Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Turning a blind eye'

'Turning a blind eye'

A report into how the Catholic Church in Dublin handled allegations of child abuse against its priests is expected to be as shocking as the Ryan Report.

BBC NI Dublin reporter Julie Kirby looks at how the clergy and victims' groups are bracing themselves for the fall-out in what has been called the darkest period in the history of the Irish Church.

Andrew Madden was an 11-year-old boy when he was sexually abused by a priest called Father Ivan Payne.

It was six years before he told a trusted teacher. He, in turn, went to a bishop and complained.

"The information came back that Father Payne had accepted my allegations were true and then the church said they would handle the matter," he said.

Andrew was just 11 years old when he was sexually abused
Father Payne was moved to a different parish in Sutton, north County Dublin, where he continued to work as a priest.

Although Andrew Madden approached Bishop Dermot O'Mahony to voice his concerns, the bishop did not go to the Irish police.

It was Andrew Madden who did that. In 1998, Father Payne was convicted of abusing nine boys and sentenced to six years in prison.

In all, 450 other people in the Dublin diocese claim they were abused as children. One hundred and fifty two priests stand accused.

A fraction have been prosecuted.

The latest report is expected to be as shocking as the Ryan Report published earlier this year - not just because of the abuse itself, but because it exposes how that abuse was covered up.

It examines how allegations of child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin against a sample of 46 priests were handled by bishops, including a former cardinal, and state authorities between 1 January 1975 and 30 April 2004.

However, the published report is heavily edited. Chapter 19 has been removed along with numerous references to another priest and his brother in chapter 20 because of the fears of prejudicing ongoing criminal proceedings.

It is going to show us very clearly that the Catholic Church put the needs of the Church before the needs of children

Maeve Lewis
One in Four
Prior to its publication, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmaid Martin braced congregations warning that it was a report which "would shock us all".

The Commission of Investigation spent years sifting through 60,000 documents to reveal the truth. Victim support groups are bracing themselves for a fresh wave of calls for help.

Maeve Lewis, director of victim support group One in Four said: "The Dublin report, I think, is going to get to the heart of the power structure in the Catholic Church.

"It is going to show us very clearly that the Catholic Church put the needs of the church before the needs of children. It is probably not going to tell us why adults in the population stood by and allowed that to happen.

"What is it about Irish society that we will pay such deference to an institution like the Catholic Church or indeed to government institutions as well - what does it tell us about ourselves?"

Late last year, Fr Michael Mernagh, 71, walked more than 200 miles to atone for so much pain caused by the Church.

His pilgrimage took him from the diocese of Cloyne in County Cork to Dublin.

"It is the darkest period in our history - of the Irish nation, not just the church - and I'm not sure that have we reached the bottom of it yet," he said.

"The Archdiocese of Dublin report apparently is going to horrify us all, but one case is sufficient to horrify anyone. And really it is time for us all to stop and to shout 'Stop', and take appropriate action so that there won't be any more of this abuse."

The Catholic Church has spent 6m euros on child protection guidelines.

But for Andrew Madden and countless others like him, it is too late.

He no longer believes in the God of his childhood.

Shattered faith and shattered lives - the legacies of a church which, many Catholics believe, has feet of clay.

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