Archbishops’ canon law adviser steered them towards cover-up

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Archbishops’ canon law adviser steered them towards cover-up

By John Cooney
Friday November 27 2009

THE late Monsignor Gerard Sheehy is identified by the commission as a powerful “behind-the-scenes villain” at the Drumcondra headquarters of the Dublin archdiocese.

One of the leading canon lawyers of the archdiocese, he was chancellor for 10 years, from 1965 to 1975, and wielded enormous influence as an advisor to archbishops John Charles McQuaid and Dermot Ryan.

The commission says he exercised a good deal of influence on how abuse cases should be handled, although he had no specific role in handling them.

He also rejected the view that the archdiocese had any responsibility to report complaints to the state authorities and the gardai.

Although he argued strongly that canon law was capable of dealing with all clerical child sex cases, Sheehy actually considered that the penal aspects of that law should not be used.

He also dismissed anonymous complaints made against priests.

The Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation credits Cardinal Desmond Connell for convening the only two canonical trials from 1974 to mid-2004, one of which led to the dismissal of Fr Bill Carney “in the face of the strong opposition from one of the most powerful canonists in the archdiocese — Monsignor Sheehy.”

And the commission notes that Sheehy “interfered, and was allowed to interfere, in the management of a number of cases”, notably in relation to the notorious Fr Ivan ‘the Terrible’ Payne.

Sheehy’s role as a backroom eminence grise was bolstered by his qualifications in civil as well as canon law, and he held a top position in the association of canon lawyers of Ireland and Britain. Later he held the rank of the archdiocese’s judicial vicar.

The commission says that Sheehy’s successor, Monsignor Alex Stenson, carried out “superbly” the investigation of complaints, but was less successful in dealing with complainants.

– John Cooney

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