Monday, November 30, 2009

Abuse report ‘beyond belief’

The former head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said the report of the Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese is ‘‘almost beyond belief’’.

Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh from 1990 until his retirement in October 1996, told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘I am deeply, deeply saddened by it all. It is a very, very difficult time for the Church and it will pain a great number of people - particularly the victims, who are our first concern. But then there is the much wider hurt of Catholics who are distressed by the whole matter, which is almost beyond belief."

Daly would not discuss the issue of any bishop’s resignation, but Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told Vatican Radio that bishops would ‘‘admit their responsibilities’’.

Asked whether Church leaders should take responsibility in a more open way, Martin said he thought that ‘‘people will admit their responsibilities where they took place’’.

‘‘Many of these abusers were at times in total denial, at times extremely devious," he said. ‘‘The problem was that decisions were taken not to treat their offences as seriously as they should. Maybe bishops were deceived. Decisions were taken that permitted other children to be abused.

‘‘There’s no point in saying it’s back to business as before," he said.

‘‘The Church has to change, and I believe we will be the better for having fully addressed this chapter.

‘‘I think of the people who have never been able to tell their story and for whom reading this report will obviously awaken in them terrible emotions which they haven’t been able to come to grips with.

‘‘It’s very hard to put yourself in the position of someone else . . . Somehow or other, Church leaders didn’t seem to have the same sense [as parents and victims] of how disastrous this was for children."

Martin said a ‘‘huge amount of progress’’ had been made, but it was ‘‘not going to be possible ever to eliminate [the risk]. But you have to do everything you can to make sure that risk is least’’.

The archbishop said that many parents now had a real crisis of confidence about allowing their children to take part in Church activities.

‘‘You can’t expect confidence to be rebuilt overnight," he said. ‘‘I know from what I hear that parents want these strong protection measures to be applied, and there to be no compromise."

Martin said priests also had to accept the facts set out in the report.

‘‘There might be a tendency to go into denial [but] they should recognise that good child protection measures are good priest protection measures."

But Dublin auxiliary bishop Eamon Walsh said he believed the focus should now be on ensuring that the abuse and cover-up did not happen again, rather than on uncovering more evidence.

‘‘I think we have the full truth,"

he said. ‘‘We know the pattern in Ferns. We know the pattern in Dublin. I would much prefer that we put the scarce resources that we have - as a country and as a Church - into consolidating our services."

One of the bishops who came in for the most trenchant criticism in the report for his handling of abuse complaints was the Bishop of Limerick, Donal Murray.

He was appointed auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in March 1982 and Bishop of Limerick in February 1996.

Now aged 69,Murray is not required to offer Pope Benedict his resignation for another six years, but there have been calls for him to stand down early.

However, not everyone agreed.

One Dublin diocesan priest, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘‘I don’t think that, for the bishops, it’s a resigning matter."

‘‘The people on these commissions are basically hunting for the bad guys. There’s no attempt to look at how these things were considered at the time. People used to try and hush them up."

‘‘But most priests didn’t know what was going on. And [the head of one major Catholic institution], who would have dined regularly at Archbishop’s House, told me this morning that it never came up at the table."

‘‘What Donal Murray did was inexcusable, and I’m not trying to defend him, but it was more that he did not give the matter the attention it deserved. He used to say that the only job of an auxiliary was to go round opening scout halls."

‘‘Murray is not an arrogant, uncaring person, and I don’t think he deserves to be hounded. That said, however, he has indicated that he is at peace now that the report has been published. That could mean he is contemplating resignation but, if I were him, I’d stay on."

Bishop Murray is a member of the bishops’ Liaison Committee for Child Protection and is chairman of the bi shops’ committees on bioethics and Catholic education.

His spokesman told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘Bishop Murray will continue to serve on these committees as long as the Bishops’ Conference wishes him to do so."

A culture of denial, arrogance and cover-up

The Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese found that four successive archbishops of Dublin responded to complaints of child sex abuse by clerics in the diocese over three decades with ‘‘denial, arrogance and cover-up’’.

‘‘The Dublin archdiocese’s preoccupations 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 report found.

‘‘All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the state."

The report covers the cases of 46 priests from a representative sample and examined complaints in respect of more than 320 children against those priests.

Of the 46 priests, 11 pleaded guilty to or were convicted in the criminal courts of sexual assaults on children.

However, the report said the full extent of child abuse was much greater.

In total, it received information about ‘‘complaints, suspicions or knowledge’’ of child sex abuse against 172 named priests and 11 unnamed priests. Of those, the commission found 102 priests were within its remit.

According to the report: ‘‘Of those investigated by the commission, one priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another accepted that he had abused on a fortnightly basis during the currency of his ministry, which lasted for over 25 years."

The commission was chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, who was assisted by Ita Mangan and Hugh O’Neill. Based in offices in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin, the commission comprised senior and junior counsel, five researchers, six support staff and solicitor Maeve Doherty.

The commission’s brief was to inquire whether the Catholic Church and state authorities had ‘‘enough knowledge of, or strong and clear suspicion of, or reasonable concern regarding, sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy’’ between January 1, 1975, and May 1, 2004, to act against accused clerics.

If the commission discovered specific allegations against any individual, it then investigated any other allegations against him.

The estimated cost of the commission was to be €4.5 million and it was due to present its final report to the Minister for Justice by September 2007.

But Murphy ran into a series of problems and had to seek a number of extensions to the deadline.

She completed her report last July and it was published last Thursday after legal delays.

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