‘We were never trained for celibacy’ – Dr Diarmuid Martin tells Joe Duffy he has met two women he could have imagined as his ‘life partner’

Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

September 2, 2023

By Sarah Mac Donald

The retired Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, has revealed that during his priestly ministry he met two people he could have imagined as “a life partner”, one of whom remains a friend and is in contact with him.

He said one of the women “lives a long way away” and she taught him how to use WhatsApp.

In the new series of The Meaning of Life, due to be broadcast on RTÉ One tomorrow evening, Dr Martin told Joe Duffy: “I would have met one, two people that I certainly could have become a life partner to.”

Discussing celibacy and priesthood, the 78-year-old said: “So you had to decide, what do you want to do with your life? Where do you want to go? Falling in love may happen but you don’t want to do it just to satisfy yourself.”

He explained that he was 17 when he joined Clonliffe Seminary in 1962 as the Second Vatican Council was about to begin, adding: “I was totally immature.”

Ordained in 1969 by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, he said he was ordained into a different Ireland, to a different church and to a different world.

“The idea of a priest being married or being in love would never be talked [about]. We were never trained for celibacy. You are cut out from the world,” Dr Martin said.

“Priests are not concrete blocks, they do have emotions. They do have a need for affection. It can be very lonely, and you can get very frustrated in that.”

The seminary in Clonliffe was “miserable”, “dreadful” and “seemed to be totally removed from reality”, he said.

While he did consider leaving, the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 got him interested in what was happening within the church.

He said he was also “fortunate” that while in the seminary he became involved “in an institution for people coming out of industrial schools and that brought me into another world”.

Dr Martin, who grew up in Ballyfermot, recounted how when he was archbishop, “I got into difficulties because I criticised Artane [Industrial School]. A delegation of Christian Brothers were sent to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“One of them came up with this punchline. He said, ‘You know, many of these children came from appalling backgrounds, places like Ballyfermot…’ He hadn’t done his homework.”

The archbishop, who “wanted to be a priest in Dublin” and “never was” after he was sent to Rome and ended up working as a Vatican diplomat, was asked about the church’s ban on contraception and specifically whether Pope John Paul II’s ban on condoms at the height of an Aids crisis was bad judgment, to which he replied it was “bad theology”.

“It’s this idea of an extraordinarily narrow, dogmatic understanding of bringing principles and not looking at the broad circumstances in which a situation is taking place, and the struggles that people have to face,” he said.

“It was one of the problems with the church in Ireland. We learned the rules before we learned who Jesus Christ was.”

Elsewhere, he told Duffy: “The church has got so caught up in the dogmatics – absolute rights and wrongs – that it has lost the context. If the church appears only as a rule book, then they have lost Christianity. That isn’t what Christianity is about.”

Speaking about the challenges of dealing with the clerical child sexual abuse crisis in Dublin when he became archbishop in 2004, he said: “There were a lot of priests who were very angry with me because I began talking about this subject. It was only later on that many of them realised we did have a very serious problem with these habitual paedophiles.”

He handed over 80,000 documents to the Murphy Commission, many of which he had read. He began to meet with victims and his overarching emotion was anger over how they had been treated. “I was angry at what happened to those poor kids,” he said.

Asked if he ever confronted any of the abuser priests, he recalled their denials and reluctance to admit their abuse even as he outlined the evidence, saying: “Some of them were very devious. Very few would show real remorse.

“Some certainly would have abused over a hundred children. Obviously, they were sick men and criminals.

“They manipulated the bishop; they manipulated the families [and] they manipulated the children.”

He said he had asked gardaí to investigate if there had been a paedophile sex ring in Dublin, but they concluded there was not. “What there was: you had maybe a priest, and he maybe even got a fellow into the seminary, who then became an abuser. It was an intergenerational thing,” he said.

Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, one of his predecessors, had carried out canonical trials against priest abusers at an early stage. However, after the Second Vatican Council, people said that canon law should not be punitive, so abusers were given another chance.

“They did exactly the wrong thing with sexual abusers who were habitual sexual abusers,” Dr Martin said. “The only way to deal with that is to say stop.”