Tuesday, December 8, 2009

All church leaders share in collective failure

All church leaders share in collective failure
Tue, Dec 08, 2009

OPINION: One resignation by a negligent bishop will not be enough. The church’s cover-up of crimes is systemic, writes COLM O'GORMAN

THE SCALE and deliberate nature of the cover-up revealed by the Murphy report has left many people outraged and, quite understandably, there have been vociferous calls for accountability. In the white heat of the past week much of the outrage has been directed at Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray, who now seems set to resign, but the responsibility for such a wide and systemic cover-up cannot be limited to one man.

All those who held positions of responsibility in the Archdiocese of Dublin are implicated in this institutional cover-up.

The role of Bishop Eamonn Walsh is significant. He served as secretary to Archbishop McNamara before his appointment as auxiliary bishop in 1990. He was a member of the first Dublin Archdiocese Advisory Panel established by Desmond Connell in 1996 to monitor child protection.

One of the cases considered by the panel in 1997 was that of Fr Noel Reynolds. Cardinal Connell put in place an investigation into complaints about the priest in late 1995, though it appears complaints against Reynolds dated back as far as the 1970s. The panel considered the case in March 1997 and decided that there was no clear evidence of child sexual abuse but that some inappropriate behaviour did happen.

In 1998 a social worker told Bishop Walsh that a client had alleged she had been abused by Reynolds. Bishop Walsh told her to write to the chancellor, Msgr Dolan. He did not tell her to report the case to the Garda, nor did he do so himself. In fact the archdiocese decided that no formal complaint had been made and they therefore didn’t report the case to the Garda or to the health board.

In June 1999, the social worker contacted the archdiocese to inform them that two sisters had contacted the gardaí to make a complaint about Fr Reynolds. Later the same month, the archdiocese finally contacted the Garda and informed them that it had received complaints of sexual abuse by Reynolds in the late 1970s. Reynolds later admitted he sexually assaulted more than 20 children. He told gardaí he had inserted a crucifix into the vagina and anus of one of his victims, even offering the crucifix to gardaí as evidence.

The archdiocese appears to have informed the Garda of the complaints only after it became clear that the victims had themselves reported Reynolds to the Garda.

It is not the only occasion when Bishop Walsh was involved in the delayed passing on of information to the civil authorities. In his role as administrator of the diocese of Ferns, Bishop Walsh was responsible for ensuring that all information about child abuse concerns held on church files was passed to the Ferns inquiry

In the summer of 2005, I was approached by a woman who had been abused in the early 1970s by a priest from the diocese of Ferns. She was certain the diocese had been aware of the complaint for more than 20 years, and in an effort to know what the diocese might have held on file about her, she contacted them in May 2005. She became dissatisfied with the response of the diocese and in July she contacted me at the offices of One in Four.

At the request of Pamela, the pseudonym the woman was given in the Ferns report, I wrote to Bishop Walsh on July 14th, 2005, asking that any further contact with her should be routed through One in Four, thus putting the diocese on notice that One in Four was aware of the case. One in Four also arranged for Pamela to attend the inquiry.

Two weeks later, some two months after Pamela first contacted the diocese of Ferns, the diocese sent documents to the Ferns inquiry that made it clear the complaint against the priest had been known to the diocese since the early 1970s. These files had not been disclosed to the inquiry.

The diocese explained that this was due to “a regrettable error” on its part. Following a full review of files held by the diocese, information relating to a further eight priests was found not to have been disclosed as a result of this same “regrettable error”. Five of the eight cases were found to be relevant to the inquiry, but could not be properly investigated as the inquiry had concluded its investigation. Bishop Walsh was fully aware of at least two of these cases, having reviewed both upon his appointment to Ferns in 2002. This review involved meeting both of the priests involved and referring one for assessment. Yet he failed to notify the inquiry of either case for more than three years.

Fr Iota, who abused Pamela, had spent more than 20 years working in São Paolo, Brazil. He remained in ministry there until after Pamela made her complaint, despite the evidence contained in the diocesan files. It is hard to understand how this was possible if Bishop Walsh had properly reviewed all files upon his appointment in 2002.

In late 2006 I went to São Paolo while making the BBC television Panorama film, Sex Crimes and the Vatican. I visited the impoverished community where Fr Iota had lived for two decades. I went to see his house, beneath which was a creche. I interviewed the bishop of the diocese there about the case.

The Ferns report said Bishop Walsh had undertaken to find out if there were any concerns about Fr Iota during his time in São Paolo. I asked the bishop if he had been asked to carry out any such investigation by Bishop Walsh. He replied he had not, and that he had no reason to believe any such investigation was even necessary as Fr Iota had denied the allegations, and that he believed the priest. He said he had limited contact with the diocese of Ferns about the case.

It is certain that the negligence and deceit uncovered in Dublin extend to church leaders across all dioceses. No one resignation will account for their collective failure or make things right.