'Church covered up clerical sex abuse'

  • Joanne McCarthy

The Church had an "obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal", the Murphy commission into the Dublin Archdiocese’s management of cases of child sex abuse has said.

The commission's report provides a litany of disturbing evidence of a widespread conspiracy of silence and cover-up about hundreds of cases of child abuse perpetrated by clergy.

The report said that successive archbishops and bishops failed to report complaints to the gardaí prior to 1996. It found that all the archbishops of Dublin and many of the auxiliary bishops were aware of complaints.

According to the report, the Dublin Archdiocese was preoccupied by the “maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets”, at least until the mid-1990s.

The authors of the report say there was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused 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,” the report said.

It said there is no doubt that clerical child sex abuse was covered up by the Dublin Archdiocese and other church authorities.

The report said 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.

The report also criticises the gardaí, noting that ‘the connivance by the gardaí in effectively stifling one complaint and failing to investigate another is ... shocking’.

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

The report, which was published this afternoon, has found that the Archdiocese first made inquiries about insurance cover against compensation claims in the mid 1980s. Such cover was put in place in 1987. At that time, Archbishop Dermot Ryan and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid had had, between them, available information on complaints against at least 17 priests operating under the Dublin Archdiocese.

According to the report, 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 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.

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, the report said.

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, it said.

Some priests were also 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,” the commission said.

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’.

The report has concluded that all the archbishops and many of the auxiliary bishops in the period covered handled child sex abuse complaints badly. No case of child sexual abuse was reported to the gardaí throughout the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.

According to the report, “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.”

The report has asserted that the archbishops, bishops and other officials cannot claim they did not know that child sexual abuse was a crime.

The commission received information about complaints, suspicions or knowledge of child sex abuse in respect of 172 named priests and 11 unnamed clerics. It decided that 102 of these priests were within the remit of its inquiry.

The commisison looked in depth at a sample of 46 priests against whom allegations of abuse had been made by around 320 complainants. It found that in only 10 of these cases had the Archdiocese handled matters correctly.

Three of the complaints in respect of the priests dated back to the 1960s and the remainder of the complaints  wer made up to 2004.

Of those investigated by the commission, one priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another had abused on a fortnightly basis over a 25-year period.

Two particualr priests, it was found, had abused children during their visits to children's homes and also brought children on holidays and shared accommodation with two separate complainants.

These two priests sometimes attended swimming pools together and one of them was found to have abused children at the pools. One complainant reported that as a boy he had been abused successively by the two priests concerned.

In one particularly disturbing case, it was found that two priests abused child patients at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. One of them, in the early 1960s, took photos of the private parts of children. Both priests acted as chaplains at the hospital.

The then Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, who was chairman of the hospital, despite being informed about the photographs incident and interviewing the priest, did nothing about the case.

The report provides a detailed account of the actions of priests who abused children.

The commission has concluded that it is satisfied that there are effective structures and procedures currently in operation, and that all complaints of clerical child sexual abuse made to the Archdiocese and other Church authorities are now reported to the gardaí.

New guidelines were introduced in 2009 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

In relation to the handling of the Garda Síochána into abuse allegations, the commission said that prior to 2002, complaints into child sexual abuse were handled locally by the gardaí. Consequently, there was no co-ordinated approach taken by the gardaí in relation to the investigation of child sexual abuse by clerics.

“There is therefore considerable variation in the manner in which those investigations were undertaken and the results achieved,” the commission said.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has apologised for An Garda Siochána's failure to protect victims of clerical child sex abuse.

It also found that the HSE was not adopting a systematic approach to locating records requested in the course of its investigation.

For information on counselling for survivors of abuse, see here.

View reaction to the report here

The full Commission report is available here

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