Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bishop of Limerick resigns

I expected to write something harsh; something bitter. But for better or worse, that's not how today was. This piece is from tonight's Leader city edition:

After his speech, the Bishop turned and lit three candles on an advent wreath to remember the pain of the children who suffered. When it was done, he lowered the lit taper and glanced into the flame. At that moment, the world seemed to stop and a second lasted an eternity. Then, he cradled his left hand behind the flame and blew it out.

It was finished.

Dr Donal Murray had said from the beginning of this controversy that he would find his judgement here, before his congregation. On a Thursday morning, as the winter air pinched noses and numbed fingers, he found his shelter.

Outside St John’s Cathedral, as the cameras and the microphones gathered, the words were harsh. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” says an old red face under a green flat cap, his Munster jacket zipped up to the last and his words whistling out through the gaps in his teeth. “They were all covering it up.”

Outside, there has been so much recrimination and fury about the Bishop of Limerick and his failure to pursue paedophile priests during his time as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Dublin Archdiocese. But inside, there were the soft keys of a harpsichord, the thatched roof of a nativity crib and the warm hearts of his flock.

In here, he found his shelter.

It was just after eleven when the Bishop stepped out of the sacristy, a phalanx of priests with dark overcoats and clasped hands around him. He delivered his resignation speech in a deep, thoughtful voice, the kind that shapes the last word of every sentence as if it were the end of a prayer.

“We are people who believe that God’s mercy and God’s healing are without limit,” he said, at the exact moment when the tower overhead began to strike out. The last words of his speech, his last words as Bishop, weaved through the air with the chimes of the bronze bells.

Once he had lit the candles, Dr Murray stepped back and bowed his head. Before an hour of prayer and music began, he walked away from the marble altar and sat amongst the rows of people who had come to listen. In his eyes, and maybe in theirs too, he was now just a member of a congregation again.

Outside, the cameras and microphones loiter and pounce on everyone who walks out. Around the corner, Phonsie Clifford from Garryowen glances at the bustle. He’s nearly 80, but he still remembers having to go and pray with the Holy Fathers at 6.30am everyday before work. “You had to do it,” he says. “They were different times.”

In his eyes, the Bishop had to go. “The thing here is the people who are still suffering. Lads have done away with themselves and everything over this, and the ones who are alive are going through awful pain. It’s a shame.” Later on, he’ll go out to St Camillus’ to collect his wife, who is in full-time care, and bring her back to John’s for an injection in her knee. “She has terrible pain. Age, I suppose.”

At the foot of the Cathedral wall, an electrician installing new lights kneels and digs through a web of cables spewing out of the ground. For a second he stops, rests his back against the deep stone and waits. Then he leans forward and starts digging again.

Knees, lights. Things change, but life carries on. But inside, the hymns disappear into the silver and glass and chestnut timber of the Bishop’s church. The lights are dimmed.

In here, he found his shelter.

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