LONDON – The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility because of its mishandling of abuse by priests, the leader of the Anglican church said in remarks released Saturday. A leading Catholic archbishop said he was “stunned” by the comments.
The remarks released Saturday marked the first time Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has spoken publicly on the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church. The comments come ahead of a planned visit to England and Scotland by Pope Benedict XVI later this year.
“I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now,” Williams told the BBC. “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, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland, I think.”
The interview with Williams, recorded March 26, is to be aired Monday on the BBC’s “Start the Week” program as part of a general discussion of religion to mark Easter. But its publication ahead of the interview caught Catholic leaders off guard.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he had “rarely felt personally so discouraged” as when he heard Williams’ opinions.
“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 recognize that their church failed them,” a statement, posted on the archdiocese’s Web site, said. “Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend and do not deserve it.”
Martin later said that Williams had called him to express regret for the “difficulties which may have been created” by the interview, but it wasn’t clear if that constituted an apology or whether Williams still stood by his remarks.