ROME — Ireland’s representative to Pope Francis’s abuse summit said that he believes the Catholic Church is moving “much closer” to a worldwide policy of permanently removing priests from ministry after a single case of abuse.
He said the “default position” should be that abusive priests “will not minister in any capacity, but also that you will be monitored very closely, both in the Church and by civil authorities.”
“In the case of someone who has abused a child, I don’t think there’s any way they can return to pastoral ministry,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin, speaking to reporters on Saturday.
“I think there is now a very strong realization of the heinous nature of the sinful and criminal act” of abuse, said Martin, while also adding that in speaking with survivors, many of them warned against removing abusive priests from the clerical state as they might be a danger or “increased risk” to other children or vulnerable adult if they are no longer monitored by the Church.
As Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland, Martin said that he supported the discussions during the past days of the summit on the need for greater transparency.
“Secrecy must go out the window,” when it comes to the abuse of children, he said. “Secrecy has been one of the root causes of the problem we are in today.”
Speaking of his own experience in Ireland, one of the countries hardest hit by the clergy abuse crisis, Martin said “my files have to be open.”
“Anything that I have that may have been sent here to the Holy See…it’s open to my national board, it’s open under proper rules of disclosure in legal cases to the police and civil authority.”
Martin said that all participants in the pope’s four-day long summit on sex abuse must be “committed to go home with actions,” and he said for him, the issue of accountability would serve as his homework, particularly when it comes to overseeing bishops.
He also said that the task of protecting children must be first and foremost a local response.
“I’m always frightened of the note that safeguarding can be commanded from Rome…really, safeguarding happens on the ground,” Martin said, adding that the Holy See must also evidence a “collective commitment to accountability,” as well.
“I think it’s very important that we see this issue of accountability at all levels,” he added.
Martin also weighed in on the fact that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who resigned in 2017 from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, were not formally included in the abuse summit, despite their respective expertise and experience.
“I’ve consulted them very, very closely,” prior to coming to Rome, Martin said, while also adding, “this isn’t over yet.”
He said he believed that both could “play their part now at an international level,” and hinted that perhaps that could involve some involvement in a new Vatican body that he believes is needed to “help and support [bishops’] conferences around the world” on handling abuse.
Martin said that such a body would need to be a “robust group” that could “bridge those gaps” between various Vatican offices on this issue.
“This issue needs some core group that will get a handle on it,” he said.
In August, Martin hosted Francis in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican backed weeklong summit on family life, and in October, Martin represented the Irish bishops in Rome during the month-long gathering of bishops on young people, where sex abuse factored largely in its discussion.
The summit on abuse will conclude on Sunday with a closing Mass and final reflections from Francis.