'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


Alo - 26/11/2009 21:45

Will the top brass be got for hiding this lot of scum because this is what they are

Will it be just a few who will pay for the sins of the bigger fish? My hope is that the scum that were involved will be hunted down and may they burn in hell.

Jamie - 27/11/2009 10:37

The whole Catholic Church organisation is rotten. So many bishops knew what was happening, never mind other priests. Even still they employ the top lawyers to humiliate adults that were raped as children so they won't look for compensation. The pope constantly ignores questions about it, he just gives the odd statement. The pope should be in ireland now getting to the bottom of it. It's obvious all the church are interested in is money, and protecting themselves. How anyone can call themselves a catholic, and goes to church to listen to priests telling them how to live their lives is beyone me. Anyone that puts a cent into the collection basket should be ashamed of themselves.

lynda - 27/11/2009 21:14

 The devil has many faces an unfortunately has got into the Vatican . It's  unnatural for men to lead celibate lives . Using children for sexual gratisfaction is appalling  is it the way they get around the celebacy law , or do  many paedophiles become priests .

Halo Dublin - 27/11/2009 22:30

Well done to the victims who pushed so hard to be heard through the cover ups when they were children and then brick walls when they became adults.

I dont have any more respect for clerics that for anyone else, but I do believe in God and do my own thing.  This is a big shame on the church for the cover ups and the abusers, then the authorities who decided to ignore it was going on.

It was the government who made the Acts for the courts to send children to these places back in the hard times in Ireland. 

But, children need to be protected and in my experience there is still no guidelines enforced today.  HSE has given a number to ring after the publication of this report yesterday, but are they doing anything to prevent the child abuse today - no they are not, they are playing God over everyone lives.

This has been a big major achievement for the victims of the church, and that is a big struggle in Ireland.  But, unfortunitely social workers and HSE support is making it very hard for the children of today.  So really nothing has changed, except I must say the Gardai do their best now in the cause of children.

Peter 47 - 28/11/2009 00:42

There is no need for comment here !   We know what is going to happen next

Anyone who ever held any religeous principals, KNOWS, that those who are responsible, although they will probably evade prosecution, for the main part,,, there will be a few thrown to the wolves... will disappear quietly, and be forgotten.

There will certainly be compensation paid out in cash,,,  but what compensation for destroying childhood years,,, and in some cases suicide, who can pay for that ???

What we all know is that they cannot find forgivness,,, as Jesus said... suffer the little children to come onto me... not make the little children suffer.....

They will all  burn in hell  !!!

Peter  47

aine - 29/11/2009 19:37

The bishops and cardinals in the church should all be charged with depraved indifference.  They believed that the rampant sexual abuse of children in Ireland by priests and brothers would never be exposed.  They arrogantly kept on covering up in the knowledge that one day it might be forgotten.  We the people of Ireland will never forget.  The survivors of abuse have been betrayed not only by the church but also the Irish state including previous governments and the gardai. 

Anonymous - 30/11/2009 09:29

Every senior cleric be they bishop / archbishop or any other name they bestow on themselves who covered up these sick horrific vile acts is every bit as guilty as the evil perpertrator and NONE OF THEM should be above the law and should be publicly named and shamed.

Mary - 30/11/2009 15:24

When will the Minister for Foreign Affairs call in the diplomat from the Vatican and ask him for an explanation for the conduct of people here who pledge their allegiance to Rome. If he has none then he should be ordered back to the Vatican and asked not to come back until he can give some answers.

docg - 03/12/2009 17:07

I can well imagine that it would have been in such an atmosphere that the REFORMATION was seen as the only effective course of action.

Broken - 04/12/2009 19:31

Clerical sexual abuse is a heinous crime. In fact sexual abuse is the worst crime committed either to children or to vulnerable adults, the latter always left out of the equasion because it is felt that post 18yrs of age you have 'reason', to consent, to, er sex.  Well, a lot dont due to immaturity, disadvantage, and a myriad other reasons.

Yes, i was abused by a RC priest.  Yes, he was shipped to Ireland from another country and abused me when here and yes it appears he served a prison sentence in his last country.

No, the dublin dioscese lost my file as late as 2000, they went missing in the bowels of the archbishop's house.  I had to get a government body to insist on a search, they were found.

No, no reparation, nothing.

No i wasnt included in this commission's record of clerical abuse, there was a years cut off point.

No, i never could prosecute my abuser as no withnesses were present, and DPP citing 'insufficient evidence"  

It is very hard to actually get anything from the religious.

it is very very hard to get the police to actually investigate because it wasnt they who discovered that my abuser was in prison in another country and i found that out after my case was put to the DPP.

Now, remember, most abuse happens to people who know their abuser, and most happens in the family home.


dignity 09 - 04/12/2009 19:48

" It's  unnatural for men to lead celibate lives . Using children for sexual gratification is appalling" True but then it's not only priests. Michael Shine has been reported for abusing young men (sorry ! allegedly !)  in the late 1960's - and many many times since. The nuns, the doctors, the Guards and fellow workers at de Lourdes connived all along to protect this person.

It was the work of whistle-blower (British educated) Bernadette Sullivan alone who kept up the pressure, lost her job and had associates avoid her for years. That Still continues. We as a nation turn a blind eye to evil rather than take a stand and speak out. In that sense we're as a nation guilty.


Gerry - 05/12/2009 13:59

The Catholic Church in Ireland had so much Power over our state it proves my point that they were Powerfull Dictators and the most feared more so than the Mafia from Ireland to the top in the Vatican in Rome ,

Our Government done a deal with the Catholic Church to Limit the Pay out for Survivers/Victums of Sexual Abuse which affected there lives for ever more, What were the Government thinking when they Struck a deal about the amount of money the Church shoul pay out When we well know that the Vatican Bank is the Richest Bank in the World and it is they who should be paying out,

Take the Priests Nuns and so called Christian Brothers out of our Schools so as our children and Grand Children will be much safer from these Perverts, Who are sent from Parish to Parish and when things get too hot for them they are Shipped over to the UK and the Perverts in the UK are Shipped over here for Treatment Centres What a Joke as you can only treat a Person who has an illness and NOT a PERVERT Which was Proven in the United States Prison System and Guess what it failed ,

The Clergy in our schools can be replased by Lay persons to prepare our children for Religious teaching as at present our Local Priests are in and out of our schools Everyday of the week when there is no need, they should attend to the Church or what is left of it after all this scandel of Sexual Abuse also there should be no Alter Boys as we know them as it is Not Safe,

I also think that all the Top Clergy should Resign now and maybe the church can try to get people to trust them as if you do not remove a bad apple from a crate then the whole crate becomes rotten to the core just like the Church.

lilly - 06/12/2009 04:26

I was appalled to listen to Brian Cowan read out in the Dail last week, the official explaination issued by the Vatican as to why they could not respond to the requests made to them by the Commission.  It beggars belief that after all that has happend, the Leaders of The Catholic Chuch in Rome are so out of touch with reality that they are still prepared to  display their arrogance and hide   behind protocal in this case. . The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all moral authority .  Only for the courage of the Victims and their families to bring their suffering, out into the open, via the Media  these crimes and cover up by the Chuch Authorities and let us not forget the State, would still remain  hidden.      Only time will tell if this cultural will really change    

Waldo - 06/12/2009 19:29

Well I do not know what to say about the whole thing. Members of my family have gone through this humilation of sex abuse. We all as a family were in Golden Bridge and sheverstown near booterstown. When our mom was sick we did not have anyone to look after us as my dad died when we wear very young. The people in charge placed all 6 of us in these places. My brother and my sisters suffered this sex abuse. They have asked me to remember but I can't. I am having a very hard time with all this. My poor brother who now lives in Canada  with his wife and 2 children took a breakdown and went into depression. When he told me about what had happened I felt so bad as I was there. I am the eldest of my family and as a kid I thought I was looking after them... I dont know if I have blocked all of this out of my head but I just can not remember. 

buzz - 06/01/2010 16:52

How terrible, lives destroyed and still no justice. Though as a survivor myself I find it strange that one would  regret the fact that they cannot remember being abused. I would give anything to be able to wipe away my horrible memories. Then again perhaps there is closure to be gotten only from realising and facing down such memories.

I dont know. All I know is that for a long time and even now to a certain extent, I was so angry with people who went and spoke publicly about being abused because it stirred up MY memories of it. I used to think for Gods sake it happened get over it and keep your mouth shut and stop forcing other people to remember it happening to them too.

Broken - 06/01/2010 19:12

Hi i would like to respond here. People speak up about being abused for a lot of reasons.

One thing for sure, if it never came out, it would and will never stop happening, and more and more lives will be destroyed.

Tis hard, like you, to get no redress and to hear others speak out when your pain is so great and feel that it actually does not HELP you, but rest assured, it helps alot of people, for the future and thats about as much as speaking out can do.

Redress boards, money spilled in all directions towards victims cannot actually wipe away memories.

what it does do is hit the instituations where it hurts the most, in their pockets, none gave compensation freely, it was done with a tooth pulling reluctance.

but its this sort of thing that will help the chizlers of the future.

We do have to get on with it, and reminders are all around us not only with people speaking out.

sexy advertising, couples holding hands, knowing that others know love and you wouldnt know it if it hit you in the face like a wet fish. sure its all around you, stuff to remind you of personal loss and grief.

but you cannot stop the world from being the world, eg sex,loving couples and sexy advertising!!!

dignity 09 - 08/01/2010 11:39

Expose them I say. Yes it IS tough when others out raise "concerns" and eventually the dirt seeps out - but better that it does and the rot is cut out to allow new growth. Surgery isn't everybody's idea of fun but it gets rid of the cancerous growth, no?? Of course it causes hurt but better short sharp pain that heals than allowing a trusted (paedophile)priest/doctor to fester and spread pus and contermination. We wouldn't accept a doctor not scrubbing up between patients why should we allow one to violate the innocence of youth.

buzz - 08/01/2010 13:04

Yes there are reminders all around us, but the point I made was that for ME, MY reminder was other people talking about their experiences and yes I resented them. Forgive me for putting the needs of the rest of the world on hold while I try to sift through the deluge of MY broken childhood!

I never once said that people SHOULD NOT speak out, I was simply relaying how I felt. Indeed I often felt huge guilt for NOT speaking out, because I felt it put others in danger but why should I have to shoulder THAT burden as well as my own. Do you know when I first opened up to someone about my past, and expressed my unwillingness to "name and shame" as they say, that person actually told me that I had a duty - A DUTY! to tell all for the sake of others. Would you approach someone lying injured at the side of the path and tell them to move their crippled *rse because they posed a danger to others who might trip over them? One cannot demand that someone who has gone through the trauma of childhood sexual abuse put on their logic hat and act out of a desire for world peace and an end to suffering. Our OWN suffering has to end first.

We are no good to anyone broken.

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