Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dublin diocesan report

In the Irish Republic a commission headed by High Court judge Yvonne Murphy has reported on the physical and sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests in the diocese of Dublin.  It is a damning and devastating report and it reveals an appalling story of physical and sexual abuse.  Not only did the abuse take place but senior figures in the Roman Catholic hierarchy did not report these crimes to the police because of a culture of secrecy in the church and a desire to preserve the power and aura of the church.  As a result clerical rapists were able to continue their abuse of young and vulnerable children.

The Irish Times has provided good coverage and analysis of this issue and on Thursday (3 December) its religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry looked at the government's response to the report.
Is it not remarkable that the Taoiseach can be so sanguine about an institution which covered up chidl rape?
Listening to Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the Dail on Tuesday as he delivered his semper fidelis (always faithful) defence of the Vatican and the papal nunciature to Ireland over their lack of co-operation with the Dublin diocesan commission, was to be reminded of other days and another taoiseach.
In April 1951, during debate on the ill-fated Mother and Child Scheme, opposed by the Catholic bishops led by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, then taoisach John A Costello felt impelled to announce, 'I am an Irishman second: I am a Catholic first and I accept without qualification in all respects thet eachign of theh ierarchy and the church to which I belong.'  He told the Dail, 'I, as a Catholic, obey my church authorities and will continue to do so.'
It is hardly unfair to suggest that in his doughty defence of the Vatican's non-co-operation with a commission of this State, set up by a Government of which he was a member, our current Taoiseach has discovered he too is 'an Irishman second'.'

Pasy McGarry's article also highlighted the difficulty for the investigating commission in dealing with the Vatican and this was taken up by the Irish Times in its editorial.
The Vatican does not do things lightly.  When it refused to deal with the commission except through diplomatic contacts at the level of one state to another, it was not being precious.  It was asserting a claim that is rucial to its efforts to avoid the consequences of itso wn policies.  The insistence on being treated as a state rather than a chruch is the key to its claim of sovereign immunity.

The reputation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Vatican and the government in the Irish Republic have all been damaged by these revelations. 

In recent days there have been several other reports of sexual abuse.  One case involved a sports coach and another an elder in an evangelical fellowship.  Such cases are equally appalling and the suffering of the victims will have been just as great but the abuse in Dublin and other Roman Catholic dioceses in the Republic is different in several respects:
1. the scope and the scale of the abuse
2. the extent of the official cover-up, where men of authority put the reputation of their institution above the welfare of young children
3. the failure of the Garda Siochana to investigate reports of abuse
3. the reluctance of the government to confront the Vatican.

It will be some time before we really know the impact of this report on the Roman Catholic community and their relationship to the church.  Meanwhile questions are now being asked about the extent of clerical abuse here in Northern Ireland.


  1. The Dublin Report did not conclude that Canon Law impeded the prosecution of clerics, indeed it was never even applied. As Chapter 4 of the Report noted, after Vatican II there was a “collapse of respect for canon law [CIC] in archdiocesan circles … offenders were neither prosecuted nor made accountable within the church”. The 1917 CIC “decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences”. A bishop who heard of an abuse allegation was canonically required to investigate it, and expel the priest from the priesthood if found guilty in a canonical trial (which was to happen parallel and independently of a civil prosection).There was, and probably still is, a hesitancy in applying the more 'penal' aspects of canon law among the Irish Church Establishment. The Dublin report notes that despite canon law requiring priests found having engaged in paedophilia, Monsignor Sheehy, the archdiocesan “expert” in canon law and ultra-liberal, “considered that the penal aspects of that law should rarely be invoked”.

    Veteran commentator/journalist/economist Joe Foyle made an interesting observation on the Studies blog about Diarmuid Martin’s remarks on RTE's Prime Time about the collapse of diocesan severity in the 1960s:

    "It seems that around the 1960s a major policy change emerged. In line with the secular anti-punishment mood of the times, it was decided that the defrocking sanction was inhumane and that, instead, rehabilitation should be attempted to enable offenders to continue to work as priests. The policy change backfired when offenders re-offended. That hurt children and blighted lives gravely, cost Dioceses and Congregations hundreds of millions, evoked ‘cover-up’ allegations that undermined Bishops and the priesthood in general, and ushered in our current era of Catholic laity who are effectively priestless."

  2. I doubt in the long run whether the report itself will have that much of an effect on peoples' allegiance to the Catholic Church.

    Catholic Ireland has been secularizing at an ever increasing pace since 1962. Most of that change was a result of reforms implemented in the Church itself (the fallout from the Second Vatican Council), combined with the worldwide 60s cultural and social revolution that took a very intolerant attitude towards the remaining vestiges of the ancien regime. As James S. Donnelly concludes (A Church in Crisis: The Irish Catholic Church Today, History Ireland, Vol. 8, No. 3, The Catholic Church through the Ages (Autumn, 2000), pp. 12-17) by the time Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979, he was visiting an Ireland where the population (especially those under 40) had already become fairly secularized and radicalized, especially in social attitudes and this was beginning to be reflected in legislation (contraception in Ireland was legalized only 6 years after laique France, where it had been denounced to cries of “race suicide”).

  3. That will all change. In the meantime we continue to pray for Ryan.