28 November 2009

Dublin Report on child abuse by priests

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolas Maes, 1652-53

Last night, as I was reading the Dublin Report on child abuse by priests, Part One, Part Two, Appendices, I was listening to RTÉ Radio One from Ireland. The report was published on Thursday afternoon. On a talk show after the news two men who had been abused by one of the priests, now deceased, mentioned by name in the Report, phoned in . Neither had spoken to the commission that drew up the Report. One expressed his sense of satisfaction when he heard of the death of the priest some years ago, knowing that he was 'now in hell'. The other wished he was still alive so that he could face the consequecnes of what he had done.

One of these two men told how he would never have anything to do with the Catholic Church again nor would he allow his children to have anything to do with it.

I grew up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and had a very passing acquaintance with this particular priest around 1953 or so. He was in a neighbouring parish where an older cousin was an altar-server. This priest used to show movies in a small hall in the parish, once a week, if my memory serves me. Only boys attended. I went only once or twice with my cousin and don't recall anything untoward. I never heard my cousin, who is now dead, speak, when he was young or many years later as an adult, of anything 'strange'. But it is clear from the report that the particular priest did abuse boys. One of the callers on the programme told of the priest abusing him in his, the boy's home, in his bedroom when he was sick, while the boy's mother was downstairs, not knowing what was going on and the boy fearful of telling her.

Apart from the trauma to so many children and to their parents, there is the irreparable damage to the Church's very mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church in Ireland has lost a great deal of credibility. Much of this is due to those in authority not listening to complaints or not acting on them. What is inexcusable are the instances of bishops and others in positions of authority giving good letters of recommendation to bishops in other dioceses, sometimes in another country, knowing that the priests they were recommending had records of child abuse.

Another thing I find reprehensible is the refusal of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland - not the present one - to respond to letters from the commission working on the report and the similar refusal of at least one Vatican office to do likewise. That office made the incredible complaint that these letters should have been sent through diplomatic channels. It would be a good idea if the Irish government recalled its ambassador to the Vatican, a diplomatic protest just short of breaking off relations. It might waken up some of the officials there.

In the case of a Columban priest named in the report, - he has served time in prison in both the UK and Ireland - the Vatican authorities refused to laicise him, though this was what the Society of St Columban had requested, but put him into a kind of canonical 'limbo' for nine years. He is not allowed to function as a priest but is still a member of the Society, which the Columbans intended all along.

The report notes that persons in such situations are much less of a danger to society than others who cannot be monitored in the same close way.There is great anger and utter dismay among many Irish people, including priests and religious, over what has happened and especially over the cover-ups. But one danger I see is that the much wider reality of children being abused by family members, relatives and close friends, will not be pursued as it should be.

Church leaders in Ireland and in some other countries have created a situation where Jesus himself would be under suspicion.

And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mk 10:13-16).

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (in photo above) is the first Irish bishop, as I see it, to tackle the abuse of children by priests in his jurisdiction head on. He even took on his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, who didn't want to release certain documents, as he thought it would be betraying the confidentiality that he sees as necessary. The report shows Cardinal Connell as a man who gradually became aware of the horror of what had been going on and who did then try to deal with it as best he could.

The website of the Archdiocese of Dublin carries Archbishop Martin's statement after the publication of the report on Thursday. I have highlighted parts of it.


on the occasion of the publication of the Commission of Investigation in the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin
26th November 2009

It is difficult to find words to describe how I feel today. As Archbishop of a Diocese for which I have pastoral responsibility, of my own native diocese, of the diocese for which I was ordained a priest, of a Diocese which I love and hope to serve to the best of my ability, what can I say when I have to share with you the revolting story of the sexual assault and rape of so many young children and teenagers by priests of the Archdiocese or who ministered in the diocese? No words of apology will ever be sufficient.

Can I take this opportunity to thank Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team for their diligent and professional work in producing this Report, which I expect will provide an invaluable framework for how we can better protect the children of today and the future. The Report of the Commission gives us some insight into the crimes that took place. But no report can give an indication of the suffering and trauma endured by the children, and indeed the suffering also of their family members.

Many survivors have not yet been able to speak about abuse they experienced. For them the publication of the Report must be truly traumatic. I urge them to turn to some trusted friend, to a counsellor or counselling service of their choice, to the health services, to the Gardai or if they so wish to the Diocesan Child Protection Service.

The report focuses on a representative sample of cases, but the Commission examined many other cases. The Report highlights devastating failings of the past. These failings call on all of us to scrupulously apply clear guidelines and norms. There is no room for revisionism regarding the norms and procedures in place.

The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Report is that while Church leaders – Bishops and religious superiors - failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved. Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children. Their motivation was not about money or revenge; it was quite simply about that most basic human sense of right and wrong and that basic Christian motivation of concern for others. The survivors of abuse who courageously remained determined to have the full truth heard by all deserve our recognition and admiration.

How did those with responsibility dramatically misread the risk that a priest who had hurt one of those whom Jesus calls “the little ones” might go on to abuse another child if decisive action was not taken? Excuses, denials and minimisations were taken from priest abusers who were at the least in denial, at worst devious in multiple ways, and decisions were taken which resulted in more children being abused.

Efforts made to “protect the Church” and to “avoid scandal” have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.

The damage done to children abused by priests can never be undone. As Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin I offer to each and every survivor, my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them. I am aware however that no words of apology will ever be sufficient.

The fact that the abusers were priests constituted both and offence to God and affront to the priesthood. The many good priests of the Archdiocese share my sense of shame. I ask you to support and encourage us in our ministry at what is a difficult time. I know also that many others, especially parents, feel shocked and betrayed at what has been revealed. I hope that all of us - bishops, priests and lay persons - working together can rebuild trust by ensuring that day after day the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin becomes a safer environment for children.I ask the priests of the diocese and the Parish Pastoral Councils to ensure that the wide reaching measures introduced into our parishes and organizations regarding the safeguarding of children are rigorously observed and constantly verified and updated. This scandal must be an occasion for all of us to be vigilant so that the abuse of children - wherever it takes place in our society - is addressed and the correct measures are taken promptly.

The hurt done to a child through sexual abuse is horrific. Betrayal of trust is compounded by the theft of self esteem. The horror can last a lifetime. Today, it must be unequivocally recalled that the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood which survivors endured and the diocese failed in its responses to them when they had the courage to come forward, compounding the damage done to their innocence.

For that no words of apology will ever be sufficient.

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