Ireland: abuse report leads to Church-State rift

21 July 2011

by Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent

REVELATIONS of another scandal in the Irish Roman Catholic Church over the mishandling of child abuse by clerics have led to an angry response from the Irish government and the promise of new legislation that would send priests to prison for up to five years for non-disclosure of information to the civil authorities — even information gleaned from the confessional.

The new report, prepared by Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy, of the Irish High Court, relates to the diocese of Cloyne, County Cork. It involves allega­tions against several priests — some of whom are now dead — in the period 1996 to 2009, which were ignored even though the RC Church’s safeguarding policy was already in place.

It is critical of the former Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, and says that he misled the State’s Minister for Children and the Health Service Executive. The report found that Dr Magee handed over responsibility for the abuse issues to the then Vicar General of the diocese, Mgr Denis O’Callaghan, who is described as “uncommitted” to the safety guidelines.

The Murphy report also says that the Vatican was “entirely unhelpful”, and found that it had undermined the rules drawn up by the Irish bishops for dealing with child abuse, including the immediate notification to the Garda and Heath Service Ex­ecu­tive (HSE) of any abuse allega­tions. (This refers to a covert letter to the bishops in 1996 which described the rules as “merely a study docu­ment” rather than an official policy.)

On Thursday of last week, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, summoned the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, to his department to express the government’s displeasure, which was summed up by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny’s describing the Vatican’s response to the report as “an absolute disgrace”.

Referring to the Vatican’s position that canon law should not be under­mined by state law, Mr Kenny said: “The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar.”

Charlie Flanagan, chairman of Fine Gael, the leading party in gov­ern­ment, was joined by the Socialists in calling for the Papal Nuncio to be expelled.

The country’s Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, who is drafting the new laws on disclosure by priests in all circumstances, said: “It is unfor­tunate and unacceptable, in circum­stances in which the public in this country were given an assurance that particular guidelines would be com­plied with, that another state . . . should have in any way interfered with that.”

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, said that the most horrifying aspect of the Cloyne report was that “It is not a catalogue of failure from a different era. This is about Ireland now.” She said that the RC Church in Cloyne repre­sented a danger to children until three years ago. “We cannot say with certainty that the same is not true in other dioceses around the country.” She called for audits in every diocese.

Dr Magee has not been seen; nor could he be contacted. It is under­stood that he may be in the United States. In a statement issued on Wed­nesday of last week, after publication of the report, he said that he was sorry and unreservedly apologised.

“Given my position of respons­ibility, I am particularly saddened when I read the accounts of the complainants’ describing the effects of the abuse, knowing that I con­tributed to their distress. I have met some of the complainants personally, and heard their stories. “The people who were so terribly abused by priests found the courage to come forward to talk to me, or to my delegate, Mgr O’Callaghan, who was representing me, and, in many cases, we failed them,” the statement said.

Dr Magee is coming under intense scrutiny after allegations that he hugged an aspiring seminarian and kissed him on the forehead. His ac­tions were described by the Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children as “a boundary infringe­ment”, but did not warrant further investigation.

In a letter read out at all masses in the diocese on Sunday, the Apostolic Administrator appointed to replace Dr Magee, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, apologised “to the many who have suffered horrendous acts of abuse perpetrated by some priests of the Cloyne diocese.

“I also apologise again for the consistent failure to report allega­tions to the civil authorities, and for the mistakes and omissions which were made over a number of years in the diocese. The people of Cloyne were entitled to expect that all such complaints would be handled according to the official Church guidelines. This was not the case, and for this I am truly sorry.”

On Wednesday of last week, as the Irish Parliament debated a cross-party motion condemning Vatican interference by encouraging bishops to place canon law above the law of the state, as identified by the Cloyne report, the Vatican’s senior spokes­man, Fr Federico Lombardi, denied that the Vatican encouraged Irish bishops to disregard state guidelines on the reporting of child abuse.

Most commentators and the national press in Ireland agree that Cloyne has set the Irish government and the RC Church on a confronta­tional course, and that relations between Church and State will never be the same again.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, acknowledged as much when, on Sunday, he expressed his anger that there were in Cloyne, and perhaps in other places, people who preferred their own views over safeguarding children, placing themselves outside the regime of safeguarding to which dioceses and bishops were committed.

Irish newspapers reported on Sunday that the Vatican is under­stood to be thinking of a substantial rearrangement of some dioceses of the RC Church in Ireland.

Call for transparency. The organisa­tion for survivors of clergy sexual abuse in England and Wales, MACSAS, issued a statement last Friday which called for independent monitoring of procedures within all Roman Catholic dioceses in England and Wales.

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