ROME – Speaking ahead of the close of a summit of Catholic bishops held against the backdrop of a new wave of the Church’s clerical abuse crisis, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Ireland, said some areas of the world and the ecclesial sphere still haven’t grasped the severity of the issue.
“Sometimes I feel that there are still areas of life in the Church where this has not yet come to the fore, come to the light,” Martin said Oct. 26.
“I think that there are perhaps still some areas in which this area is denied and not given its proper place,” he said, voicing hope that a highly-anticipated February summit of presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world convoked by Pope Francis on the theme of child protection would help address the issue on a local level.
Martin voiced hope that the February gathering “will help to ensure that more countries will take this issue seriously, and I pray that they do.”
Attending an Oct. 26 press briefing during the final week of the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, Martin responded to a question on rumors there was a dispute over how much emphasis to give the abuse crisis in the gathering’s final document, with prelates from Asia and Africa wanting to downplay the issue, arguing that it is only a major issue in Western nations.
Martin admitted that the abuse issue started out as a major topic, drawing ovations for prelates who touched on the issue during their brief speeches. As the month-long meeting went on, discussion turned to other topics, though the abuse crisis was always an underlying theme, he said.
“I think this was the most serious issue in our minds because of everything that had been happening in the months prior to the synod, because it was the continuing revelations and new stories emerging in different parts of the world,” Martin said.
He added that many prelates felt that “it was very important for us to own this issue and to name this issue…at the beginning of the synod…we need to talk about this before we can really talk about anything to do with young people.”
Having done that, participants “moved on,” he said. The issue was still present, “but no longer as the main focus of our discussions, but almost as if this is an issue that is with us and which must remain with us.”
Martin said that as a bishop, he’s often been asked whether the Church will ever be able to move beyond the abuse issue. In response, Martin says he always replies, saying “no, and nor should we, because people who have been traumatized by abuse never put it behind them.”
“They carry it with them throughout their lives, and therefore so should we. That is really the spirit in which we have addressed this issue,” he said.
Overall, Martin said he believes the synod has been a “graced moment” for the Church, and though he was initially skeptical of how effective the gathering would be leading to real opportunities to engage young people, his perspective has changed.
“I have felt the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said, adding that if bishops want to rejuvenate the Church and make it “alive again,” then it has to be through “the action of the Holy Spirit.”
Similarly, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said that of the six synods he’s attended, this month’s discussion on youth “has been the best of all that I have lived. It was a joyful assembly,” he said, with both seriousness and laughter.
He said the final document, in his view, does not adequately address the struggles young people face, such as those related to migration, unemployment and political and economic instability.
Yet despite these struggles, young people still have hope, he said, recalling how a young man once told him that “the Church is our only hope, because here we find a place of welcome, of understanding, where we can be ourselves, at home.”
Bishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri, Kenya, also voiced his hope that the highlights of the discussion would not just stay in the synod hall, but would be implemented at a local level once the prelates return to their respective dioceses.
“When I think of Africa where a large part of the youth are Catholic, it means that this synod must be something concrete for them, it must be able to connect with them, and that’s what we’ll perhaps have to think and pray (about),” he said. “But how do we now awaken them and somehow be able to advance on this part of the encounter with Christ?”