Let me start by wishing the former Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, a long, happy and healthy retirement. I sincerely hope he takes the time to enjoy doing the things he likes to do now that his retirement from office will afford him more personal time. Both Cardinal Connell, and indeed the former Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Cathal Daly, have both apologised many times for the hurt caused to victims of child sexual abuse by catholic priests and religious. And Cardinal Connell has also apologised for the way in which the church chose to handle allegations of clerical child sexual abuse. Forgiveness may come later, but for now I can accept such apologies - as far as they go.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says history will see that Cardinal Connell acted in accordance with his own conscience. Quite how history is meant to judge whether anyone ever acted in accordance with his or her conscience is beyond me. It may well suit the incoming Archbishop of Dublin to wait for the hand of history to bestow a glowing reference on the outgoing Archbishop of Dublin but in the meantime there is to be a state inquiry, if that's okay with both of them, and what is more important is whether Cardinal Connell and others in the church acted in accordance with the laws of the land, as the rest of us are required to do.
People have asked me many times in recent months what I think of Archbishop Martin and my answer is always the same - I'll tell you when I see the extent to which the Archdiocese of Dublin co-operates with the upcoming inquiry under his leadership. This inquiry will be a real indicator as to whether or not the new Archbishop is 'the breath of fresh air' some people are hailing him as. It will also indicate whether or not I am foolish to accept the Cardinal's apologies - because if he doesn't co-operate fully and honestly then such apologies amount to nothing.
Archbishop Martin has said he will sell whatever assets are needed in order to pay compensation to victims of child sexual abuse by priests. Some twenty acres of prime land around Clonliffe College has been mentioned which must be worth millions of Euro. I suspect the Archbishop was referring to the compensation being paid out as a result of abuses committed by diocesan clergy. But it would also be a welcome start to his period in office if he took the time to liase with his colleagues in the religious orders and if together they agreed to revisit the disgusting deal these orders have made with the government which leaves the taxpayer picking up the lion's share of the compensation bill to be paid as a result of abuses committed by Christian brothers and other religious.
As it stands the financial liability of the religious orders has been limited by the government, in an act of political expediency, to 127million Euro leaving the taxpayer to pick up the balance which the Comptroller and Auditor General as estimated will be several hundred million Euro more. How can it be right to apologise for the wrongs one has committed but leave it to others to foot any subsequent bill ? Let the diocesan authorities and the religious orders make an offer to the outgoing (it's only a matter of time) Minister of Education Mr Noel Dempsey to put this matter right. This too will help the rest of us to distinguish between empty words and genuine remorse.