CHILD SEXUAL abuse was covered up by the Dublin archdiocese and other church authorities for almost 30 years, according to the report of the commission of investigation.
State authorities facilitated this cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all, and by allowing church institutions to be beyond the law, it says.
The welfare of children was disregarded for many years, when the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the church and its priests.
“The abuse of children in Dublin was a scandal. The failure of the archdiocesan authorities to penalise the perpetrators is also a scandal,” it notes.
The report says it is abundantly clear that child sexual abuse by clerics was widespread throughout the 30-year period it examined. It says there was no doubt the reason for covering up information was to ensure as few people as possible knew of priests’ problems.
“There was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child or for the welfare of other children who might come into contact with the priest. Complainants were often met with denial, arrogance and cover-up and with incompetence and incomprehension in some areas. Suspicions were rarely acted on.”
The report, published yesterday by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, notes it found no evidence of a paedophile ring among priests in the Dublin archdiocese but adds there were some “worrying connections”.
It details a number of “inappropriate” contacts between the Garda and the archdiocese and says some senior members of the Garda clearly regarded priests as being “outside their remit”. In some cases, gardaí reported complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them.
Garda investigations into complaints ranged from comprehensive to cursory, it says. A section on the investigation of abuse claims against one, unnamed priest describes as shocking the “connivance” of gardaí in stifling one complaint and failing to investigate another.
The report says all four archbishops in the period – McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Connell – handled complaints badly.
“Not one of them reported his knowledge of child sexual abuse to the gardaí throughout the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. It was not until November 1995 that Archbishop Connell allowed the names of 17 priests about whom the archdiocese had received complaints to be given to the gardaí.”
This figure was not complete; at the time, there was knowledge within the archdiocese of at least 28 priests about whom complaints had been made.
According to the report, Archbishop McQuaid failed to apply canon law fully, Archbishop Ryan failed to investigate complaints properly, Archbishop McNamara restored priestly faculties to a confessed child abuser and Archbishop Connell, while stunned by the extent of abuse, was slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation.
The report emphatically rejects claims that the church was surprised by or on “a learning curve” in relation to revelations of sexual abuse. Such claims “ring hollow” when it was clear that cases were being dealt with in the 1950s and 1960s. The taking out of insurance in 1987 was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost and was inconsistent with the view that officials were on a learning curve, the report states.
The report hails a “courageous” few priests who brought complaints to the attention of their superiors but says “the vast majority chose to turn a blind eye”. Church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon law rules on dealing with abuse and for many years offenders were neither prosecuted nor made accountable within the church.
The report summarises the attitude of the archdiocese to abuse with the expressions “don’t ask, don’t tell” and “gain his knowledge, tell him nothing”. People who complained were told as little as possible and there was an obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal, which resulted in a failure by successive archbishops and bishops to report claims to the Garda before 1996.
The report says that while priests were directly responsible for their actions, their superiors were responsible for ensuring they were not protected by their status and did not get special treatment.
Criticising the “extraordinary delay” in introducing child protection legislation, it says the primary responsibility for the area must rest with the State.
The report, covering 1975 to 2004, comes in two parts. Part 1 examines the handling of sexual abuse complaints in the archdiocese, while Part 2 details the cases of 46 individual priests against whom allegations were made.
The commission received information about 172 named priests and 11 unnamed priests, of which 102 fell within its remit. The levels of alleged abuse varied greatly – one priest admitted to sexually abusing more than 100 children, while another said he had abused on a fortnightly basis over 25 years. The complaints against the 46 priests involved over 320 children, most of them boys.
The commission says it is satisfied that effective procedures for dealing with clerical sexual abuse are now in place and all complaints made to the church authorities are reported to the Garda.
However, it says procedures are heavily dependent on the commitment and effectiveness of the archbishop and the director of the child protection service.
“The current archbishop and director are clearly committed and effective but institutional structures need to be sufficiently embedded to ensure that they survive uncommitted or ineffective personnel.”
The commission was appointed in 2006 and is chaired by Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Murphy.
It has cost €3.6 million up to last April, not including third-party costs.