It’s difficult to know where to begin. Last week’s Cloyne report makes grim reading. It provides a horrendous and detailed account of clerical abuse and Catholic hierarchy failure and cover-up in the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork.
It is the fourth major report in the last decade in the south of Ireland into child abuse by clerics.
The Murphy report investigated the handling of allegations of clerical sex abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese and was published in November 2009. It concluded that four successive archbishops had handled the allegations with ‘denial, arrogance and cover-up’ and that they did not report what they knew of these allegations to the Gardaí.
The structures and rules of the Church allowed for the cover-up of abuse.
Murphy also concluded that many auxiliary bishops in the Dublin Diocese were also aware of the accusations yet priests were assigned to parishes without any examination of sex abuse issues.
It detailed cases involving over 300 children.
The Ryan report was published in May 2009 and presented a damning account of life and abuse for thousands of children who were victims of abuse in industrial schools, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities, reformatories, and ordinary day schools. Its investigations went back as far as 1914 but most of work was focussed on the four decades from the 1930s to 70s.
The conclusions were devastating for church and state alike. The Ryan report painted a picture of many thousands of children enduring years of sexual and physical abuse in over 200 institutions run by religious orders over decades. Hundreds of priests and nuns and brothers and lay people were involved.
Ryan criticised the Department of Education. It had failed in its ‘statutory duty of inspection.’
And as in the Murphy report, the Ryan report described how too often the agencies of the state, whether Gardaí or the Department of Education, too often deferred to the religious institutions preferring to believe their accounts or not being prepared to investigate allegations because clerics were involved.
The Ferns report was published in 2005. It reported into how allegations of clerical sex abuse against children had been handled by the Church and State authorities in the Diocese of Ferns between 1962 and 2002.
Once again the Catholic hierarchy was roundly criticised for the manner in which it had dealt with allegations during that four decade period. In one telling comment Bishop Brendan Comiskey was accused of having ‘failed to recognise the paramount need to protect children, as a matter of urgency, from potential abusers.’
And now there is the Cloyne report. It investigated allegations of child sex abuse in the Cloyne Diocese from 1996 to 2009. Once again the hierarchy, including its most senior figures, come in for serious criticism. Their response to allegations of abuse is described variously as ‘inadequate’, inappropriate’, ‘ineffective.’ It stands accused of telling lies and Bishop Magee was accused of taking ‘little or no interest in the management of clerical sexual abuse cases until 2009’. This was 13 years after the Church had put in place guidelines and 15 years after the Fr. Brendan Smyth case.
The Cloyne report examines the handling of allegations against 19 clergy and describes how none of the priests were moved as a result of the accusations. A number were retired. And in one instance a priest who brought complaints to Bishop Magee was discouraged from taking the issue any further.
The media last week carried accounts of victims and of the behaviour and treatment of alleged clerical abusers. It made for distressing and depressing reading.
The response of the Church Hierarchy through Cardinal Seán Brady to the Cloyne’s report was to apologise once again for the exposure of more abuse of children by clerics.
An additional aspect that has caused concern has been the attitude of the Vatican to the whole issue of clerical abuse and its lack of support for the efforts of those within the Irish Church who have sought to put in place effective measures to deal with this problem. The Cloyne Report found that the Vatican ‘gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who, like Monsignor O’Callaghan, dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy’.
Monsignor O’Callaghan was responsible for implementing child protection measures in the Diocese of Cloyne and ‘did not approve of the procedures’ set out by the Church and consequently ‘stymied’ their implementation.
There is talk of the Irish government closing its embassy to the Vatican in protest. There have also been demands that the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican ambassador to Dublin, should be expelled.
The government has responded quickly and there is talk of strong new legislation forcing the disclosure of information on child sexual abuse; as well as the placing of the child protection code ‘Children First’ on a statutory basis; and a ‘vetting bureau’ to vet applicants who wish to work with children.
This sounds impressive but already social workers are expressing concern at the implementation of all of this at a time when budgets for all government departments are under pressure and when there are plans for more cutbacks later this year in the budget.
The government’s seriousness on confronting this hugely difficult issue will be determined by its willingness to put the necessary money into ensuring that any new measures can function effectively. It will also be judged on how it responds to abuse in the Magdalene laundries and Bethany Home.
As for the Catholic Church I suspect that most citizens are exasperated with the endless apologies and failures by bishops and archbishops and Cardinals to face up to this issue honestly. Too often they have been revealed to have been more concerned about scandal and its impact on the Catholic Church than with the needs and concerns and interests of victims. The subsequent damage to the Church has been all the greater because of this.
There is a grievous lack of leadership. But more importantly the Church hierarchy have completely failed to live up to the teachings of Jesus.
Finally, there is a commitment from the Executive at Stormont for an inquiry into historic cases of abuse. But as we have seen in the Cloyne’s report these issues are also current. This blog believes that an inquiry into clerical abuse should be conducted across this island. If ever an issue transcends partition it is the issue of child abuse.