were senior members of the Church of Ireland, the worldwide Anglican Communion’s Irish offshoot.

In his Easter homily, Martin said the spotlight of media and public opinion was focused on the failures and the betrayals of church leaders. “I am not criticizing the media for that. That is their job. In doing their job, some will feel the media have been unfriendly to the church, even unfair; others will welcome and recognize valid criticism, from whatever angle it comes, even if it comes from people patently unfavorable to the church,” he said.

Somewhat ironically, Martin was praised on Easter Sunday by one of the most prominent media critics of the Catholic Church’s actions in the pedophile scandals.

In the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd wrote: “The hero of the week, for simply telling the truth, is Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin,” Dowd wrote.