Sunday, July 12, 2009

Clergy braced for fallout from abuse report

Independent.ie
Catholic clergy braced for fallout from abuse report
By MAEVE SHEEHAN
Sunday July 12 2009

CATHOLIC clergy are preparing for an onslaught of criticism in the long-awaited report on the hierarchy's handling of paedophile priests, due to be given to the government this week.

The report will scrutinise how some of the country's most senior prelates handled child abuse allegations. It may be some time before it is published as the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, is expected to refer the 1,000-page document to the attorney general for legal advice because criminal proceedings are in train against three priests.

The contents have already been described as 'shocking' by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, who has warned priests and parishioners to expect the worst.

Clergy are preparing for the fall-out by ensuring that child protection officers are working in every parish, while circulating special prayers throughout the diocese.

Fr Joseph Mullen, chairman of the Council of Priests, which advises the archbishop, said parishes are working to ensure the responses are in place to deal with the hurt, vulnerability and anger that may follow.

"What we know and what we have communicated to priests is that heinous crimes have been committed against children by priests in the archdiocese. We must seek to uncover and know the truth," he said. Senior clergy have repeatedly been accused of failing to report paedophile priests to the Garda, moving them from parish to parish, and often encouraging victims and their parents to keep matters quiet.

The Government set up a state inquiry, led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, as a result of the lack of confidence in the hierarchy's handling of complaints against priests.

Archbishop Martin has already disclosed from diocesan records that about 400 children were abused by 152 priests since 1940.

The inquiry examined a representative sample of 46 priests reported for sexual abuse to the Catholic authorities over 24 years up to 2004.

Most attention will focus on Cardinal Desmond Connell, who was archbishop of Dublin from 1988 to 2004, along with his predecessors, Dr Dermot Ryan, and Dr Kevin McNamara.The former chancellor of the archdiocese, Monsignor Alex Stenson, was also a key figure in the diocese. He dealt with the vast majority of complaints that came to the diocese.

It is understood that his notes and records of interviews with suspected abusers and their victims made up a large part of the 65,000 diocesan documents that Archbishop Martin released to the commission of inquiry last year.

Cardinal Connell contested the release of some of the documents in a High Court action which he later withdrew.

Cardinal Connell has been publicly accused in the past of failing to report suspect priests to gardai after allegations against them were made.

In 1996, Cardinal Connell refused to confirm to gardai a priest's admission to a dioscesan official that he had abused a Dublin woman, Marie Collins. The official was Monsignor Stenson.

Archbishop Kevin McNamara insured the archdiocese to protect its finances from claims from people who had been abused by priests.

But he did not reveal the scale of clerical sex abuse to the authorities.

Support groups believe that victims of clerical abuse in the Dublin archdiocese were slow to come forward to the Commission.

Maeve Lewis, director of One in Four, has asked for publication to be delayed so that more resources are put in place to deal with the expected upsurge in calls.

- MAEVE SHEEHAN

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