Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Attempt to partially restore Cardinal's reputation

Probe may partly restore Cardinal's reputation

Cardinal Desmond Connell's conservatism appeared to have made him ambivalent to opening up the Dublin archdiocese to wider secular scrutiny

Tuesday November 24 2009

THE reputation of Cardinal Desmond Connell could be partially rehabilitated by the publication of the report of the Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin.

The cardinal, who bitterly complained that the abuse issue had devastated his 16-year stewardship of one of Europe's biggest dioceses, is to be credited with reintroducing internal Church tribunals designed to put rapist clerics on secret trial leading to their removal -- or so-called defrocking -- from the priesthood.

Two priests were reduced to the lay state at a Dublin ecclesiastical tribunal conducted in 1992, which involved two bishops with canon law expertise -- Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe and John McAreavey of Newry.

Others, including Fr Ivan Payne, were granted laicisation around the time of the cardinal's retirement in 2004.

Furthermore, through his close collaboration on the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, the Irish cardinal was instrumental in Rome's updating of its worldwide procedures on dealing with paedophile priests.

In an exclusive report in the Sunday Independent, it was revealed that the commission has found that three archbishops of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid (1940-72), Dermot Ryan, (1972-84), and Kevin McNamara, (1985-87), did not refer clerical abuse cases known to them to the gardai for investigation, while pursuing a determined cover-up policy to move the offenders from parish to parish in the interest of avoiding public scandals.

It was not until 1995, some seven years into his reign, that Cardinal Connell allowed gardai to inspect 17 individual files of priest abusers, following media clamour demanding fuller disclosure from the archdiocese.

Specifically, there were calls for the taking away by gardai of the secret documents kept in a vault in Archbishop's House in Drumcondra that only Dr Connell had a key to access.

The autocratic McQuaid was so secretive that he attempted to conceal the filthy deeds of his clergy even from Rome. His successor, Dermot Ryan -- who institutionally became as hardline as and even more arrogant than McQuaid after a brief honeymoon period of presenting himself as a liberal biblical scholar -- allowed the situation to become dysfunctional in regard to handing over priest felons to Rome or the gardai.

The brief reign of Clare man Kevin McNamara, a moral theologian whose tenure was blighted by his early death from cancer, was preoccupied with negotiating a confidential insurance policy to meet claims that were already stacking up.

As the Murphy report will acknowledge, Cardinal Connell, who had spent 35 years of his life as a university philosopher, was appalled at the scale of the abuse but took some time to appreciate its extent as an endemic part of the Church system in Dublin.

Cardinal Connell's theological conservatism, his deference to Rome and his ingrained belief that the Catholic Church was a hierarchical organisation, not a democratic body, appear to have made him ambivalent to opening up the Dublin archdiocese to wider secular scrutiny.

In this context, it is worth recalling one of Michael McDowell's most colourful sayings when, as Justice Minister, he reminded Cardinal Connell that the canon law code of the Catholic Church had no more status in Ireland than the membership rules of a golf club.

The spat took place in the aftermath of the 2005 publication of the Commission of Inquiry into horrendous clerical sexual abuse in the diocese of Ferns, when the nation's radio talk shows hosted heated debates as to whether or not the Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law placed churchmen beyond the rigours of state law.

The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, waded into the row insisting that no one would be immune from the law of the land in an increasingly pluralist and multicultural Ireland.

However, Cardinal Connell claimed that canon law enjoyed the status of foreign law, because the Holy See is recognised diplomatically by Ireland as an independent sovereign state, and he further claimed that there were statutory precedents in Irish court rulings to accord canon law special status, with accompanying privileges.

Other difficult moments in the record of Cardinal Connell's tenure were his rebuke to victim Marie Collins in 1996 that newly introduced national guidelines by the hierarchy requiring referral of abuse cases to the gardai and health authorities were merely that -- they were "just guidelines".

Even more embarrassing for Cardinal Connell was his writing in 1988 of a glowing testimony to a priest offender looking for pastoral work in a US diocese. He later discovered in 1993 that there had been an allegation of child sexual abuse against this cleric in 1974, but Cardinal Connell had overlooked reading this on secret files left to him by Dermot Ryan.

This arcane territorial dispute as to what constitutes the boundary lines between state law and canon law has obviously not been resolved since the Ferns Report and is set to arise in the Dublin report.

Cardinal Connell may yet be grateful to his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, for waiving canonical niceties by handing over to the Commission more than 60,000 diocesan files, 5,000 of which Cardinal Connell tried unsuccessfully to keep out of the public domain in a High Court legal bid.

This may explain why Cardinal Connell is likely to get a yellow rather than a red card from the commission.

No comments: