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Theological Notebook: Irish Abuse Article, Intra-Islamic Debate

Report Covers Decades of Abuse in Ireland
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Mar 8, 2:56 PM (ET)

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) - The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, rocked for a decade by sex scandals, on Wednesday made its biggest admission yet: 102 of its Dublin priests past and present, or 3.6 percent of the total, are suspected of abusing children.

The disclosure comes a week before the government convenes a probe into how church and state authorities conspired, by negligence and design, to cover up decades of child abuse within the Dublin priesthood.

"It's very frightening for me to see that in some of these cases, so many children were abused. It's very hard to weigh that up against anything," said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a Vatican diplomat assigned to Dublin in 2003 to address the problem in Ireland's largest Catholic congregation.

Since his appointment, the archdiocese - home to more than 1 million Catholics - has been going over the personnel records of more than 2,800 priests who have worked in Dublin since 1940.

The conclusion: 102 are suspected of abusing children, 32 have been sued, and eight have been convicted of criminal offenses.

The archdiocese already has paid $7 million, including $2 million in both sides' legal bills. Martin says the archdiocese probably must begin selling property to meet looming bills for 40 unresolved lawsuits and potential claims from hundreds more.

The government probe, expected to run for at least 18 months, follows a similar inquiry into clerical abuse in the southeast diocese of Ferns. When the earlier report was published in October, it exposed a catalog of abuse, including a priest who molested a group of First Communion girls on the altar but was never punished.

While the church has been on the legal and moral defensive in the United States in recent years, the sense of uproar and disillusionment has been more profound in Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country that once exported priests worldwide. Here, church and state were intertwined until the 1970s - a breakup being accelerated by the abuse fallout.

The first major scandal, in 1994, involved the government's failure to extradite a notorious pedophile priest to the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland. The government of the day collapsed over it.

In 2001, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern apologized for state agencies' role in prolonging children's suffering and injustice and established a compensation-paying panel that exposed the taxpayer, rather than the church, to most of the bill for victims abused in orphanages, workhouses and other Catholic-run institutions.

The Residential Institutions Redress Board is expected, when the last of its 12,000 abuse claims is processed, to pay out about $1.2 billion to more than 11,000 claimants.

But Ireland's 26 dioceses and archdioceses must face the bills for abuse claims against parish priests. So far, Martin is the only archbishop to address the scandal so directly, establishing a Child Protection Service at a cost so far of $3 million and publishing reports on the number of cases identified.

Wednesday's report said Dublin church officials had positively identified at least 350 abuse victims and "a possible further 40 persons who may have been abused but who it is not yet possible to identify or trace."

Colm O'Gorman, who runs a support group for Irish abuse victims called One in Four - a reference to the idea that about 25 percent of Irish people suffered sexual abuse as a child - praised Martin's approach as courageous, but also wise given that his turf is about to be investigated in searing detail.

"Diarmuid Martin sticks out like sore thumb, not just in Ireland but internationally. I've never seen this open, transparent approach in any other diocese in the world," said O'Gorman, who as an altar boy was abused by a Ferns priest who committed suicide in 1999.

"Prior to Archbishop Martin's investiture, the leadership was suggesting they didn't really understand the nature of the problem," he said. "We're not hearing that kind of nonsense anymore."

But O'Gorman predicted that many more wrongs would be exposed by the coming government-commissioned probe. He noted that before the Ferns investigation began, he had expected it to identify eight to 10 priests as abusers; instead, the report identified 26, more than 10 percent of the area's priests.

Martin discussed the latest findings in private over the past few weeks with groups of Dublin priests. "I know that the vast majority of priests don't abuse, that they do good work, that they're extremely upset and offended by what's happened," he said.



Egyptian Clerics Feud Over Islam's Aproach
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Mar 8, 1:57 PM (ET)

By NADIA ABOU EL-MAGD

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - It's not just East and West that are divided over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Two of the most popular Muslim preachers on Arab television are feuding over whether dialogue or protest is the best approach in the clash of civilizations.

In the pro-dialogue corner is Amr Khaled, who has become wildly popular among young Muslims and women for his youthful style and his sermons applying Islam to day-to-day modern life.

The 38-year-old Khaled is heading to Denmark - where the drawings were first published - for a conference Friday during which Christian and Muslim religious leaders will discuss the fallout of the prophet cartoons.

But for Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi - a 79-year-old cleric who hosts a weekly show on the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera - the trip to Copenhagen looks like a surrender.

"Dialogue about what?" el-Qaradawi asked on Al-Jazeera. "You have to have a common ground to have a dialogue with your enemy. But after insulting what is sacred to me, they should apologize."

The split between the tele-clerics has touched a wider debate over how to deal with the West and promote the Islamic world's interests.

The cartoons - first published last September then reprinted in European papers in January and February - sparked protests around the Muslim world. Some turned violent, with protesters killed in Libya and Afghanistan.

The drawings were seen as an insult to Muhammad, depicting him as violent and primitive. Sunni Muslim tradition bans any image of the prophet, since depicting him risks insulting him or encouraging idolatry.

The protests have largely subsided amid calls by Islamic and Western leaders for a stop to violence. But bitterness remains on both sides: Some Muslims feel the West intentionally sought to insult Islam's most revered figure, while some in the West see Muslims as violently seeking to stifle free speech.

Last month, Khaled and a conference of some 40 Islamic scholars said the time for protests had passed and urged discussion instead.

"The deep-rooted solution of this problem is through dialogue to reach an understanding and coexistence between the nations," Khaled said.

For Khaled, a 38-year-old Egyptian, the controversy is an opportunity to engage with the West rather than hold onto old grievances many Muslims feel toward Europe and the United States.

"We have to lay a future base to build our own renaissance," Khaled told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from London.

"There are two schools of thought. One is that all of our actions should be reaction to what happened to us in the past 20 years, which is a lot. The other school wants the Islamic community to take the initiative to plan for the coming 20 years," he said Wednesday.

Khaled has emerged as the most prominent of a new generation of Islamic leaders - distinct with his designer suits and trim mustache, rather than the beard and robes worn by traditional clerics, such as el-Qaradawi.

Khaled began preaching almost 10 years ago in social clubs and gatherings in private homes in Egypt. He drew enthusiastic young followers from the middle and upper middle class with his moderate advice and modern style.

He has a weekly program on the Saudi religious channel Iqraa in which he avoids political issues, telling stories about the life of Muhammad and God's mercy instead of punishment.

His lack of formal religious training has brought him criticism from traditional clerics. He studied accounting, though he is now pursuing Islamic studies in London.

El-Qaradawi - also Egyptian - is a hard-liner who often weighs in on politics. He has sparked controversy by condoning attacks on American civilians in Iraq and issuing a religious edict allowing kidnappings in Iraq, though forbidding the killing of hostages.

El-Qaradawi's supporters accuse Khaled of giving up before the West makes concessions over the cartoons.

"The Muslims' uprising hasn't born fruit yet, and the West wants us to get out of it without any gains," Egyptian columnist Selim Azouz wrote Wednesday in the Qatari daily Al-Raya.

Fahmi Howeidy, an Egyptian who writes in the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, said Khaled was weakening the Islamic world's hand by going to Denmark.

"Who should be approaching whom?" he said. "The newspaper should approach the victim, or vice versa?"
Tags: catholicism, ireland, islam, legal, political, theological notebook
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