Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bishop of Clogher did not report abuse to Gardai

The Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, was involved in an internal Church investigation into allegations of clerical sexual abuse, during which children and parents were made to sign oaths of non-disclosure.

Duffy told The Sunday Business Post that, to his ‘‘regret’’, he did not pass on the abuse claims to police when he first became aware of the allegations in 1989.

In a brief statement, Duffy also confirmed that he had been party to at least one civil settlement involving a claim made against the diocese, in which a non-disclosure agreement was signed between the diocese and claimant.

Duffy’s admission that he did not report abuse allegations to the Gardai follows the revelation that Cardinal Sean Brady, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, took part in a similar process in 1975, during which children who were abused were asked to sign an oath of confidentiality.

Duffy said that he was bound to secrecy by the victim’s parents at the time of the offence, but that he would ‘‘not now be restricted by such a condition’’.

The abuse allegation centred on John McCabe, a now defrocked cleric, who worked as a teacher in Clogher diocese, which covers Monaghan, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

In 1996, a court in the North convicted McCabe of abusing a boy between 1979 and 1985.

At the time of McCabe’s conviction, the court had heard that Duffy was aware of the allegation against McCabe in 1989.

However, he told this newspaper that he did not inform police at the time.

He said that all known records were now shared with the civil authorities.

The Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty, last week confirmed that he was party to a similar non-disclosure agreement as part of an out-of-court settlement with a woman who was suing the diocese in relation to abuse by a former priest.

Hegarty said that this element had been proposed by a third party and not by the diocese.

A senior clerical source said it was likely that several more Catholic clergy would emerge as having been party to abuse investigations in which secrecy was imposed on witnesses, including children.

‘‘This appears now to have been common practice,’ ’the source said. In response to the child abuse crisis, Pope Benedict is to send Apostolic visitors to examine a number of dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations in Ireland.The Pope will nominate one or more senior officials, probably from outside Ireland, to carry out the investigation. A similar visitation of women’s religious orders in the United States, announced last year, led to claims of a ‘‘doctrinal inquisition’’.

Senior officials will make personal visits to those dioceses which have been most involved in the clerical sexual abuse controversy, to the national seminary at Maynooth and to the headquarters of religious orders whose members have been most involved in the abuse of children.

In a pastoral letter to be read at Masses this weekend, Pope Benedict apologises for the ‘‘sinful and criminal acts’’ of some clergy, ‘‘and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them’’.

He said priests who had abused children must answer ‘‘before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals’’.

He accused some bishops of failing, ‘‘at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse’’, and he urged them to ‘‘continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence’’.

Cardinal Brady said the Catholic Church had openly expressed its shame and remorse through the letter, and that he was grateful for the Pope’s ‘‘kindness and concern’’ on the matter.

‘‘It is evident from the pastoral letter that Pope Benedict is deeply dismayed by what he refers to as ‘sinful and criminal acts’ and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them," he told a congregation in Armagh yesterday.

The revelation that there are now three Catholic bishops implicated in concealing details of clerical child sexual abuse is likely to add to pressure for an all-island review of how abuse claims were handled in the country’s 25 Catholic dioceses.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin last week said that a national audit of the handling of abuse claims may be necessary.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, said that he was waiting for a national report from the Health Service Executive (HSE) setting out the findings of a national audit of each diocese.

‘‘The audit is designed to establish whether all cases of child abuse known to the church authorities have been communicated to the statutory authorities," the spokeswoman said.

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