Archbishops put church honour before children

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Archbishops put church honour before children

The paedophile priest Brendan Smyth is led from the Four Courts in Dublin after being sentenced to 12 years in July 1997
The paedophile priest Brendan Smyth is led from the Four Courts in Dublin after being sentenced to 12 years in July 1997

By John Cooney

Monday November 23 2009

AT the height of Ireland‘s clerical child sexual abuse scandals, American canon lawyer Fr Tom Doyle predicted the archdiocese of Dublin rated “at the top of the heap” on a world scale for its appalling quota of rapist offenders whose heinous crimes were blithely covered up by the church authorities.

Confirmation of the accuracy of Fr Doyle’s assessment has appeared in the first leak from the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese which is with the Government for edited approval at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

Its damnable and sordid details of how pervert clergy preyed on children — while four successive archbishops of Dublin failed to inform the gardai of indictable crimes — also confirms what for almost a year now Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has lost no opportunity in warning “will shock us all”.

It is a tragic horror story of how three powerful archbishops — John Charles McQuaid, Dermot Ryan and Kevin McNamara — put the honour and respectability of the institutional Church above the dignity and the welfare of innocent children under their pastoral care in a tightly controlled system of clerical authority from the school desk to the hospital bed.

It is also a nightmarish tale of how Cardinal Desmond Connell, an academic of international repute, proved to be a slow learner in his handling of the legacy from his three predecessors when confronted with an unstoppable tide of revelations and complaints.

The report recognises that the cardinal was appalled at the scale of abuse after taking over in 1988 but became too reliant on legal and medical advice, as well as feeling constrained by canon law.

These dignitaries of the Church were more concerned with elevating secrecy and confidentiality as primary policy priorities at the expense of safeguarding boys and girls from flesh-lusting clerics.

Hiding behind the mask of not giving public scandal to “the simple faithful” long conditioned by their spiritual leaders to owe them utter deference, the Lord Archbishops of Dublin, their chancellery officials and clerical courtiers covered up time and again.

They sent errant clerics either to paid sabbaticals in clinics for psychological assessment or, worse, moved them on to pastures new, where the unsuspecting flock was unaware of their past — and voracious appetites.

In a telling phrase, one priest called child molestation “merely innocent pleasure”, a blasphemous euphemism which rationalised child carnality as being only a venial — and certainly not a mortal — sin.

However, no excuse for such moral laxity and abdication of duty can be extended to the four rulers of Catholic Dublin who were all well educated in theology, attending learned institutes of education both in Ireland and abroad. Furthermore, all four archbishops had been educators by profession before their call by Rome to assume sole governance of one of the biggest and most prestigious archdioceses in Europe.

Astonishingly, not one of the four archbishops who held awesome power over the Dublin diocese from 1940 to 2004 deemed it necessary to inform the gardai until late 1995 when Cardinal Connell did so as a civil obligation under hostile media attention.

The shameful reality is that since the foundation of the State in 1921 until very recently, the media, as well as the gardai, politicians, lawyers, doctors and members of the caring professions regarded the Church as a divine institution that was above and beyond the law.

This collusion, ingrained into their secular compatriots by bishops, that the ultimate purpose in life was to save their immortal souls goes a long way to explaining how even a garda commissioner felt it was the remit of Archbishop McQuaid, not the law, to decide the fate of fallen clergy.

Such was the arrogance of the Church’s ‘officer class’ that they regarded any outside lay intrusion into their internal affairs as interference in the temporal work of God invested in them as successors of the apostles. They demanded unquestioning obedience.

This mindset also gives an insight into how the complaints of courageous victims and the occasional priest whistleblower were met with dismissive contempt, even denial. Of how the families of victims would be ostracised by the pious for smearing the good name of the clergy.

At a time too when the Irish Church in Dublin dominated the property market with its expanding church and school-building programme into the then sprawling working-class suburbs of Cabra and Crumlin, its preoccupation with Mammon comes chillingly in how Archbishop McNamara from 1986 to 1987 purchased insurance against clerical sexual misconduct.

This insurance protection undermines the subsequent protestations that it took time for the church leaders to recognise both the seriousness of allegations against priests and that paedophiles were devious and recidivist.

Cardinal Connell inherited a legacy of pervasive child sexual abuse among the Dublin diocesan clergy and religious orders, which shows that this evil had become an integral part of a corrupt clerical system that Archbishops McQuaid, Ryan and McNamara had presided over.

Falteringly, Cardinal Connell came to see the appalling vista and give cooperation to the secular authorities, but his 16-year reign was devastated by the abuses, and it was left for Archbishop Martin to cleanse the Palace in Drumcondra of its murky abuse secrets.

– John Cooney

Irish Independent

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