Thursday, December 30, 2010

Abusers included
Inclusion of abusers on church body criticised
PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

PSYCHOLOGIST DR Maureen Gaffney has described as “perversity on a breathtaking scale” the fact that the Catholic Church’s Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal included two known clerical child sex abusers when it was suggested that Tony Walsh also be appointed to it.

On December 6th last, Walsh was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment, four suspended, for child sex abuse. Chapter 19 of the Murphy report, published before Christmas, dealt mainly with how church and State authorities handled allegations against Tony Walsh. He was described by it as “probably the most notorious child sexual abuser to have come to the attention of the [Murphy] commission”.

The report revealed that in 1989 it was suggested that Walsh, then an admitted child sex abuser, be appointed to the tribunal, which dealt mainly with annulments.

This was not done but, as the Murphy report puts it, there were then “two known abusers . . . in the regional marriage tribunal . . .’’ Those were Fr Ivan Payne and a priest referred to as “Fr Cicero” in the report.

Dr Gaffney, adjunct professor of psychology and society at UCD, told The Irish Times : “I can’t even begin to fathom the reasoning’’ behind such appointments. It indicated that the marriage tribunal “was regarded as an area of such low importance it did not matter if there were depraved people there”, she said. There were, within the church, “many areas of endeavour which were womanless and childless . . . some of them areas of high status.’’

“As we know in Ireland of the period, many marriages were annulled on sexual grounds,” she said. She was appalled at “the idea of bringing in people with such problems before people who had severe difficulties with their own sexuality . . . I don’t think the church had any sense that the annulment process was about human beings.”

The tribunal dealt mainly with applications for annulments from the Dublin archdiocese.

Its judicial vicar, or chairman, in 1989 was the late Msgr Gerard Sheehy. In autumn of 1989, according to Chapter 19, it was suggested (it does not say by whom) to Msgr Sheehy “that he might take Fr Jovito [Tony Walsh] into the tribunal”.

Msgr Sheehy declined “on the basis that Fr Jovito’s limited intellectual capacity might lead him to become frustrated”.

He stated that a prison chaplaincy might be more suitable. The archdiocese had by then extensive knowledge of Walsh’s abuse of children, going back to 1978.

Ivan Payne was appointed to the tribunal in 1975. The first complaint against him in 1981 concerned the abuse of Andrew Madden. Msgr Sheehy and Archbishop Dermot Ryan were informed. In September 1984 Payne was moved to Sutton.

In April 1995 Mr Madden went public. By then, the archdiocese had received reports of inappropriate behaviour by Payne in Sutton. In July 1995, two boys in Sutton made complaints about Payne. Others also came forward.

Attempts to remove Payne from the marriage tribunal were resisted by Msgr Sheehy who argued it “would very likely be the final destruction of a good priest . . .” Still more complainants came forward. In October 1995, Payne resigned from the tribunal. In June 1998, he was sentenced to six years on charges arising from the abuse of 10 children. He was laicised in 2002.

Fr Cicero was a priest of Ossory diocese and began working with the tribunal in the 1970s. Complaints about his abuse of young girls were first reported in 1986, despite which Msgr Sheehy supported his continuing on the tribunal.

In 1999 he admitted abusing “approximately 12 victims”. In November 2000 he was removed from the marriage tribunal. Msgr Sheehy described it as “a shattering blow”. So in January 2001, it was agreed Fr Cicero would be allowed do unofficial work for the tribunal.

He died in 2002.

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