Early next month, when the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus is over, hundreds of thousands of children will return to national schools the length and breadth of Ireland. Some of them will begin preparations for their first Holy Communion or Confirmation in 2010. All of them will receive religious instruction, presided over by the Catholic hierarchy.
One of the biblical stories they will hear is from the Book of Luke concerning the Pharisees in the temple. It is told to illustrate one of the basic tenets of the Catholic church that the meek shall inherit the earth. In it, the self-righteous Pharisee reminds God of the good he does, while the publican can barely lift his head, such is his shame at his sins. The message is that the one who exalts himself shall be abased and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.
There was a lot of exalting going on in the Catholic church in Ireland last week. Bishop Donal Murray, perhaps unfairly singled out for his failure to protect children from rapist priests, defended his record. Even as the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, called on him to take responsibility for his actions, Bishop Murray retorted: "My conscience is clear".
Bishop Willie Walsh, long thought of as one of the good guys, jumped to Bishop Murray's defence, and accused his detractors of wanting a "head on a plate".
He later apologised, saying he had misjudged the level of public anger over a bishop whose inaction sentenced untold numbers of children to depraved sexual abuse by paedophile clerics.
But Bishop Murray is only one of 10 auxillary bishops of Dublin – all of whom had some knowledge of crimes being committed against children. On the publication of Judge Yvonne Murphy's unequivocal report, the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Eamon Walsh, another cleric regarded as one of the good guys, fought for his good name, saying his role as secretary to former archbishops Kevin McNamara and Desmond Connell meant he had no decision-making capacity. "When I was secretary, and it states it very clearly in the report, my role was that ... of simply receiving messages, passing them on, but I wouldn't be at the decision-making table, wouldn't be privy to what was going on," he said. He has said nothing more since.
Bishop Martin Drennan's handling of one case was, in fairness, described as 'correct' by the commission. However, it must be remembered that he was nonetheless a servant of the cover-up from 1997 to 2005 and therefore culpable in what occurred. The others mentioned in the report, bishops Jim Moriarty and Ray Field bear responsibility to varying extents. They have remained silent.
Retired bishops Desmond Connell, Dermot O'Mahony, Brendan Comiskey, Fiachra O Ceallaigh and Laurence Foristal are all named and criticised. In the 10 days since the report of the Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin was published, they have not uttered a word about it.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, another leader long thought of as one of the good guys, has told his fellow bishops they must answer questions raised in the excoriating report.
"What I want is that all those who exercise responsibility in this regard within the Dublin diocese, that they provide an answer to the people, the faithful of the Dublin diocese, and also an answer that my priests can stand up on Sunday in front of their congregrations, and say that I am satisfied. I believe the people of the Archdiocese of Dublin in which this abuse took place have a right to have these questions addressed today from those who bore responsibility at that time,'' he said.
It's a demand described as 'mumbo jumbo' by one commentator and after all that has been revealed, doesn't even come close to recognising the pain and scale of this scandal. It implies that if the culpable bishops can just persuade the faithful of their bona fides everything will be alright.
As Andrew Madden, who was sexually abused by Fr Ivan Payne when he was an altar boy, pointed out in a letter to The Irish Times last Friday, there are no questions raised in the Murphy report. Each chapter concludes with findings of fact.
"It doesn't ask Bishop Murray if he thinks his actions were inexcusable, it tells us they were. It doesn't accuse him of behaving inexcusably, it tells us he did," Madden writes.
"For the Murphy report to so conclusively find that child sexual abuse was covered up by the archdiocese at a time when these men were all bishops of the diocese, and for them to remain in office is to add insult to injury to me and many people like me who were sexually abused by priests."
By remaining in office, Bishops Murray, Walsh, Moriarty, Drennan and Field are contributing to the suffering of the sex abuse survivors their collective inaction failed to protect. They are now failing them twice.
They are due to meet Archbishop Martin at the winter general meeting of the Bishops' Conference next week. If they haven't resigned by then, Archbishop Martin should seriously consider his own position before confidence in the Catholic church as a force for good evaporates completely. There is a general and reasonable expectation that church leaders should operate to a higher standard than politicians or bankers. It is time they led by example.