Monday, December 20, 2010

Church leaders must pay
John Cooney: Church leaders must pay for failing to act on abuse
By John Cooney
Monday December 20 2010

THE public mood in Ireland is for the prosecution and incarceration of church leaders who facilitated child clerical abusers by following canon law confidentiality, rather than the due process of civil and criminal law.

This mood has hardened after a week in which Irish Catholics went through, yet again, the horror wringer with the delayed publication of chapter 19 of the Murphy report about how church authorities in the Dublin archdiocese failed hundreds of working-class children by allowing "the most notorious child abuser" Tony Walsh to rape for at least two decades.

For the past six years the public has been put through this wringer with the Ferns report, the Ryan and Murphy reports -- and is bracing itself for the pending Commission report on ex-Bishop John Magee and the diocese of Cloyne -- but so far not one senior churchman has been brought to book as demanded by victims.

Last week, too, an Ulster Television 'Insight' programme broadcast the plea of a woman, who was raped in Cavan in 1993 when she was only 12 by "the devil Brendan Smyth", for Cardinal Brady to resign as Primate of All Ireland. Her case is based on the fact that her life would not have been ruined if 18 years earlier the then Fr Sean Brady had informed gardai about Smyth's criminality rather than swear to secrecy under canon law two of the Norbertine monk's child victims.

It was instructive to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin put Walsh on the same vile scale of serial paedophilia as the late Brendan Smyth. This came 35 years after Smyth could have been put away and 26 years after Walsh should have been taken off the streets of Dublin.

The spotlight has turned on Monsignor Alex Stenson, the former chancellor of the Dublin archdiocese and now parish priest of Killester in north Dublin. Yesterday, Mgr Stenson defended his handling of abuse complaints which he conducted under a canon law vow of secrecy. He absolutely intends staying on in Killester, and Archbishop Martin has no plans to shift him.

The newly published section of the Murphy report on Walsh praises the former clerical bureaucrat for his note-taking of the serial paedophile but is far less admiring of his omitting to tell parents of victims that there was a pile of other complaints against the Elvis impresario.

Mgr Stenson is also criticised for his failure to pass information on Walsh onto gardai and on one occasion to have noted how he "evaded" a garda question regarding other cases against Walsh. One guard gave evidence at Walsh's canonical trial but did not pursue Walsh in the civil courts.

Mgr Stenson needs to ponder the consequences of the commission's finding that the archdiocese should have informed gardai of all of its concerns but did not do so.

Archbishop Martin, who did everything he personally could to nail the still-in-denial Walsh, has called him a serial paedophile who should have been stopped as far back as the mid-1980s.

In 1985, Mgr Stenson spoke to Walsh who "denied nothing". This was a clear admission of guilt by Walsh. Instead of handing him over to gardai, the archdiocese transferred Walsh from Ballyfermot to Westland Row. Nor did Mgr Stenson inform the parish priest at Westland Row of Walsh's paedophilia.

In a damning passage, the Murphy Commission did not understand how "the archdiocese did not appreciate the seriousness of the situation when it was aware of four specific complaints and a number of concerns.

"It is also difficult to conclude that the move was for any purpose other than to avoid further scandal in Ballyfermot," it said.

Significantly, Walsh's victims insist that "the rot" be rooted out of the church. By rot, they mean the removal from office of those clerics who were involved in the church's all-powerful administrative echelons, particularly Mgr Stenson. They want an end to the ecclesiastical secrecy which grounds down their demands for justice.

While the commission commended Cardinal Connell for his eventual defrocking of Walsh against Rome's initial decision that he serve 10 years in a monastery, it must not be forgotten that it took from 1988 to late 1995 before he first reported his knowledge of child sexual abuse to gardai.

Even then he provided only the names of 17 priests with complaints against them, considerably lower than figures later given by his successor, Dr Martin.

Furthermore, Cardinal Connell tried to prevent the commission's examination of almost 6,000 church documents over which he claimed privilege, and only dropped his legal challenge in the face of Archbishop Martin's determination to co-operate fully with the commission.

A Christmas card depicting the removal of church leaders tainted by the cover-up scandals -- such as Cardinals Brady and Connell, Bishop John Magee, Dublin auxiliary bishops past and present and Mgr Stenson -- would be closer to the spirit of the stable at Bethlehem.

That would be an ennobling example for the State spawned by the Easter Rebellion of 1916 to recapture its original spirit by carrying out a Christmas Rebellion which might act as a precedent for corrupt bankers and politicians.

- John Cooney

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