The Mail on Sunday

Archbishop is forced to say sorry for Irish church blunder

- By Jonathan Petre

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury was forced to apologise last night for declaring that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had lost ‘all credibilit­y’ over the child abuse scandal.

The comments by Dr Rowan Williams provoked a furious backlash from Irish church leaders, who said they were ‘undeserved’ and ‘profoundly dishearten­ing’.

His remarks also threatened to undermine relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches in the run-up to the Pope’s visit to Britain in the autumn.

Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week, to be broadcast tomorrow, that recent revelation­s about clerical child abuse had been a ‘colossal trauma’ for the Catholic Church, particular­ly in Ireland.

In his first comments on the crisis gripping the Vatican, he said: ‘I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who said it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.

‘And an institutio­n so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibilit­y --that’s not just a problem for the Church, but for everybody in Ireland.’

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was stunned by Dr Williams’s ‘unequivoca­l and unqualifie­d’ words.

‘As Archbishop of Dublin, I have been more than forthright in addressing the failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland. I still shudder when I think of the harm that was caused to abused children. I recognise that their Church failed them.

‘But I also journey with those -especially parents and priests -who work day by day to renew the Catholic Church in this diocese, and who are committed to staying with their Church and passing on the faith in wearying times.

‘Dr Williams’s comments will be for them immensely dishearten­ing and will challenge their faith even further. But speaking frankly, I have to say that in all my years as Archbishop of Dublin in difficult times, I have rarely felt personally so discourage­d as when I heard Archbishop Williams’s comments.’

Last night Dr Williams telephoned Archbishop Martin to express his ‘deep sorrow and regret’ for the ‘difficulti­es’ his remarks may have created.

The Diocese of Dublin said in a statement that Dr Williams had ‘affirmed that nothing could have been further from his intention than to offend or criticise the Irish Church’.

Lambeth Palace added: ‘The Archbishop had no intention of criticisin­g or offending the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. The Church in Ireland continues to work tirelessly to deal with the scandal of abuse.’

And a Vatican source said: ‘The comments have been noted but there will be no tit-for-tat at Easter.’

The Catholic Church in Ireland has been deeply shaken by revelation­s that paedophile priests got away with decades of horrific child sex abuse.

Pressure mounted this month on its leader, the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, after he admitted being at a meeting where children abused by notorious convicted sex offender Fr Brendan Smyth were forced to take a vow of silence.

The abuse scandal has also engulfed Pope Benedict, who faced claims that he failed to investigat­e properly a serial abuser in a children’s home for the deaf in the American state of Wisconsin in the late Nineties.

The Church’s handling of abuse is likely to become a major issue during the Pope’s four-day visit to Britain in September, and Dr Williams’s comments will do nothing to dispel the controvers­y.

Speaking about the visit on the same programme, Dr Williams said it was important for the Pope to be given the chance to speak in Britain as a valued partner, but that was ‘about it’.

He also predicted that few disaffecte­d Anglicans would take up Pope Benedict’s offer of conversion to Rome.

On Friday, the Pope’s personal preacher likened criticism of the Catholic Church over the sex abuse scandal to ‘collective violence’ suffered by the Jews.

 ??  ?? ROW: The Archbishop of Canterbury with Pope Benedict
ROW: The Archbishop of Canterbury with Pope Benedict
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