Saturday, 5 December 2009

Child Abuse Scandals in Ireland

I received this information via two emails from James, a dear friend in Ireland, who writes about how the Roman Catholic Church is reeling from the recent report into the sex abuse scandals and has given me permission to post this contribution:

I hope I don't start a new 100 years war by giving the Roman Catholic point of view on the different issues - and just when you were thinking that the Anglican Church was in need of some reforming! Church wise we are having an extraordinary time in Ireland after the publication of a report on the behaviour of the RC church and the authorities in dealing with claims of child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. The RC archbishop of Dublin has said this week that he doesn't want to go in to a meeting with fellow bishops this week until they have answered for their behaviour in dealing with priests who were accused of abusing children. There are calls that at least one bishop should resign ... the Bishop of Limerick for "inexcusable behaviour" in not following up on claims of abuse in a thorough manner. The church in Ireland really has reached a turning point where the old ways will not be tolerated any more but the future remains unclear. It could be a catalyst for genuine reform or it may also result in many giving up on religion completely. The single point of hope is that the current Dublin archbishop has for the most part dealt in an honest fashion with what he has inherited, even to the point of standing up to the previous holder of the office, a cardinal and getting him to drop a legal action to maintain the secrecy of official documents. This archbishop says that there are now only two other bishops in the country who are on speaking terms with him!
I think it would be fair to say that the continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland rests in the hands of the archbishop of Dublin, without him the institution would have lost all credibility and the jury is still out on whether the institution can regain any credibility in the future.
Many of the abuse victims ... who are now in their fifties and sixties ... were incredibly brave people who have fought in some cases for a quarter of a century for their story to be heard. Apart from anything else, some were people of incredible faith and some have said the response of the bishops has been so poor that it has hurt them more than the original abuse (which in many cases was horrific.) The link to the latest official report is: 04 or
a google for "catholic archdiocese Dublin report" will bring it up.

It’s over 700 pages long dealing with 46 sample cases in Dublin (how a sample of 46 accused priests were dealt with), in particular it shows how the authorities dealt with accusations of child abuse, previous reports dealt with the activities of the abusers, this one investigated into how a sample of them were dealt with.

A summary in paragraph 1.15 in part 1 states ...

"The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State."

It goes without saying that the behaviour of the church in the Dublin diocese was typical of the behaviour in dioceses countrywide. A TV current affairs program dealt with a case in Donegal where a priest was transferred to a new parish within the diocese every time accusations were made about him and there were about 10 transfers made over the course or 20 or 30 years leaving that individual free to repeatedly abuse over that period. We can't begin to grasp the evil inflicted on so many children’s lives by that one person. The Dublin report notes that one priest admitted to abusing over 100 children and another to abusing on a fortnightly basis during his 25 year ministry. But again not to lose sight of the fact that the scandal this time was the churches response and how it facilitated that abuse by the way it dealt with complaints and that the church was aware of what was happening but that its almost sole priority was protection of the institution and its assets, which meant that those who were abused were seen as the enemy and were treated as such rather than reaching out to try to heal their pain.

Finally it wasn't just the church, in many cases the authorities in the police ( the 'garda' ) and in the Dept of Justice were just as anxious to protect the church. Previous reports dealt with abuse by religious orders and the Dept of Education came out badly as well. The situation now is much better (it could hardly be worse) but there are many bishops still in office who were in positions of authority when these bad decisions were made. This report states that the current bishop of Limerick made bad decisions and on one occasion his behaviour was inexcusable. But he hasn't resigned ... presumably because he knows that just about every bishop in Ireland behaved the same way ... and thought they were right in so doing.

So where does that leave us, the people in the dock this time aren't the usual suspects but being Irish and living in Ireland I have to admit that the bishops response wasn't untypical. In Irish society in the past, those who made allegations of sexual abuse were regarded with deep suspicion and perhaps even hatred. It's uncomfortable to note too that in many other respects these bishops were 'good' people. In other areas they were kind, humane, affable, intelligent, educated people, some were regarded as capable theologians or were professors of sociology, they took great pains over moral issues and yet when confronted with the "worst crime" as it is described in Church law their behaviour directly allowed the sexual abuse of more and more children. Abuse is a mild term for the rape and horror those children went through ... in some cases over a period of many years.
So please God this may mark the beginning of the end of a bad era for the RC church in Ireland and the beginnings of a more humble church. The reform won't happen unless there is a large number of bishops resigning over the coming months otherwise the RC church in Ireland will be destroyed.


  1. Thank you for this. Praying for the victims and for the RC church.

  2. Thank you, James, I have read several news items and columnists on this subject but found your blog most moving. Thank God for the Archbishop of Dublin; God strengthen his prophetic voice.