Martin: serious blow

The Vatican has refused to say if the resignations of two Dublin auxiliary bishops named in the Murphy report on clerical sex abuse have been accepted or rejected by the pope, in a move likely to put pressure on their immediate superior, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Despite the fact that Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field announced last Christmas Eve that they were offering their resignations to Pope Benedict, the Holy See's press office said it would not be commenting when asked about this last week.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi declined to specify when the resignations were actually submitted to the pope, or to say whether they have now lapsed given that it has been six months since the men announced their intention to resign.

Under canon law, a resignation that requires acceptance has no force unless it is accepted "within three months", although it is understood Pope Benedict has the right to overrule this.

The continued failure by the Vatican to reveal the situation in relation to both bishops will be interpreted in some quarters as a serious blow to Martin, who played a central role in their decision to resign.

A spokeswoman for Martin confirmed that the men remain as auxiliary bishops pending a decision on their resignations. In the absence of a decision by Pope Benedict, this means Martin is forced to work with two men whom he has failed to support publicly since the Murphy report.

"The matter has been examined by all those involved and until a final decision is communicated, the archdiocese will not make any comment. Archbishop Martin will accept and fully respect any decision made by the Holy See on this matter," the spokeswoman said.

When the report was released, Martin publicly challenged those bishops it named to explain themselves, while claiming it was not his job to tell people to resign.

Walsh, who had previously said it would be an "injustice" if he had to resign, circulated a letter last December saying Martin had expressed full confidence in his auxiliary bishops at a meeting with clergy of the archdiocese that month.

But Martin responded with a "clarification" that, while he had confidence in their ministry, he was still evaluating their positions regarding the manner in which they addressed accountability for the implications of the Murphy report. Shortly afterwards, both men tendered their resignations.