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Irish Catholic Church covered up abuse, report finds

A three-year government inquiry into the church and state's handling of abuse cases in Dublin from 1975 to 2004 reveals a policy of cover-up. Officials even took out insurance to pay future claims.

November 27, 2009|By Janet Stobart
  • Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern pauses at a news conference at which he released the report on the churchÂ’s handling of abuse cases. Ahern said he felt "revulsion" when he read the report's finding of a cover-up, which he called "scandal on an astonishing scale."
Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern pauses at a news conference at which… (Peter Morrison / Associated…)

Reporting from London — Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin engaged in a widespread cover-up of abuses by clergy members for decades, a "scandal on an astonishing scale" that even saw officials taking out insurance policies to protect dioceses against future claims by the victims, a commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation.

The commission, which investigated how the church and state agencies handled three decades of endemic child abuse by priests in the Irish capital, also criticized police and social and health authorities who, with a few exceptions, it said, ignored complaints or simply referred allegations back to the church hierarchy.

Presenting the government-commissioned report at a news conference in Dublin, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern spoke of his "revulsion" on reading the findings and called them a "scandal on an astonishing scale."

Ahern promised legislation on child-protection systems in institutions by the end of the year.

"These dreadful crimes no matter when they were committed will be pursued," he said. "There will be no hiding place."

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who took office in 2004, presented an abject apology on behalf of the church for the inaction of his predecessors. The report, which covers the period from 1975 to 2004, focuses on 46 priests in particular and 102 in general, all working in the archdiocese of Dublin.

"I offer each and every survivor my apology, my sorrow and my shame," Martin said.

At another news conference, victims of abuse said the devastating report was not enough.

"This is not meant to be the full picture . . . 102 priests is the number that they settled on even though there are allegations against 172 . . . this is only a representative sample," said Andrew Madden, a member of One in Four, a nonprofit group for sexual abuse victims that campaigned for the inquiry. "There appears to be no appetite to ascertain the full extent of this problem within the Catholic Church in this country."

It's taken so long, Madden said, because there was no interest by successive governments in investigating the Catholic Church.

The report, written by a four-member commission led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, reveals a policy of systemic clerical cover-up:

"Some priests were aware that particular instances of abuse had occurred," the report states. "A few were courageous and brought complaints to the attention of their superiors. The vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye. The cases show that several instances of suspicion were never acted upon until inquiries were made. Some priest witnesses admitted to the commission that they had heard various reports on the grapevine."

In 1987, for instance, the report states, Dublin clergy took financial precautions that show they were aware of the problem. "All archbishops of Dublin in the period covered by the commission were aware of some complaints. This is true of many of the auxiliary bishops also.

"At the time the Archdiocese took out insurance in 1987, Archbishop Kevin McNamara, Archbishop Dermot Ryan and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid had had, between them, available information on complaints against at least 17 priests operating under the aegis of the Dublin Archdiocese.

"The taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the Archdiocese and is inconsistent with the view that Archdiocesan officials were still 'on a learning curve.' "

The prevailing attitude, the report says, was, to use an American phrase, one of "don't ask, don't tell," despite knowledge of abuse.

"The church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon law rules on dealing with clerical child sexual abuse," the report says, even though many of them were qualified lawyers.

Further apologies came from Police Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, who said the report made "for difficult and disturbing reading, detailing . . . the failure on the part of both Church and State authorities to protect victims."

He said that most of the abuses had taken place at a time when a "misguided or undue deference" was often shown to religious institutions.

The report also talks of a lack of police vetting procedures for clerics working with children within the Catholic Church until 2002, when lobbying began.

Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London Bureau.

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