Friday, November 27, 2009

A legacy of abuse and cover-up

The Irish Times - Friday, November 27, 2009
A legacy of abuse and cover-up

CORRUPTION OF power and the fundamentally rotten nature of relations between the Catholic Church and the State has been laid bare in a damning report into the rape and sexual abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese over a 30-year period. Denial and cover-up was the order of the day. Nothing changed until the late 1990s when a succession of scandals involving paedophile priests outraged public opinion and forced reforms through the courts, the Oireachtas and the archdiocese itself. There is still a distance to go.

“Repulsive” is a word that comes to mind in considering the response by former Dublin bishops and archbishops to clerical child abuse. As charted by the Murphy commission, the complaints of parents and their children were ignored and other families placed in immediate danger as prelates from John Charles McQuaid onwards suppressed scandals and took refuge in canon law to protect offenders at the expense of innocent children. The vast majority of uninvolved priests turned a blind eye.

As might be expected, given the traditional supine attitude of governments to the Catholic hierarchy, State agencies avoided involvement. What contact occurred with the Garda Síochána was regarded by the commission as “inappropriate”. Legislation was unclear and ineffective. Most cases referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions were not acted upon. Initially, one year’s delay in lodging a complaint was sufficient to have it rejected. But public anger, Supreme Court rulings and Dáil debates have since demolished that barrier.

It would be wrong to conclude that criminal behaviour by priests in the Dublin archdiocese was exceptional. A similar pattern emerged four years ago when Mr Justice Frank Murphy examined what happened in the Diocese of Ferns. An attempt by the Health Service Executive to establish the extent of clerical abuse in all dioceses was flatly rejected last year by a majority of bishops and one member, Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, was found to be responsible for child protection measures that were inadequate and dangerous. Earlier this year we had the Ryan report into sexual and physical abuse in religious-run institutions. It found the State, by its silence and inaction, had colluded in the vile and vicious abuse of children. Its findings were as clear and as unambiguous as those contained in this present document.

Canon law, which favours abusers over abused, has contributed in a malign way. In future, there can be no ambiguity concerning criminal acts and church cover-ups that pervert the course of justice. These offences are equally unacceptable.Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is to be commended for making diocesan files available to the commission against the wishes of his predecessor. But a studied silence by Vatican authorities and by the Apostolic Nuncio to recent requests from the Murphy commission for any additional information they might hold concerning child sexual abuse in Dublin will feed suspicion that the church remains fixated on protecting its tattered image.

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