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Restorative Justice Conference Examines Abuse Crisis
John Feister
Published: Thursday, April 7, 2011
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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, speaks at Marquette University's law school.
Marquette University Law School, earlier this week, sponsored an unusual gathering of people touched by the crisis of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The conference was the brainchild of Marquette's Restorative Justice Initiative, led by Justice Janine Geske, formerly of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Gathered in one room for two days were 150 people from across the U.S. and from Ireland and Australia: priests, concerned laypeople, abuse survivors, bishops, community advocates, mental-health practitioners and others. The focus of the event was restorative justice, the concept of seeking wholeness over punishment in any number of criminal situations.

On the long list of presenters was Diarmuid Martin, who is Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Ireland. Martin, a native of Dublin, had served most of his career at the Vatican. In 1976 he was appointed to the Pontifical Council for the family. Ten years later he was named under secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and secretary of the agency in 1994. In 2001 he was named Permanent Observer of the Holy See in Geneva at the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

It was Martin who personally handed over 70,000 documents regarding clergy sexual abuse to the Irish government. The result has been a day of reckoning for the Church in Ireland. Needless to say, this former Vatican official, who spent most of his career outside Ireland, is not the most popular among the hierarchy there. His work with the United Nations refugee camps, where child-sexual-abuse was a problem, informed his approach.

Archbishop Martin gave a moving, 45-minute talk on telling the truth. It sounds basic enough, especially coming from a priest of the Catholic Church. But we all know that many—if not most—of the bishops of our Church, for lots of reasons, have been less than forthcoming with the truth. This bishop from Ireland told his personal story: how he wasn't sent to Ireland to "clean up" the local Church. In fact, he said, he was not briefed or prepared for what he walked into. But he acted boldly when he realized the scope of the problem.

He pleaded in Milwaukee for common sense, and set aside the tired excuses so many of us have heard from the clergy. "My mother taught me as a child that, when a strange man offers you a sweet, get away from him," he said. "What is so difficult about that" In short, he said, many priests knew enough to be suspicious of child-abusing-priests they either knew, or even were living with, yet no one took action to stop them.

"The truth will set you free," he said, quoting Jesus. "Half-truths will not set you free," he added. You can read the text of his talk at the Archdiocese of Dublin Web site. Learn more about the Marquette conference here.

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