Publishing abuse report is crucial for victims

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MARY RAFTERY

OPINION: The report on child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese should be published in its entirety and not in instalments

COMMISSION OF inquiry reports are a bit like buses these days – you wait ages for them and then two arrive almost simultaneously. Last week the Dublin archdiocese report was delivered to the Minister for Justice – almost seven years after the initial commitment to establish a State inquiry into clerical child sexual abuse in Dublin following the Prime Time Cardinal Secrets documentary. And it took a full decade for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan commission) to report last May on its findings of abuse of children in institutions.

The wait for the Dublin report, however, is not yet over. Legal obstacles to publication have arisen in the form of criminal proceedings against three individuals named in the report. There is an understandable and important concern that their trials might be prejudiced should the Dublin report be published in full and without alteration.

It is understood that of the 46 priests investigated by the commission, a total of 15 have been named. Eleven of these are convicted child abusers, and the names of the other four are already in the public domain.

That the commission has decided to name publicly so many priests is to be welcomed. The precedent of the Ryan report, where no one was named, was not encouraging in this regard. However, given the very particular reason for this – namely the threatened legal challenge from the Christian Brothers and its potential to impede seriously the work of that commission – it is reasonable to view it as an exception rather than the rule.

The other precedent in this area is the report into the sexual abuse of children by priests in the diocese of Ferns. The majority of clerics involved here were given pseudonyms in the Ferns report, but a small number were named. These had either been convicted, were deceased or were already in the public domain.

The Dublin commission differs, however, from Ferns in several important respects. Unlike Ferns, it is a statutory inquiry, with sworn evidence and full powers to compel witnesses and seize documents. Consequently its powers are much greater. It is also one of the first of the so-called “fast track” tribunals to report, and certainly the first for which a unique part of the establishing legislation may be called into play.

The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 directs that the reports of tribunals established under the Act must be submitted to the relevant government minister who must then publish them “as soon as possible”.

However, if the specified minister considers that publication may prejudice any pending criminal trials, then “he or she shall apply to the (High) Court for directions concerning the publication of the report”.

It is clear from this that the Minister in question here – Dermot Ahern – has relatively little room for manoeuvre. Given that criminal trials are pending or in progress in respect of three individuals referred to in the report, it appears inevitable that the matter must be referred to the High Court.

The legislation then lays out the further procedure. Notice must be given to the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and to anyone who is a defendant in a criminal trial connected in any way to the report.

Each of these may make submissions or present evidence. The court may also decide to hold its hearing in private.

The Act specifies that if the court finds that publication of the report “might prejudice any criminal proceedings”, it can direct that all or part of it not be published for a specified period or until the court decides otherwise.

This is the only course of action presented by the legislation. It is silent on other options, most particularly on the possibility of simply providing those facing criminal trials with pseudonyms in the report. Given that none of the hearings is imminent – April has been mentioned as the earliest date – this would seem to be the most reasonable solution.

It is of course critical that no trials be prejudiced and that justice be done. However, it is worth pointing out that this particular process has not been helped by the inordinate length of time (over seven years) that it has taken so far for one of these criminal trials to be heard.

It is also vital for Irish society to reach a clear and comprehensive understanding of the enormity of the crimes committed against children in the Dublin archdiocese, and of the full extent of the cover-up by many of the most senior members of the Irish Catholic hierarchy. This can best be achieved through the publication of the report in its entirety and not in instalments.

Full publication as soon as possible, even with additional pseudonyms, is also crucial for the victims of that abuse. The prospect for them of delaying the report or even sections of it for months or possibly years is appalling to contemplate.

The worst option is that after such a long wait we should be presented with a truncated report, published in bits and pieces which make no logical sense, dictated entirely by the timing of extraneous criminal proceedings.

Italy authorises abortion pill

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Italy authorises abortion pill

Italy’s drug regulation agency has authorised the use of the abortion pill despite protests from the Roman Catholic church which threatens to excommunicate doctors who prescribe the drug and patients who use it.

The Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) announced its decision late yesterday after a long meeting during which it was lobbied intensely by the church and Catholic politicians, including many from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government.

Since 1978 abortion has been legal in Italy on demand in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the foetus is malformed. By law, all abortions must take place in a hospital.

Developed in the early 1980s in France, mifepristone or RU-486 is approved as a prescription drug in the United States and almost all the European Union except in Ireland, Portugal and hitherto Italy.

Used to terminate pregnancies of up to 49 days, the drug is marketed in the United States by Danco Laboratories as Mifeprex and outside the US by French firm Exelgyn as Mifegyne.

Its supporters in Italy say there is no contradiction with current Italian law.

“If a woman can’t be convinced to avoid an abortion, we should accept a less invasive and painful method,”

Youth minister Giorgia Meloni (32) said, adding however that she personally “would never have an abortion”.

Critics say that, despite the AIFA stipulating that the pill could only be given in hospital in accordance with the law, some women were bound to abort at home without medical assistance.

“It intrinsically means women will have abortions at home, because the moment of expulsion is not predictable,” said senior health ministry official Eugenia Roccella, presenting an annual report on abortion this week ahead of the AIFA’s decision.

She said authorisation of the RU-486 pill had been “heavily sponsored by politicians” and questioned its safety record.

After five women died in the United States and Canada from a rare bacterial infection after taking the abortion pill in 2005, US researchers recently reported that giving it orally rather than vaginally, with antibiotics, reduced the risk of infection.

The Vatican, which opposes all forms of abortion in the belief that human life is sacred from the point of conception, says the pill is no different from surgical abortion.

“There will be excommunication for the doctor, the woman and anyone who encourages its use,” said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, emeritus president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the pope’s top expert on bioethical issues.

“First abortion was legalised to stop it being clandestine, but now doctors are washing their hands of it and transferring the burden of conscience to women,” he told reporters.

The abortion pill has already been given experimentally in some Italian regions but the AIFA ruling means it will now be legally available throughout the country.

It remains to be seen how many doctors will prescribe it since, according to the health ministry report, about 70 per cent of Italian doctors are “conscientious objectors” who refuse to carry out abortions in their clinics or hospitals.

Italy has a low abortion rate compared to Britain, France and the United States and it has fallen steadily for decades.

In 2008 there were 121,406 terminations, down 4.1 per cent on the previous year and 48.3 per cent less than the 1982 peak.

Silvio Viale, a Turin gynaecologist who has campaigned for the pill to be authorised, said the AIFA decision was “a victory for Italian women, who from today have more freedom and choice”.

“But I am sorry it has come 20 years late. If such there had been such an innovative drug for something like the prostate I doubt we would have had to wait so long,” said Dr Viale.

Reuters

Abuse report referred to court

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Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern today asked the High Court to decide on whether the latest report into child abuse in the Catholic Church can be published.

There are fears full disclosure of the inquiry into allegations against a sample 46 priests in the Dublin Archdiocese could prejudice the trials of three of them currently facing prosecutions.

Under the law, Mr Ahern must seek directions from the High Court if there are concerns about the impact of publishing findings ahead of any legal proceedings.

“When the report was published I indicated that I was anxious that the matters dealt with in the report would be put in the public domain as quickly as possible but that I was concerned that nothing should be done which would harm the prospects of the perpetrators of these horrific acts of depravity against children being brought to the justice they deserve,” said Mr Ahern.

“The legal advice available to me as to how I must proceed is clear and the necessary steps are now being taken with all possible speed.”

If the High Court finds that releasing the report could prejudice any criminal proceedings, it can order the publication of part or all of the findings be withheld until court cases are completed.

Mr Ahern insisted the findings of the Government-ordered inquiry would have to be fully-vetted before being released when handed a copy of the report on July 21.

The Archdiocese has confirmed up to 450 people have made abuse allegations against former priests since 1940.

The inquiry, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy investigated the sample of 46 priests, who have had complaints against them, over three decades since 1975.

The report will be the second devastating scandal to rock the Church in Ireland this year, detailing abusers and their victims and outlining the response to allegations by a succession of bishops.

They include 19 senior clerics, including Cardinal Desmond Connell who last year dropped a potentially embarrassing court challenge to stop the Commission getting access to secret Church files. Seven of the bishops are dead.

In May, the so-called Ryan report detailed horrific abuse perpetrated by religious orders in state and church run institutions over several decades.

The revelations in five volumes detailed shocking physical, sexual and psychological abuse meted out to thousands of youngsters, some of whom were only put into care because their families were too poor.

Pope Benedict met Ireland’s most senior clerics, Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, in the wake of the report to discuss its findings.

PA

McAleese signs Bills into law

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McAleese signs Bills into law

The Council of State meeting at Aras in Uachtarain Photograph: Julien Behal/PA WireThe Council of State meeting at Aras in Uachtarain Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

IRISH TIMES REPORTERS

President Mary McAleese has this morning signed the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 into law.

Last night, the President met 19 of the 22 members of the Council of State for nearly three hours to discuss whether to refer two Bills to the Supreme Court. The meeting began shortly after 6pm and broke up shortly before 10pm.

Both Bills were passed by the houses of the Oireachtas earlier this month.

Under Article 26 of the Constitution, the President may, after consultations with the Council of State, send any Bill to the highest court for a ruling on whether all or parts of it are “repugnant” to the Constitution.

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009, which allows for the greater use of non-jury trials in suspected gangland criminal cases, was passed by the Dáil earlier this month.The Defamation Bill updates Ireland’s defamation law, aims to encourage quicker apologies from publishers and renews the offence of blasphemy provided for under 1960s legislation.

Both Bills have caused controversy, with more than 130 lawyers writing a public letter demanding the Criminal Justice Bill be withdrawn, claiming Ireland would be shamed by it in the eyes of the international community.

The Defamation Bill, which reforms the State’s libel laws, provoked an outcry over its inclusion of a charge of blasphemous libel.

It was the fourth time in her 12 years in office that Mrs McAleese has called in the Council of State over concerns about proposed laws.

On one occasion, the President – herself a distinguished lawyer – refused to sign the Health (Amendment) Bill into law in 2002 after the Supreme Court found parts of it were unconstitutional.

On two occasions she decided to sign contested Bills after consultation and on the other occasion she signed the Bill into law after the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional.

Bills must be signed by the President after going through both the Dáil and Seanad before they become law.

The council’s membership includes Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Chief Justice John Murray and president of the High Court Richard Johnson. It also includes Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Senator Pat Moylan.

Former president Mary Robinson and former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern, along with former chief justices Thomas Finlay and Ronan Keane, are also members.

Additional reporting PA

Tweet a prayer to God

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Tweet a prayer to God

2009-07-23 22:27

Jerusalem – Judaism’s holiest prayer site has entered the Twitter age.

The Western Wall can now be accessed through the networking service, allowing believers anywhere to have their prayers placed between its 2 000-year-old-stones without leaving home.

The Tweet Your Prayers website says supplicants’ messages will be printed out and taken to the wall, joining the thousands of handwritten notes placed by visitors who believe their requests will find a shortcut to God.

The Western Wall is the last remnant of the second of two biblical temples.

No charge is made for placing a Twitter prayer at the wall. Visitors to the website are invited to make donations and there are sponsored links to an outdoor reception hall and a publisher of custom-made prayer books.

– AP

Blasphemy provisions clash with Constitution

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OPINION: THE PRESIDENT has very few unconstrained powers, and the Council of State is convened only rarely, but this evening they will all move centre stage, when the council convenes to advise the President whether to refer two controversial Bills to the Supreme Court. Whatever she does about the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2009, she should certainly refer the blasphemy provisions of the Defamation Bill, 2006, writes EOIN O’DELL

The common law historically punished blasphemy against Christianity as one aspect of the crime of libel. In a successful prosecution against Gay News magazine in 1977, the English courts confirmed the continuing existence of the crime. In an unsuccessful attempt to begin proceedings against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses in 1991, they held that it did not protect Islam. Most recently, in another unsuccessful attempt to commence a prosecution against Jerry Springer – The Opera in 2007, they held that the modern justification for the crime lies in the risk of public disorder.

The European Court of Human Rights has held that, although blasphemy can infringe the right to freedom of expression, it can be justified, provided that there is a good reason for the infringement. In the Jerry Springer case, the court held that this reason must be the risk of public disorder, and not the mere fact of insulting religious beliefs, however deeply held.

The blasphemy provisions of the Defamation Bill make it an offence to cause outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of a religion by intentionally publishing material that grossly abuses or insults matters held sacred by their religion.

This is actually quite narrowly drawn, and there is a further saver for publications of genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value. Moreover, the maximum €25,000 fine is relatively light.

It is therefore neither a trap for the unwary, nor a charter for religious cranks, nor even a check upon valuable public discourse.

Nevertheless, the offence is still of dubious constitutionality.

There is a very big gap between outrage and public disorder, and although the Bill punishes outrage, the Jerry Springer case suggests that it is only if the outrage goes further and carries a risk of public disorder that a blasphemy restriction can be held compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Like the convention, the Constitution also protects freedom of expression, but the last sentence of the Constitution’s free speech clause provides that the publication of blasphemous matter is an offence punishable by law. Only one case has considered this sentence, and it reached the Supreme Court 10 years ago next week.

The court declined to allow a prosecution against the Sunday Independent for publishing, in the wake of the divorce referendum in 1995, a cartoon caricaturing a priest failing to give communion to unwilling politicians.

The court queried the compatibility of a wide common law crime of blasphemous libel with the constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and religion. It held that the common law crime was so uncertain that it was impossible to say what its elements were. And it concluded that the task of defining the crime was for the Oireachtas rather than the courts.

The blasphemy provisions of the Defamation Bill are an attempt by the Oireachtas to respond to this conclusion. Nevertheless, although the Constitution requires some crime of blasphemy, it does not necessarily follow that it requires these provisions.

As the Supreme Court emphasised in the cartoon case, the law must still be compatible with other provisions of the Constitution, such as freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has held that it will take the same approach to freedom of expression under the Constitution as the European Court of Human Rights takes to the Convention.

As we have seen, the English Courts in the Jerry Springer case have held that, for a blasphemy provision to be compatible with the convention, the offence must require not merely outrage but also the risk of public disorder.

The blasphemy provisions in the Defamation Bill do not go that far, and must therefore be questionable not only under the convention but also under the Constitution.

The Council of State should advise the President accordingly; she should refer these provisions to the Supreme Court; and they should find them unconstitutional.

Ahern receives abuse report

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IRISH TIMES REPORTERS

Up to 450 victims of abusers have been identified by the Dublin Diocese Commission in a report into clerical child abuse that was handed over to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern today.

The report of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse will name 15 priests, 11 who have been convicted in the courts and four who are already well known.

In a statement this afternoon, Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, confirmed he had received the report.

“I am anxious that the matters dealt with in the report are put into the public domain as quickly as possible. Equally, I am concerned that nothing should be done which would harm the prospects of the perpetrators of these horrific acts of depravity against children being brought to the justice they deserve,” he said.

“The law under which the commission was established provides that, if the Minister considers that the publication of a report from a commission might prejudice any criminal proceedings that are pending or in progress, the Minister must apply to the High Court for directions concerning publication of the report,” his statement said.

Mr Ahern said he is now referring the report to the Attorney General for advice on how best to proceed.

The Minister said that he is determined that this matter will be dealt with “as expeditiously as possible”. A copy of the report is also being forwarded to Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews.

Mr Ahern thanked Judge Yvonne Murphy, chairwoman of the commission, and her staff for their work.

Set up in March 2006, the commission has investigated how child sex abuse allegations against a representative sample of 46 priests was handled by 19 bishops in Dublin between January 1st, 1975, and April 30th, 2004.

The focus of the report is on a power culture centred on the bishops and how this influenced their handling of allegations.

It was thought likely that Mr Ahern will refer the report to Attorney General Paul Gallagher, as it deals with three men currently before the courts. Two of those men have served sentences in connection with child abuse, while the third has pleaded guilty to the latest charges against him, although a further allegation has emerged since then.

The earliest date set for the trial of any of the men is April 2010.

It is possible the Attorney General may decide to publish the report in full, and soon, with the three relevant men given pseudonyms.

Of the 19 bishops investigated in the report, seven are deceased. The 19 include four archbishops of Dublin – Most Rev John Charles McQuaid, Most Rev Dermot Ryan, Most Rev Kevin McNamara and Cardinal Desmond Connell. Thirteen of the other bishops were or are auxiliary bishops in Dublin. They include Bishop Joseph Carroll (deceased), Bishop Brendan Comiskey (resigned as Bishop of Ferns in 2002), Bishop Martin Drennan (Bishop of Galway), Bishop Patrick Dunne (deceased), Bishop Ray Field (auxiliary Bishop in Dublin), Bishop Laurence Forristal (Bishop of Ossory to 2007).

Also included are Bishop James Kavanagh (deceased), Bishop Jim Moriarty (Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin), Bishop Donal Murray (Bishop of Limerick), Bishop Dermot O’Mahony (retired), Bishop Fiachra Ó Ceallaigh (auxiliary bishop in Dublin), Bishop Eamonn Walsh (auxiliary bishop in Dublin and apostolic administrator to Ferns diocese from April 2002 to April 2006), and Bishop Desmond Williams (deceased).