Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Most priest abusers had free rein in schools

Most priest abusers had free rein in schools
Tue, Dec 15, 2009

ANALYSIS: SINCE ITS publication, it is clear that the Murphy report has accentuated a fundamental shift in the relationship between the Irish people and the Roman Catholic Church, writes MARY RAFTERY

The intimacy of trust which for over a century defined that relationship is nowhere more evident than in the unquestioning access which people allowed priests have to their children. Priests, together with the schools in which they played such a big part, were the other half of the partnership which provided moral foundation to the vast majority of the nation’s children.

In this context, it is worth searching the Murphy report for what it has to say about the exposure of children to abuse directly as a result of clerical access to schools. Every priest in Dublin has some involvement with schools, usually as a member of a board of management and invariably through direct contact with the seven- or eight-year-olds making their First Communion and the 11/12-year-old Confirmation class.

The Dublin diocesan report singles out 21 priests (out of its sample of 46 examined) for mention in the context of their connections to schools. Most of the prominent clerical paedophiles had continuous access to schools. Fr Noel Reynolds for instance, who finally admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, was parish priest in Glendalough in the 1990s and chair of the board of management of the local primary school.

The Dublin report details complaints made about his behaviour with children in the school, whom he was able to take on various outings, although the principal told the commission that he “never left him in a class on his own”.

Throughout his long career, Reynolds had also been chaplain to numerous schools, including the exclusive, fee-paying Mt Anville Convent in Goatstown, Dublin. Before Glendalough, however, it appears he was viewed with suspicion in only one school – he himself referred to a nun in East Wall who “made life difficult – wanted me in and out of the school in half an hour – because of my talks on the facts of life with children”.

Fr Thomas Naughton’s abuse of children was widely known to the bishops of Dublin by the time they transferred him to yet another parish in 1986. Bishop Donal Murray was deeply immersed in his case and was aware of his criminal activities in the parishes of Valleymount and Donnycarney.

Upon his arrival in Ringsend, Naughton was, according to the Dublin report, “despite his background, given responsibility for some work in schools”. Inevitably, he continued his abuse. The principal of the local girls’ primary school complained about his engaging in “horseplay” with the children and refusing to stop when asked. We also know that he sexually abused a number of boys in this parish.

Then there is the case of Fr Patrick Maguire, another priest who admitted sexually abusing more than 100 children. He was a member of the Columban order, but did some parish work in Dublin and around schools. At one stage, his order sent him around the country on a recruitment drive for youngsters. The Dublin report describes this decision as “disastrous” as it gave him access “to every Catholic school in the country, in effect, to virtually every child in the country”.

“He duly took advantage of that access”, the report notes.

Another priest who made extensive use of schools to source his child victims was Vincentian priest Fr Donal Gallagher. His particular targets were deaf girls. Despite knowledge in the 1980s that he was a child abuser, he was appointed chaplain to St Mary’s School for deaf girls in Cabra. His habit was to abuse the children in confession and then wash his hands afterwards in the altar bowl.

Fr James MacNamee, the Crumlin parish priest and serial paedophile who built a swimming pool in his back garden, was also intimately bound up within the education system. One victim described to the Murphy commission how children would flock around him whenever he arrived at the local primary school. He invariably spent school break times holding hands with boys in the yard.

Fr X (his name is concealed by court order) had a lengthy career of child abuse, much of which was well known to the Dublin bishops. Archbishop Dermot Ryan remarked in the early 1980s that one of the ways he accessed victims was by befriending families involved in “good works” for the parish, including parents who were members of school boards.

Despite this knowledge, Fr X was glibly transferred around the diocese. In one parish, the Dublin report informs us, he “stepped into the role of the previous curate and in that capacity was given free access to the schools of the parish. No information was given to the three other priests who were ministering in the parish. Fr X was given charge of the Confirmation class in one of the schools and it was from that source that the next official complaint arose”.

Fr Septimus, a parish priest, abused a number of boys by savagely beating them on their bare buttocks and masturbating during it in at least one case. He used the local school, to which he had a key, for some of this abuse. One child was so badly beaten that he had to remain in bed for three weeks.

Fr Bill Carney, another serial paedophile, had a long career in schools in Ballyfermot, Ayrfield (on Dublin’s northside), Clonskeagh and Crumlin (Clogher Road). Even after his conviction for the abuse of two young brothers in 1983, he was still saying Mass in schools all over the diocese, and was described by one parish priest as someone who could “really communicate with the children”. This apparently raised no alarm bells among the bishops of Dublin.

Fr Sergius, another career paedophile, was in a new parish in 1999, and was in and out of the local school instructing the children making their Confirmations. Parents began to complain that he “arrived late, smelled strongly of alcohol and was truculent in his demeanour”.

There followed a meeting between the principal, the children’s class teacher, the parish priest and members of the board of management. According to the Dublin diocesan report: “the parish priest expressed surprise that Fr Sergius had been appointed as chaplain to the school. This seems to the commission to be an extraordinary statement. As the archbishop is the patron of the school, the appointment of chaplain is delegated to the parish priest, so the parish priest must himself have asked Fr Sergius to deal with the Confirmation class.”

The report concludes that Fr Sergius “should not have been allowed involvement with the Confirmation class”.

The cases outlined above provide just a sample of how paedophile priests had such easy access to children through the school system. Involvement with schools was (and continues to be) an intrinsic part of the ministry of most diocesan priests.

Consequently, when the Dublin bishops discussed problems of child-abusing priests at their monthly meetings during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and decided to return many of them to parish work, this automatically gave these highly dangerous men immediate and intimate access to schools, to hundreds of children and to more small victims.

As a society, we have chosen to give these bishops enormous and unaccountable power over our education system and over the lives of the vast majority of our children. The Catholic Church has a controlling involvement with 3,000 out of the country’s 3,200 primary schools.

For as long as each local bishop is enshrined in law as patron of all Catholic primary schools in his diocese, with power over the appointment of boards of management, teachers and principals, we should ponder carefully the findings of the Dublin report as they pertain to the negligence of the Dublin bishops in this regard.

© 2009 The Irish Times

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