Saturday, March 27, 2010

Church faces Stormont inquiry over cover-up of sex abuse scandals

From The Times March 27, 2010

Church faces Stormont inquiry over cover-up of sex abuse scandals
David Brown and David Sharrock 4 Comments
Recommend? (2) When Father Joseph Quinn slipped away from St Patrick’s Church in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, there was gossip among the parishioners about his sudden disappearance.

The whispers have turned to anger with the revelation that a woman who accused the priest of raping her when she was a teenager has received £45,000, only on condition that she never reveals details of the allegation.

The woman had also named Cardinal Sean Brady, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, as a co-defendant in her legal claim for compensation as the alleged abuse had occurred in his diocese.

Details of what critics describe as evidence of a cover-up by the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland emerged this week as the Stormont Government considered ordering an official inquiry into child abuse.

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The inquiry — which would be similar to that which uncovered a shocking litany of historic crimes in the Republic of Ireland — was discussed by ministers in Stormont’s power-sharing Cabinet earlier this week.

Stormont’s health committee said an official investigation should cost no more than £40 million and take three to five years to report.

“Ultimately it’s difficult to see anything other than a significant inquiry being held,” a senior government source said. “There was an acknowledgement that there’s a need to act with expediency on this issue.”

Calls for an official inquiry intensified over the past week after revelations that senior church figures had helped to cover up abuse claims against Northern Irish clerics.

Father Quinn was suspended from clerical duties in 2001 when two women told police that they had been sexually assaulted by the priest when they were teenagers. One claimed she had been raped at the priest’s parochial house when she was 17. She received an out-of-court settlement in January after signing a confidentiality agreement.

The woman’s father is reported to have “begged” Cardinal Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh, to remove the gagging clause. A spokesman for the Archbishop confirmed that the Primate of All Ireland had met the father but insisted that he was not party to any confidentially agreement.

The Church confirmed this week that it had recently written to Father Quinn reminding him that he had been suspended from carrying out clerical duties. The admission followed unconfirmed reports that the priest had been seen wearing clerical garb and had officiated at Mass and a funeral.

A spokesman said Cardinal Brady “regrets any anxiety or confusion caused by Father Quinn’s breach of these restrictions and regards any such breach as a matter of the utmost seriousness”.

Father Quinn strenuously denies the allegations of sexual abuse and claimed that a businessman had paid legal bills of the woman who was suing him so the matter could finally go before a church inquiry where he could clear his name.

The priest claimed that he was being used as a “scapegoat” by the Church and was a victim of the media’s appetite for stories about Cardinal Brady covering up similar sex abuse scandals in the Irish Republic.

A second priest in Northern Ireland was also revealed to have made an out-of-court settlement to a woman who claimed to have been sexually abused from the ages of 10 to 18. She also had to agree to a confidentiality clause.

Father John McCullough, 75, paid £12,000 compensation in 2001 without admitting any guilt and has been allowed to stay within the Church.

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Since the pay-off, the priest has been sharing in the parochial house in Strabane, Co Tyrone. However, the parish priest, Father Declan Boland, complained this week that even he was not aware of the extent of the allegations against Father McCullough, whose day-to-day living expenses are still paid by the Church.

Father Boland said: “I feel compromised, I feel I have been put in a corner and asked to deal with a situation I should have had nothing to do with. The total responsibility lies with Bishop Hegarty.”

Bishop Hegarty, the Bishop of Derry, defended his handling of the cases, saying: “A confidentiality agreement was not proposed by the diocese, but was proposed to the diocese by one of the other parties.”

The allegations of church collusion in cover-ups of sexual abuse follow an apology by Cardinal Brady last week for his role in a church tribunal on allegations against Father Brendan Smyth, Ireland’s most notorious paedophile priest.

A 14-year-old victim was sworn to secrecy at the end of the hearing involving the cardinal. Another child who had also made allegations at another hearing was also required to take an oath of secrecy.

In neither case were the allegations passed to the authorities and Smyth, from Northern Ireland, continued abusing children for nearly two more decades.

He was arrested in 1991 but fled from the reach of the police in Northern Ireland by staying at his order’s Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan in the Republic.

He was extradited to Belfast, where he was convicted of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children and jailed for four years.

On his release he was extradited to Dublin and in July 1997 pleaded guilty to 74 charges of abusing children over 35 years. He died a month into his 12-year sentence.

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