13 Nov 2010

Catholic doctrine of "mental reservation" allowed senior clergy to lie and cover-up abuse without being guilty in the church's eyes

Irish Times - November 27, 2009

Church 'routinely covered up' child sexual abuse for 30 years


FOUR SUCCESSIVE archbishops of Dublin responded to clerical child sexual abuse over a 30-year period in their diocese with “denial, arrogance and cover-up”.

This is one of the main conclusions of the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

The three-year inquiry, led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, found the “structures and rules” of the Catholic Church facilitated the cover-up.

“The State authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes,” the report also found.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, who published the report yesterday, said it documented “a scandal on an astonishing scale”.

The report also found current child protection laws did not provide adequate powers to health authorities to protect the welfare of children who are abused, or in danger of abuse, by people with privileged access to children.

The report, which took three years to complete, said the archdiocese had an “obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal” and had “little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child”.

The commission investigated the handling of allegations made against a sample out of 46 priests out of 102 against whom complaints were made between 1975 and 2004.

Among its other main findings were:

All archbishops and many of the auxiliary bishops in Dublin handled child sexual abuse complaints badly. None of the four archbishops reported their knowledge of abuse to gardaí “throughout the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s”.

Church authorities used the concept of “mental reservation”, which allows senior clergy to mislead people without being guilty, in the church’s eyes, of lying.

Senior members of the gardaí regarded priests as outside their remit, with some members reporting complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them.

It said there were some courageous priests who brought complaints to the attention of their superiors. But in general there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The report concluded that it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity was ever allowed to occur again.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Ahern warned: “A collar will protect no criminal”.

Responding to the report yesterday, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said “no words of apology would ever be sufficient” and offered “to each and every survivor, my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them”.

Catholic Primate Cardinal Seán Brady also said he was deeply ashamed and saddened by the findings.

The report is likely to place pressure on a number of senior clergy. Asked if individuals named in the report should step down, Dr Martin said: “I have always expressed the position that every bishop should evaluate their ministry in terms of commitments they make in reality to the protection of children.”

Last night Cardinal Desmond Connell, who is criticised in the report for not promptly handing over information to gardaí, expressed “bitter regret that failures on my part contributed to the suffering of victims in any form.”

Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray, a former auxiliary bishop in the Dublin diocese and who is strongly criticised in the report, said he regretted his actions but did not intend to resign.

Responding to the report’s severe criticism of gardaí, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said the report made for “difficult and disturbing reading”, in particular the failure of State authorities to protect victims.

The Government said it apologised “without reservation or equivocation” for failures by State agencies in dealing with the issue of clerical child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese.

Abuse victims said they felt vindicated by the report but expressed dismay that it took so long to expose wrongdoing, while campaign group One in Four called for the prosecution of those who covered up abuse.

“This report is a shocking indictment on the Catholic Church in Dublin. Its publication, if not acted upon, will have been a wasted opportunity to raise standards of child protection in this country,” said Andrew Madden, a victim of Fr Ivan Payne.

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