Archbishops McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Cardinal Connell

We have already heard much about the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse in Church run institutions, the oppression of women in Magdalen laundreys, and the physical brutality with which many “Christian Brothers” and priests carried out their “educational” role. Now a Commission of Enquiry has listed the abuses perpetrated by the Church Hierarchy in covering up such abuses in only one Diocese, the Diocese of Dublin.

Commission finds Church covered up child sex abuse – Thu, Nov 26, 2009

The Commission of Investigation into Dublin’s Catholic Archdiocese has concluded that there is “no doubt” that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the archdiocese and other Church authorities.

The commission’s report covers the period between January 1st 1975 and April 30th 2004. It said there cover-ups took place over much of this period.

In its report, published this afternoon, it has also found that “the structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up.”

It also found that “the State authorities facilitated the cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes.”

Over the period within its remit “the welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages,” it said.

“Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests,” it said.

In making its main findings, the report it concluded that “it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity is ever allowed to occur again. This can be ensured only if all institutions are open to scrutiny and not accorded an exempted status by any organs of the State.”

Commission finds Church covered up child sex abuse – The Irish Times – Thu, Nov 26, 2009

The commission investigated allegations made against a sample of 46 priests, out of a total of 102 relevant to the period, and against whom 320 complaints had been made.

Where individual Archbishops of Dublin were concerned it found that Archbishop John Charles McQuaid – who held office from 1940 to 1972 – did not apply canon law where such allegations were concerned, though he was familiar with its requirements.

His dealings with Fr Edmondus in 1960 “were aimed at the avoidance of scandal and showed no concern for the welfare of children.”

Archbishop Dermot Ryan – who held office from 1972 to 1984 – “failed to properly investigate complaints” against any of the six priests dealt with by the Commission from his period in office. “He also ignored the advice given by a psychiatrist in the case of another priest (Fr Henry Moore) that he had placed in a parish setting.” It found that Fr Moore was subsequently convicted of a serious assault on a young teenager while working as a parish curate.

Archbishop Ryan also seemed to have adopted “a deliberate policy” to ensure that knowledge of problems involving accused priests “was as restricted as possible.” This resulted “in a disastrous lack of co-ordination in responding to problems.”

Archbishop Kevin McNamara – who held office from 1984 to 1987 – restored to ministry a priest, Fr Bill Carney, despite his having pleaded guilty to charges of child sex abuse in 1983 and despite suspicions about him where “numerous” other children were concerned. Fr Carney has since been laicized.

Archbishop McNamara also appointed Fr Ivan Payne, also since laicized, as Vice-Officialis of the Marriage Tribunal in Dublin even though Archbishop Ryan had previously refused to do so.

It was Archbishop McNamara who was first to take out insurance against possible claims for child abuse. He did so in March 1987 and all Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland followed suit, excepting one.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, who held office as Archbishop from 1988 to April 2004, “was slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation” on assuming office. He was “over-reliant” on the advice of other people. While “clearly appalled by the abuse” it took him some time “to realize that it could not be dealt with by keeping it secret and protecting priests from normal civil processes.”

He showed “little understanding of the overall plight of victims” some of whom found him “remote and aloof” and some “sympathetic and kind.” However, and “on the other hand he did take an active interest in their civil litigation against the Archdiocese and personally approved the defences which were filed by the Archdiocese.”

Liability for injury and damage “was never admitted.” His strategies in civil cases, “while legally acceptable, often added to the hurt and grief of complainants.”

Where auxiliary bishops of Dublin over the period were concerned, the commission found that those who “dealt particularly badly with complaints” were Bishop Dermot O’Mahony (retired) and Bishop James Kavanagh (deceased). It found  Bishop Donal Murray (currently Bishop of Limerick ) “also dealt badly with a number of complaints.”

Bishop Murray’s failure to reinvestigate earlier suspicions against Fr Thomas Naughton “was inexcusable.”

It also said the recently retired Bishop of Ossory, Dr Laurence Forristal, “was the only bishop to unequivocally admit in evidence to the commision that he may not have handled matters satisfactorily.”

It found that “there was a disturbing failure to accept responsibility on the part of the bishops who gave evidence. There was a tendency to blame the Archbishop and/or the chancellor” of the archdiocese.

Where priests of the archdiocese were concerned some were aware that particular instances of abuse had occurred, the commission found. “A few were courageous and brought complaints to the attention of their superiors.” However, it concluded that “the vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye.”

The commission found that “there were a number of inappropriate contacts between the gardaí and the Archdiocese.”  It cited the example of  Garda Commissioner Costigan who handed over the case of Fr Edmondus to Archbishop McQuaid for investigation in 1960 This was “totally inappropriate”, it said.

“The relationship between some senior gardaí and some priests and bishops was also inappropriate,” it said. “A number of very senior members of the gardaí, including the Commissioner in 1960, clearly regarded priests as outside their remit. There are some examples of gardaí actually reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them.”

The report added, however, that “it is fortunate that some junior members of the force did not take the same view.” The commission was “impressed” with those gardaí involved in the prosecution of Fr Carney in the early 1980s. It “was not impressed” by the 20-year delay in reaching a decision to bring charges against a priest referred to only as Fr X.

Where the health authorities were concerned, it found they had “a very minor role in dealing with child sexual abuse by non family members.” It expressed concern that legislation covering the role of the HSE “is inadequate even for that limited role.”


Archbishop John Charles McQuaid

Church used ‘don’t tell’ approach – The Irish Times – Thu, Nov 26, 2009

The pre-occupations of the Dublin Archdiocese in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the “maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets”, the Murphy commission has said.

It says the American phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell” was appropriate to describe the attitude of the Dublin Archdiocese to clerical sex abuse for most of the period covered by the report.

There was an “obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal” and successive Archbishops and bishops failed to report complaints to the gardai prior to 1996.

Main findings: 

– The archdiocese first made inquiries about insurance cover against compensation claims in the mid 1980s and such cover was put in place in 1987.

– The commission said it “did not accept” as true the church’s repeated claims to have been on “a learning curve” in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse.

– In 1981, Archbishop Dermot Ryan “showed a clear understanding of both the recidivist nature of child sexual abusers and the effects of such abuse on children” when he referred a priest to a therapeutic facility in Stroud, in the UK.

– “All the Archbishops of Dublin in the period covered by the Commission were aware of some complaints. This is true of many of the auxiliary bishops also. At the time the Archdiocese took out insurance in 1987, Archbishop Dermot Ryan and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid had had, between them, available information on complaints against at least 17 priests operating under the aegis of the Dublin Archdiocese. The taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the Archdiocese and is inconsistent with the view that Archdiocesan officals were still on a `learning curve’ at a much later date, or were lacking in an appreciation of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse.”

– Many of the auxiliary bishops also knew of the fact of abuse as did officials, including Monsignor Gerard Sheehy and Monsignor Alex Stenson who worked in the Chancellery. Bishop James Kavanagh, Bishop Dermot O’Mahony, Bishop Laurence Forristal, Bishop Donal Murray and Bishop Brendan Comiskey were aware for many years of complaints and/or suspicions of clerical child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese. Religious orders were also aware.

– The commission said it found claims of ignorance on the part of the church authorities and the religious orders who were dealing with complaints “very difficult to accept” as they were all “very well educated people”.

– “Child sexual abuse did not start in the 20th century. Since time immemorial it has been a `delict’ under canon law, a sin in ordinary religious terms, and a crime in the law of the State. Ignorance of the law is not a defence under the law of the State. It is difficult for the commission to accept that ignorance of either the canon law or the civil law can be a defence for officials of the church”.

– Some priests were aware that particular instances of abuse had occurred. “A few were courageous and brought complaints to the attention of their superiors. The vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye.”

– “There is no doubt that the reaction of the Church authorities to reports of clerical child sexual abuse in the early years of the commission’s remit was to ensure that as few people as possible knew of the individual priest’s problem. “There was little or no concern for the welfare of the abuse child or for the welfare of other children who might come into contact with the priest. Complainants were often met with denial, arrogance and cover-up and with incompetence and incomprehension in some cases. Suspicions were rarely acted on.”

– All the Archbishops and many of the auxiliary bishops in the period covered…handled child sex abuse complaints badly.

  1. During the period under review, from 1975, there were four Archbishops – Archbishops McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Connell. “Not one of them reported his knowledge of child sexual abuse to the gardaí throughout the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. It was not until November 1995 that Archbishop Connell allowed the names of 17 priests about whom the Archdiocese had received complaints to be given to the gardaí. This figure was not complete. At that time, there was knowledge within the Archdiocese of at least 28 priests against whom there had been complaints.”
  2. “The Archbishops, bishops and other officials cannot claim that they did not know that child sexual abuse was a crime. As citizens of the State, they have the same obligations as all other citizens to uphold the law and report serious crimes to the authorities.”

As far as the present is concerned…

Church used ‘don’t tell’ approach – The Irish Times – Thu, Nov 26, 2009

– Commission is satisfied there are effective structures and procedures currently in operation.

– “The commission is satisfied that all complaints of clerical child sexual abuse made to the Archdiocese and other Church authorities are now reported to the gardaí.”

– Current Archbishop [Dr Diarmuid Martin] and the Director of the Child Protection Service are “clearly committed and effective” but “institutional structures need to be sufficiently embedded to ensure that they survive uncommitted or ineffective personnel”.

Arcbishop Diarmuid Martin has indeed tried to put clear blue water between himself and his predecessors – so much so that his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Connell threatened to take him to court in order to protect “his good name”. There will always be paedophilia in society.  But this report implicates the highest authorities in the Church in a systematic cover up.

Of course there has been no fundamental review of Church theology and Canon Law.  Celibacy, the suppression of sexuality generally, authoritarianism and vilification of all who questioned Church Authority was par for the course.  

However that same repression of sexuality, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and institutional indifference to the suffering it causes is still in evidence at the highest levels of the Church today.  Individual criminals may be reported.  The Church itself has not been reformed – as the attitude of the Vatican can testify:

Vatican ‘ignored’ commission letters – The Irish Times – Thu, Nov 26, 2009

Letters sent by the Commission of Investigation to the Vatican and to the papal nuncio in Ireland seeking information were ignored, the report has disclosed.

The commission wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, of which Pope Benedict had been head until April 2005, in September 2006.

It was asking for information on the document `Crimen Solicitationis’, which dealt with clerical sex abuse, as well as information on reports of clerical child sexual abuse conveyed to it by the Dublin archdiocese over the relevant period.

The Vatican did not reply. Instead it contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs stating that the commission had not gone through appropriate diplomatic channels.

The commission said that as a body independent of Government, it did not consider it appropriate for it to use diplomatic channels.

In February 2007, the commission wrote to the papal nuncio in Dublin asking that he forward to it all documents in his possession which might be relevant to it and which had not been or were not produced by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. It also requested that he confirm it if he had no such documents. The papal nuncio did not reply.

Earlier this year, the commission again wrote to the papal nuncio enclosing extracts from its draft report which referred to him and his office, as it was required to do. Again, there was no reply

I have drafted the following Letter to the Editors of Irish papers:


“Reports that the Vatican and Apostolic Nuncio hid behind their diplomatic status and refused to cooperate with the Commission of Investigation into the Church cover-up of child sexual abuse highlight the anomalous situation of granting the Vatican Sovereign status in the first place.  

Friendly states do not interfere wholesale in the internal affairs of other states and accept no responsibility for the consequences.  The Irish bishops acted under the supervision of the Vatican, in what they saw as the best interests of the Roman Catholic Church,  in line with Church practice elsewhere, and almost totally disregarded the welfare of the children and laws of this state.

Much of the information relating to these cover-ups rests in the archives of the Vatican which have never been made available to this State in pursuance of the rule of law or the various Commissions of Enquiry aimed at reducing victim trauma and providing some level of restitution.

Is it not time that the Government recalled its ambassador to the Holy See “for consultations”, and, in the absence of a  more cooperative stance from the Vatican, withdraw our ambassador and diplomatic recognition altogether?  The Irish Constitution ceased to give recognition to “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church” in 1973, and it is time our diplomatic service did likewise. “

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