Catholic Church child abuse – Prosecute the guilty!

After months of a delay the Murphy Commission Enquiry into Child Abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese has at last been published. Detailed in it is yet more details of the abuse of vulnerable children by priests in Dublin from the 1950s to the 1990s and the active cover up of this abuse by a succession of Archbishops.

After months of a delay the Murphy Commission Enquiry into Child Abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese has at last been published. Detailed in it is yet more details of the abuse of vulnerable children by priests in Dublin from the 1950s to the 1990s and the active cover up of this abuse by a succession of Archbishops.

Including the infamous John Charles McQuaid and Desmond Connell who held the position until 1994 before being promoted to the high rank of Cardinal, as position he holds to this day.
As early as 1987 the church took out an insurance policy to cover themselves for compensation claims, concealing the true picture from the hapless insurance company, Church and General, who charged them only €50,000 for the policy.

This report was sparked off not by any whistleblowing from within the Catholic Church or state authorities but rather by an RTE Prime Time investigation entitled Cardinal Secrets broadcast in 2002 after Marie Collins went public on the abuse she suffered on the Pat Kenny radio show.

The report is written in two parts. The first deals with 46 sample cases out of over 100 accusations of child abuse by priests. Of these 46 only one priest has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The patterns of abuse detailed are recurrent throughout the report. Priests with unsupervised access to children engaged in various forms of molestation and rape. This occurred with altar boys, with children who used church run youth clubs and with child patients in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin who were victims to two chaplains.

The second part of the report deals with the wider institutional failures in handling the cases. Instances of abuse were reported to the Gardaí and to the Archbishops and their auxiliary bishops. The report comments that whenever accusations were made the natural reflex of the Archbishops was to protect the assets and reputation of the Catholic Church. Priests found to be engaging in abuse were typically moved from parish to parish where the pattern of abuse would be repeated. The report found that where accusations of abuse were reported to the Gardaí senior officers would report the accusations to the Catholic hierarchy but not investigate the claims themselves. The Catholic Church was beyond the law as it was applied to others and could act like a despotic state within a state.

In one incident the British police reported to the Gardaí that a priest (given the false name Fr Edmondus in the report) serving as a chaplin in Our Lady’s Hospital sent over photographs of naked children to be developed. Archbishop McQuaid, to whom the Gardai told of this accusation satisfied himself with a simple confession from the priest and it was a case of ‘go and sin no more’!

Another priest, Noel Reynolds despite admitting to his superiors that he had a sexual orientation towards children he was redeployed to the National Rehabilitation Hospital where he had access to children with disabilities.

Much attention has been paid to how the church rationalised its lying and cover-ups. Cardinal Connell and others referred to the concept of “mental reservation”, a term concocted to cover what the church sees as legitimate lying, evasion and withholding of information for what they saw as positive ends.

This scandal cannot be seen as a peculiarity of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It goes to the very top. The Commission reported a total lack of cooperation from the authorities in the Vatican, specifically in sharing information contained in correspondence with the Catholic Church in Ireland which detailed incidents of abuse. In particular the report cites letters they sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the long winded title for the Catholic Church’s own enforcer and an office previously headed up by the current Pope, Benedict XVI. They completely ignored this correspondence. When challenged Vatican response was that they only respond through official diplomatic channels and the Commission correspondence did not fall into that category!

There have been calls already for the Bishops named in the report to resign and the Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray who was an auxiliary Bishop in Dublin when this abuse has taken place has already ruled out resigning. Local Minister Willie O’Dea refuses to even call for his resignation instead weaselling out with calls for the Bishop to “examine his position”. The resignation of all the Bishops and Cardinal implicated in the cover up is a far from adequate response. Instead they should be prosecuted along with those within the state agencies who were derelict in their duty to protect children.

This report only covers one Diocese; others remain to be properly investigated. Further horrors remain to be brought into the open. Again this scandal highlights the fact that the Catholic Church and the state must be totally separated. The church is a voluntary association of believers which makes up its own rules. It is therefore beyond the democratic control of wider society (not to mention its own members) and the ongoing outsourcing of control of schools and hospitals funded by taxpayer to any religious institution is a scandal in itself.

The Socialist Party calls for:

• The prosecution of all abuser priests as well as every bishop and cardinal who was complicit in the cover up of abuse.
• A thorough investigation of all the remaining Dioceses
• The prosecution of Gardaí and Health Board personal and any other state agent who was complicit in the abuse and the dismissal of those still serving in these bodies.
• Compensation for those children who suffered to be funded by the sale of Church assets as well as from state institutions complicit in the abuse. No to a Michael Woods type deal which severely limits the Church’s financial liability at the expense of the taxpayer. The state should however pay its proportionate share of compensation to the victims where its negligence is demonstrated.
• The complete separation of church and state. This includes ridding state funded schools and hospitals of a church presence. For religious instruction to be taken out of the classroom. For such institutions to be instead run by bodies democratically composed of worker representatives, representatives of users and the public at large
• The scrapping of exceptions in Equality legislation that allow for discrimination in institutions where ‘religious ethos’ is a stated factor


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