Williams highlights depth of challenge to Irish Catholic Church

By staff writers
3 Apr 2010

Those close to the Archbishop of Canterbury say that when his full BBC Radio interview on Easter Monday is heard, some of the reporting of his critical remarks about the Catholic Church in Ireland and its handling of the child abuse scandal there, may be seen to have been exaggerated.

Dr Williams has been reported as saying that the Church in Ireland has lost "all credibility" over the way it has dealt with paedophile priests. He suggested that the problems, which had been a "colossal trauma" for the Church, affected the wider public and that the reaction was such that its was difficult for priests to walk down the street in clerical collars in some instances.

But the tenor of his remarks also clearly suggested that he was concerned about this loss of credibility, rather than welcoming it or wanting to add to it.

Dr Williams' seemingly forthright comments have been welcomed by campaigners for justice for the abused and those related or close to them.

Many, both inside and outside the Irish Catholic Church, feel that its hierarchy has still not understood the depth of revulsion felt about its actions, the questions being asked about its whole approach to authority, secrecy and sexuality, and the need for fundamental change.

However, Dr Williams is known to be an elliptical, nuanced and complex commentator - and the 18 second BBC clip on its news website, though it contains the passing word "all" next to "credibility", sounds far less sweeping than many reports have suggested.

Regardless of that, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has weighed into the response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's critical stance, saying he is "stunned and discouraged" by the comments her heard "blasting out of the radio" from Dr Rowan Williams.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said such comments were "immensely disheartening" to many working to renew the Roman Catholic church in Ireland.

He admitted, however, that a more "gospel-driven" and less "arrogant" Church was needed.

Some Catholics and others believe Archbishop Martin should himself resign.

The full interview with Dr Rowan Williams will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4's 'Start the Week' programme on Monday 5 April, at 0900BST.

The words that have been quoted and broadcast so far are: "I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now. And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."

Church of Ireland (Anglican) Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Neill - a senior figure in Ireland's Anglican communion - said he had listened to the remarks of Dr Williams with "deep regret".

He continued: "As one who... acknowledges the pain and deep suffering of the victims of abuse, I also feel for the countless priests and bishops who daily live out their Christian vocation."

A fellow Anglican, the Most Rev Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, is reported by the BBC to have said Dr Williams' remarks were "careless and reckless" and "deeply hurtful".

"As those of us who live in this country know very well, most bishops, priests and religious of the Roman Catholic tradition minister faithfully and selflessly under very difficult conditions with the love and support of their people," he added.

However, Catherine Pepinster, editor of Catholic weekly newspaper The Tablet, said Rowan Williams' comments were "very striking" and that many Catholics would share his opinion.

An Irish commentator told Ekklesia on Saturday 3 April that "it is noticeable how many people have sounded off to attack or praise Dr Williams on the basis of a tiny excerpt without hearing the whole interview or any further elaboration. This is indicative of the deeply wounded sensitivities on all sides over the child abuse scandals and the response of the Catholic hierarchy. It also illustrates a tinder-box media climate which can generate a lot more heat than light."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, has been strongly condemned by Jewish groups for comparing criticism of the pontiff and the Catholic Church over child abuse to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.

Speaking at Good Friday prayers in St Peter's Basilica, he quoted a Jewish friend as saying the accusations reminded him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

The Pope himself has spoken of the importance of learning how to "turn the other cheek" over criticisms being directed towards himself and those around him - remarks which those outraged over what they see as the lack of openness and full repentance from the Vatican say is a "misuse" of Jesus' words.

These words were "advice given to those facing oppression to turn the tables on oppressors in a First Century cultural context by shaming them, not advice given to the powerful to enable them to deflect criticism over their handling of abuse against the vulnerable," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia.

[Ekk/3]

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