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South America has become a safe haven for the Catholic Church’s alleged child molesters. The Vatican has no comment.


South America has become a safe haven for the Catholic Church’s alleged child molesters. The Vatican has no comment.

Victims of Murphy’s law


Victims of Murphy’s law

Paul Byrnes March 16, 2013

From the link: http://www.watoday.com.au/entertainment/movies/victims-of-murphys-law-20130313-2g0o7.html

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I am old enough to remember those  words as part of the Latin Mass. I learnt them growing up in the Catholic Church  in Australia. We spoke them to ask forgiveness for our sins. ”Through my fault,  through my fault, through my most grievous fault …”

As I was learning them, the Vatican was receiving the first reports of the  extent of one priest’s sexual abuse of deaf children at St John’s School for the  Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Father Lawrence Murphy, ordained in 1950, was a  master of American Sign Language, a charismatic personality and a great  fund-raiser. He may also have abused more than 200 deaf children in the three  decades in which he was allowed to remain at St John’s, even after his  activities were reported to the Vatican.

Father Murphy took a holiday in 1958. Father David Walsh came to the school.  Some of the boys told him what Father Murphy was doing. Father Walsh reported  the allegations to Archbishop Meyer of Milwaukee and to the Vatican’s apostolic  delegate in Washington, DC. Walsh never came back. In 1963, Father Murphy was  promoted to head of the school.

This setting gives extra meaning to the title of Silence in the House of  God: Mea Maxima Culpa. Many of these boys arrived at St John’s aged just  four, from families in which they could not easily communicate. Many hearing  parents never learnt to sign.

When the abuse started, Murphy would interpret for the children when they  spoke to their parents.

Interviewed against a black background, victim Terry Kohut, now a teacher in  his 60s, signs with expressive gestures.

”I was afraid to tell my mother because I didn’t think she would believe  me,” he says. ”She would say a priest would never do something like that to  children. I kept it a secret.” On that word, he clenches his fists in front of  his mouth, signing ”secret”.

These interviews, with four of the children  Lawrence Murphy abused, offer a  story of unimaginable sadness. Gradually, their testimony becomes heroic. In  1973, Bob Bolger wrote a letter to Archbishop William Cousins of Milwaukee about  Murphy. Later that year, he and two fellow former pupils, Arthur Budzinski and  Gary Smith, went to the police. The police did not file charges, so these angry  young men made a flyer with Lawrence Murphy’s face and the words ”Most  Wanted”. They passed it out at church.

Murphy was finally removed as director of St John’s a year later after a  staff member threatened to go to the parents. Murphy was allowed to retire to a  family home in another diocese, where he continued to abuse other children. He  died in 1998, still a Catholic priest. He is buried in a Catholic cemetery in  his vestments. A canonical trial, begun in 1997 by the new archbishop of  Milwaukee, was abandoned in 1998 just before Murphy died.

Alex Gibney examines several other cases in this superb documentary. The  director talks to high-profile former priests, who criticise the church’s  response to the tsunami of sexual-abuse cases in the US. Gibney then takes the  allegations to Rome. For 25 years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ran the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as ”the  Inquisition”. Many of these cases went across his desk. After 2001, all cases  concerning a minor went  to him. Most of them were dealt with in secret. Even  when he wanted to investigate, Ratzinger was sometimes blocked by  Pope John  Paul II, a man now on the way to sainthood.

Gibney exposes the same worrying trends that we’ve seen here – disbelief,  followed by leniency towards the abuser and scant concern for the victim.

The film left me sick to my stomach and speechless with anger. I left the church  long ago. If I had still been part of it, this film would have made me leave. As  the cardinals gathered this week to choose a new pope, I wondered how many would  choose to watch it?

Pope Benedict’s Legacy Marred by Sex Abuse Scandal


Pope Benedict’s Legacy Marred by Sex Abuse Scandal

By  RUSSELL GOLDMAN  Feb. 11, 2013

From the link: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/pope-benedicts-legacy-marred-sex-abuse-scandal/story?id=18466726

Pope John Paul II is seen giving his blessing to Father Marcial Maciel in 2004. Maciel has been accused of sexually abusing children, including his own, in a lawsuit. He died in 2008.

Pope John Paul II is seen giving his blessing to Father Marcial Maciel in 2004. Maciel has been accused of sexually abusing children, including his own, in a lawsuit. He died in 2008.

When Pope Benedict XVI resigns at the end of this month, he leaves behind a Church grappling with a global fallout from sex abuse and a personal legacy marred by allegations that he was instrumental in covering up that abuse.

As the sex abuse scandal spread from North America to Europe, Benedict became the first pope to meet personally with victims, and offered repeated public apologies for the Vatican’s decades of inaction against priests who abused their congregants.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” the pope said in a 2008 homily in Washington, D.C., before meeting with victims of abuse for the first time. “It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention.” During the same trip to the U.S., he met with victims for the first time.

For some of the victims, however, Benedict’s actions were “lip service and a public relations campaign,” said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who represents victims of sex abuse. For 25 years, Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Vatican office responsible for investigating claims of sex abuse, but he did not act until he received an explicit order from Pope John Paul II.

In 1980, as Archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger approved plans for a priest to move to a different German parish and return to pastoral work only days after the priest began therapy for pedophilia. The priest was later convicted of sexually abusing boys.

In 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger became head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the office once known as the Inquisition — making him responsible for upholding church doctrine, and for investigating claims of sexual abuse against clergy. Thousands of letters detailing allegations of abuse were forwarded to Ratzinger’s office.

A lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a victims’ rights group, charges that as head of the church body Ratzinger participated in a cover-up of abuse. In an 84-page complaint, the suit alleges that investigators of sex abuse cases in several countries found “intentional cover-ups and affirmative steps taken that serve to perpetuate the violence and exacerbate the harm.”

“Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, either knew and/or some cases consciously disregarded information that showed subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes,” the complaint says.

Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s lawyer in the U.S., told the AP the complaint was a “ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes.”

In the 1990s, former members of the Legion of Christ sent a letter to Ratzinger alleging that the founder and head of the Catholic order, Father Marcial Maciel, had molested them while they were teen seminarians. Maciel was allowed to continue as head of the order.

In 1996, Ratzinger didn’t respond to letters from Milwaukee’s archbishop about a priest accused of abusing students at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. An assistant to Ratzinger began a secret trial of the priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, but halted the process after Murphy wrote a personal appeal to Ratzinger complaining of ill health.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a letter urging the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to pursue allegations of child abuse in response to calls from bishops around the world.

Ratzinger wrote a letter asserting the church’s authority to investigate claims of abuse and emphasizing that church investigators had the right to keep evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the alleged victims reached adulthood.

Ratzinger became upset — and slapped Ross’s hand — when ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross asked him a question in 2002 about the delay in pursuing sex abuse charges against Maciel.

But by 2004, Ratzinger had ordered an investigation of Maciel, and after becoming pope, he ordered Maciel to do penance and removed him from the active priesthood. After becoming pope Benedict spoke openly about the crisis, but he was repeatedly accused of having participated in a coverup.

In April 2010, Benedict and other officials were accused by members of BishopAccountability.org of covering up alleged child abuse by 19 bishops.

At the time, the Pope told reporters he was “deeply ashamed” of the allegations of sex abuse by his subordinates and reportedly said, “We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry.”

Several other accusations followed from alleged victims around the world, prompting Benedict to make a public statement later that month from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. In his speech, he said the Catholic Church would take action against alleged sexual abusers. The Pope described a tearful meeting in Malta with eight men who claimed to have been abused by clergy there.

“I shared with them their suffering, and with emotion, I prayed with them,” said Benedict, “assuring them of church action.”

In 2010, he personally apologized to Irish victims of abuse.

“You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry,” the pope wrote in an eight-page letter to Irish Catholics. “Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.”

But for those who advocate on behalf of the victims, the pope’s words did not go far enough.

“Tragically, he gets credit for talking about the crisis,” said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP.  “He only ever addressed the crimes and never the cover-ups. And only in the past tense, which is self-serving.  Sex crimes and cover-ups are still happening.”

Clohessy called the meetings the pope had with victims “symbolic gestures.”

“This controversy that has reached even the highest office of the Vatican won’t go away until the pope himself tells us what he knew, when he knew it, and what he’s going to do about it,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a Catholic priest and professor of theology at Notre Dame University.

Lena, the Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, declined to comment on charges that Benedict had participated in a cover up, but said the fact that two major cases against the Church in U.S. courts, including the Murphy case, had “been dismissed by the plaintiffs themselves, speaks volumes for the strength and integrity of those cases.”

Sex Abuse Scandal: Did Archbishop Ratzinger Help Shield Perpetrator from Prosecution?


Sex Abuse Scandal: Did Archbishop Ratzinger Help Shield Perpetrator from Prosecution?

By Dietmar Hipp, Frank Hornig, Conny Neumann, Sven Röbel and Peter Wensierski

From the link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/sex-abuse-scandal-did-archbishop-ratzinger-help-shield-perpetrator-from-prosecution-a-684970.html

After long delays, the Catholic Church finally appears to be taking responsibility for sexual abuse cases. But it is an uncomfortable process. The pope even failed to take the problem of child abuse seriously when he was the archbishop of Munich.

Peter H. simply cannot understand why allegations are being made against him now — especially after all these years. “Why me of all people?” the priest asked during a phone conversation with his friend, the mayor of Garching, a town near his own, Bad Tölz, in Bavaria.

Yes, why him of all people? Especially when there are so many priests who have committed sins against children, and so many who have been treated leniently by the church. Back in 1980, even Joseph Ratzinger — then the archbishop of Munich, and now Pope Benedict XVI — had played a role in the decision to handle Peter H.’s pedophiliac infractions internally. No police, no state prosecutor, no trial. Therapy and brotherly love would bring this sinner back to the fold.

Events that linked Ratzinger and Peter H. decades ago are now causing their  paths to cross once again. Last week, one of these two men, Peter H., was suspended from the priesthood, while the other, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a pastoral letter on clerical sexual abuse. The pope now wants to clear up these cases and aid the victims.

Is this a long-awaited turning point?

Finally, after much too much hesitation, there is now movement in the church — at the lower level with Peter H. and at the higher level with the pope and the German Bishops’ Conference. For the first time since the sex scandal erupted, church officials have indicated that they intend to tackle the problem seriously. In Bavaria, the Catholic Church now intends to report all such cases immediately to the authorities. “We all have to deal with the consequences of utter evil in the world and in the Church,” says the current archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx. “This boil must be lanced. Everything must come out,” his colleague in Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, adds. And the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, who has been engaged by the Bishops’ Conference to handle abuse cases, openly criticizes the institutions of the Church, admitting that “there have been cover-ups in a wide range of cases.”

Political Reaction May Lead to Official Enquiry

Politicians are also reacting. The German state of Hesse wants to make it mandatory for public and private schools to report all suspected cases of abuse and plans to launch a special investigation into all 33 boarding schools located in the state. Bavaria is calling for preventative therapy to be offered to any teachers or clergymen with pedophilic tendencies. And the German federal government has finally reached a decision on who will attend roundtable talks on the issue and what will be on the agenda. On Wednesday, the government plans to announce the appointment of an independent commissioner in Berlin to investigate the abuse cases across the country.

This collective toughening of attitudes is the result of weeks of mounting pressure. Germany’s dioceses have been  flooded with complaints and one of the first church officials entrusted with investigating cases of  clerical misconduct has already resigned because he could not handle the work. Benno Grimm, from the diocese of Limburg, which covers territory in the states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as the city of Frankfurt, said that he could no longer cope with the number of allegations and reports and that the accounts of abuse were getting under his skin.

Public prosecutors also have their work cut out for them. Up until now, they have had few opportunities to prosecute because the statute of limitations has usually expired for the alleged crimes. But investigations are currently being conducted into at least 14 clergymen on suspicions of sexual abuse. This figure emerged after a SPIEGEL survey of all 24 public prosecutors in Germany. Nine refused to comment. In addition, 11 secular teachers and tutors are being investigated, including three former educators at the prestigious Odenwald boarding school.

At the same time, many Germans are leaving the Catholic Church, especially in the Catholic stronghold of Bavaria, where the faithful have been shocked by scandals surrounding the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir and the monastery school in Ettal as well as the reportedly lenient treatment of the pedophile priest, Peter H., by the pope’s own former archbishopric in Munich. Officials in the cities of Regensburg and Munich report that, for the first half of March, the number of people leaving the church is nearly double when compared to the same period in February. (Editor’s note: In Germany, church taxes are collected by the government and members of the Catholic and Protestant churches register with the local authorities.)

People are unnerved because, for a long time, no one was able to credibly assure them that everything possible was being done to ensure that youth groups and schools were safe from sexual abuse. And their skepticism is understandable: The case of Peter H. is a prime example of how well the church’s system to protect abusers works.

Young Priest Made ‘Indecent Advances’

As a young chaplain in the diocese of Essen in 1979, H. forced an 11-year-old to engage in oral sex after a camp retreat. He reportedly had the boy drink alcohol before assaulting him. There were at least three more victims in Essen but their parents reportedly decided not to press charges to avoid putting their children through the ordeal. Instead they complained to H.’s immediate superior, the parish priest of St. Andreas. That priest’s handwritten report to the head of church personnel and the vicar general of the diocese of Essen states that H. had made “indecent advances” toward the children during his work in the parish.

Church officials in Essen decided not to press charges and instead arranged for their brother to enter into therapy in Munich. In the letter of transfer, written to the Bavarian diocese that Ratzinger then led, there was a clear admission that the priest had sexually assaulted children in his former parish. Munich was not left in the dark about what kind of problem was on its way to them, the diocese of Essen said last week.

The Diocesan Council, chaired by Archbishop Ratzinger, dealt with the case in Munich on Jan. 15, 1980. According to the minutes of the meeting, “Point 5d” on the agenda saw the council discussing Peter H., who had requested “accommodation and support in a Munich parsonage for a while.” The request also stated that “Chaplain H. will undergo psychological therapeutic treatment.”

Ratzinger Knew Police Hadn’t Been Informed

A policeman’s son, Ratzinger was well aware that no one had notified the police and that everything had been handled by the Church internally. Neither he nor his diocese reported the case to the authorities. Instead, a brief, succinct statement concerning the chaplain’s application was entered into the minutes: “The request is granted.”

Barely two weeks later, H. had been assigned to pastoral duties again. Ratzinger allegedly knew nothing of this. But his office did receive a note from his vicar-general at the time, Gerhard Gruber, concerning the chaplain’s placement in the Catholic parish of St. Johannes Evangelist in Munich. Did Ratzinger overlook the memo? Gruber now says that he alone was responsible.

In the town of Grafing near Munich, H. again sexually abused several pupils. In 1986, a local court in Ebersberg in Bavaria handed out an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 4,000 deutsche mark fine to H. He was also convicted of distributing pornographic materials.

Priest ‘Always Kissed Children on the Mouth’

Church officials then simply transferred the pedophile from Grafing to Garching — but apparently without informing the parish there of his history. Once again, children at his new place of work complained that their priest always kissed them on the mouth — a practice they found disgusting. Mothers complained to the parish council, but nothing happened. In 2008, the first of his victims in Essen came forward: Wilfried Fesselmann, 41, was 11 at the time of the alleged abuse. The priest was transferred again, this time to his current place of residence in the town of Bad Tölz. Once again no warning was issued to the new parish, where the priest was able to conduct church services with the young people of the area. And it was not until last week that H. was finally suspended from priestly service.

And that is precisely the focus of the current discussion. What responsibility do people with knowledge of what has been done bear? And what about the perpetrators’ superiors? How could they enable pedophile priests to continue working in the Church? And what has the current pope done during his career in the Church to combat a sex problem that he is well aware of?

It was not only in Munich, but also later in Rome that Ratzinger missed countless opportunities to vigorously tackle the issue. For over 23 years — until his election as pope — he headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, meaning that he was also responsible for dealing with reports of sexual abuse. From 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger exercised this power from a fortress-like palace in the Vatican, where he passed through heavy iron-studded gates every morning and every evening. Above the gates, the walls are still emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Holy Office, also known as the Inquisition, which held Galileo Galilei under arrest here and sentenced Giordano Bruno to death as a heretic.

For decades, Ratzinger accepted the fact that little attention was paid to the problem of sexual abuse. Instead he focused on reprimanding Latin American church activists who advocated liberation theology, a movement that defines the teachings of Jesus Christ differently, as well as feuding with controversial critics of the Catholic Church such as Eugen Drewermann and Hans Küng. His rare public statements during this period were dedicated to pet topics like “faith and reason.”

A Parallel World of Murky Legality

It wasn’t until 2001, after a sexual abuse scandal had rocked the Catholic Church in the US, that Cardinal Ratzinger took action. He decreed that the local churches now had to report all such suspected cases to his offices of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome — but under strict secrecy.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna currently serves as the church’s Promoter of Justice, making him, in effect, the Vatican’s internal prosecutor. Between 2001 and 2010, he investigated over 3,000 accusations lodged against members of the clergy who had allegedly violated their vows of celibacy.

In dealing with such cases, Church officials operate in a parallel world of murky legality. Clergymen play the roles of judge and prosecutor, files are kept secret and witnesses are questioned, but never informed of the purpose of the interrogation.

In 300 cases, the defendants were found guilty and given the mandatory maximum penalty: dismissal from the clergy. In another 300 cases, the defendants anticipated that they would be thrown out of the church and preempted this by asking to be dismissed. This group includes priests who had been caught with pornographic images of children. And around 1,800 priests only received a relatively mild punishment due to their advanced age: They were banned from performing the sacrament.

No Complaint, No Plaintiff, No Judge

All the while, state prosecutors remained relatively powerless to counter the church’s leniency — mainly because they know nothing about the offenses committed. When there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. As long as church officials do not file official complaints and succeed in persuading the victims’ families not to report offenses to the authorities, then the Catholic Church can continue to act within its own realm, and beyond the reach of secular laws. Up until now, nobody from the outside world has been able to do anything about it.

So far, there are no known cases in which bishops or vicar generals have been prosecuted for protecting pedophile subordinates or because they allowed them to continue to work with young people — as in the case with the priest Peter H.

Nevertheless, as the policies of the official body of the Protestant Church in Germany (the Evangelical Church of Germany, or EKD) clearly demonstrate, it is actually possible to crack down on sexual offenders in the clergy. “As soon as initial suspicions arise,” says EKD spokesman Reinhard Mawick, “they are reported to the police so the state prosecutor can investigate.”

The Evangelical Church of Westphalia, for example, has had a 64-page manual with instructions on how to deal with sexual assault for some time now. These guidelines provide detailed information on how to recognize perpetrators and it also lists possibilities for best supporting victims. The Church has to take “active and clear steps to prevent sexual assault,” it says in the publication.

In response to a request from SPIEGEL, the EKD has checked how many cases of abuse have come to light. Results have come in from nine of the 22 district churches across Germany. Over the past 10 years, there have been exactly 11 cases within those churches — and only one had to do with pedophilia. Any clergymen or deacons involved were removed from the service of the church.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

 

Fellow priests support Galway Redemptorist silenced over stance on sex abuse scandal


From the link: http://www.galwaynews.ie/25254-fellow-priests-support-galway-redemptorist-silenced-over-stance-sex-abuse-scandal

Fellow priests support Galway Redemptorist silenced over stance on sex abuse scandal

April 12, 2012 – 7:00am

by Bernie Ní Fhlatharta

Fellow members of the Association of Catholic Priests have voiced their solidarity with the Galway priest who has been silenced by the Vatican over his backing for the Taoiseach’s condemnation of the Church’s response to clerical sex abuse in Ireland.

Fr Tony Flannery, who is based in the Redemptorist Monastery in Esker, was silenced following his public support of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s attack on the Vatican’s handling child sex abuse allegations. An Taoiseach, speaking in the Dáil earlier this year, called on the Catholic Church to apologise.

Fr Flannery who was also one of the founders of the Association of Catholic Priests, visited Rome two months ago to argue his case after he was censured by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which ordered that he stop writing in the Redemptorist Order’s own magazine, Reality or on the Association’s website.

The Association has issued a statement saying how disturbed they are at their member being silenced.

“We believe that such an approach, in its individual focus on Fr Flannery and inevitably by implication on the members of the Association, is an extremely ill-advised intervention in the present pastoral context in Ireland. We affirm in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Flannery and we wish to make clear our profound view that this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise.

Fr Kevin Hegarty: Time to free church from clammy grip of clericalism


from the link: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0410/1224314568128.html

Time to free church from clammy grip of clericalism

KEVIN HEGARTY

RITE AND REASON: Liberal Catholics have arrived at their views of church teaching on contraception, married and women priests, and homosexuality as a result of honest and honourable reflection

THE PAINTER Tony O’Malley had a custom of creating an artwork every Good Friday. When news broke during Holy Week of the Vatican censure of Fr Tony Flannery and the Redemptorist magazine Reality, I wished I could paint a picture to express my sadness.

Pope Benedict’s address at a Holy Thursday Mass in Rome copperfastened my gloom. Responding to a call to disobedience by Austrian priests and laity on celibacy and women priests he asserted that they had challenged “definite decisions of the church’s magisterium”.

Church leaders often talk of the right of free speech, most recently the Pope himself on his visit to Cuba. The recent Vatican moves are designed to create a climate of fear among liberal clerics. To echo a comment some years ago of the English writer AN Wilson, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has “ways of making you not talk”.

I know Tony Flannery quite well. He has given 40 years of sincere service as a priest, mainly as a preacher of missions throughout Ireland. He is an engaging and empathetic speaker and an innovative liturgist. His columns in Reality, based on his commitment to the ideals of the Second Vatican Council and his vast knowledge of the Irish church, were often thought-provoking.

He is one of the founders of the Association of Catholic Priests, set up in September 2010, and one of its leadership team. The association has provided a forum for debate and an independent voice for Irish priests.

Among its achievements was its intervention in the case of Fr Kevin Reynolds, who was grievously libelled in the Prime Time Investigates programme last May.

I expect that Fr Reynolds would agree that without this help he would still be languishing in a limbo from which he might never have emerged.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the Vatican has moved to censure Fr Flannery. The Second Vatican Council promised an open and dialogical church, willing to engage with the secular world. Since the 1980s there has been in Rome a retreat from its reforms.

Pope Benedict has a jaundiced view of the council’s spirit. Last year he sent a team of apostolic visitors to examine the Irish church in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals. In the summary of their report issued recently, the visitors have a cut at liberal Catholics. They noted that a significant number of Irish Catholics held views at variance with “the teaching of the magisterium”.

They should be accorded full marks for their powers of observation. The many liberal Catholics in Ireland hope for a church that is open to married and women priests, a rethink on the issue of contraception as exhorted by Humanae Vitae, and a reversal of the harsh insensitivity of the teaching on homosexuality.

We have come to these positions as a result of honest and honourable reflection. We are not seeking change for the sake of change. We believe that such reforms would aid the emergence of a church that is more humane, relevant and inspiring, a church released from the clammy grip of clericalism.

Nor are these sincerely held views at variance with the fundamental doctrines of the church as the visitors claimed in their report. These doctrines relate, for example, to the humanity and divinity of Christ, the resurrection and the sacraments.

I am not aware of any priest in Ireland who publicly dissents from these beliefs.

There is a tendency of conservative church commentators to argue that liberal clerics are an ageing, disgruntled minority who have turned their misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council into a kind of holy writ.

To them we are castaways on a remote island, brazenly holding aloft the tattered banners of the 1960s. They won’t like this but I have to disillusion them.

Anecdotal evidence, coupled with the results of a number of professional surveys, indicate that the majority of Irish Catholics support radical change in the church’s ministry and moral teaching.

To paraphrase Gerry Adams in a different context, we are not going away. The Vatican has been a “cold house” for liberal Catholics in recent years. The least we expect is respect for our freedom of speech and conscience.

A reform of the church which excludes these rights is a form of repression. It seems that Pope Benedict thinks “a creative minority” of Catholic conservatives will transform the church in Europe. To me that sounds like a polite euphemism for an assembly of Rick Santorum lookalikes.

Fr Kevin Hegarty is a priest in the parish of Kilmore-Erris in Co Mayo, and a columnist with the Mayo News.