Yesterday I appeared on BBC1’s The Big Questions with my Catholic Voices hat on, in order to discuss the UN report into child abuse. Austen Ivereigh one of the founders of the project has done an outstanding job in terms of reporting developments, describing the process as little more than a kangaroo court and analysing what precisely went wrong. These posts should be mandatory for anyone wishing to understand the reasons behind Catholics’ vociferous expressions of shock, dismay and disgust and provide a comprehensive response, pointing out the many errors, false statements and lack of understanding.
No right-thinking Catholic wishes to deny or downplay the terrible harm that was caused to victims, a harm that was compounded by the attitude of those within authority who in many cases ignored or disbelieved their claims and some even went so far as to attempt to smear and discredit victims. All of this was contemptible and inexcusable – childhood abuse destroys lives and sets people up with a lifetime of mental health issues. I am the mother of four children I could not be responsible for my actions and would struggle to contain my anger were I to discover that someone had laid a finger upon my precious children, or had emotionally abused them in some way, and no doubt would succumb to wishing to wreak dreadful vengeance or fighting for justice. The anger of victims of abuse is righteous and it is justified, they and their families have been treated shamefully by members of our church.
But truth is the bedfellow of justice and without it, justice cannot be served. This report lets down the victims by serving a false narrative of orchestrated abuse and a centralised deliberate policy of cover-up, whereas the truth is that the Catholic church is massively decentralised, individual Catholic bishops have a lot more direct canonical power than their Anglican counterparts. Where there were failings this was due to the ineptness at a local level, and if we want to prevent any sort of recurrence then we have to be able to look at what happened and analyse matters objectively. Blaming the Vatican directly is far too glib and simplistic, as well as being erroneous and it lets too many people off the hook, including those members of the laity who colluded with the abuse. Furthermore by writing such an blatantly ideological report, the UN allow those hardliners within the church who may be resisting reform to dismiss it. There are some countries who are still lagging behind in terms of formulating and reporting their child protection measures to the Holy See as Pope Benedict requested, along with some who seem to have very low prosecution rates, the UN has effectively deprived the Holy See of a chance to leverage the report and use it to rapidly effect change. John Allen, the veteran reporter, suggested that the report had been written before even hearing the Vatican’s testimony.
There is a lot that I wished to say yesterday, however the format of the show meant that I was never once allowed to finish my points and taken off on several blind alleys, such as for example, whether or not the law ought to force priests to break the seal of the confessional, despite the fact that there is no statistical or even anecdotal evidence to suggest that were priests compelled by law to report penitent child abusers in their confessional, this would have prevented any cases of abuse. Breaking the seal of confidentiality would discourage people from confessing their sins and being compelled to seek the help that they need, especially in the cases of those predisposed to pedophilia who were not guilty of any actual crimes. If a priest were to wish to confess sexual crimes in the context of the confessional, chances are that he would seek out a large city centre Cathedral far from where he lived in order that he could retain his anonymity in an old-fashioned confessional box, therefore it’s unlikely that a confessor would even know who he was, let alone whether or not he was a priest. What’s he going to do? Start chasing the guy down the aisle and conduct a citizen’s arrest, until the police arrive? Far better to withhold absolution unless and until the penitent has proven his wish to make amends by handing himself into the police. Mandatory reporting will simply discourage confessions and is an unacceptable incursion of the state into religious freedom and practice.
While the UK has witnessed child abuse, perpetrated by members of the Catholic church, the numbers are relatively small, 0.4% of priests and deacons were discovered to have been abusers and it’s notable that there are not many prolific UK survivors or survivors groups. Ireland is a different case due to the inter-relationship between the Catholic Church and state and the preponderance of state mandated Catholic institutions The scandal broke at a time where the church was beginning to lose its power and authority after decades of poor catechesis, without secure foundations the church crumbled as a result of the combined blows of the abuse scandal and the effect of the Celtic tiger.
Cases of Irish abuse are often presented in the UK media and without the cultural knowledge and background most Brits accept the narrative of Irish clerical abuse on an industrial scale without question, and are disgusted. Furthermore it’s very difficult for an English person such as myself to argue authoritatively against an Irish victim of abuse such as Colm O’Gorman who has dedicated his life to attempting to force change in the Vatican and takes issue with large chunks of doctrine. Speaking to him about the Miss Panti row, Colm doubted my perspective and cultural knowledge, due to my British nationality.
Nationality should not preclude being able to present and analyse facts – it’s easy to write me off as an English ignoramus who hasn’t studied Irish abuse in detail, however a close Irish friend of mine has had a similar interest in terms of discovering the truth of Irish clerical abuse to Colm, spending years painstakingly pouring over the original reports and so I present their compelling, factual and statistical report below. By concentrating on clerical abuse, we overlook the measures that need to be taken to combat a much more widescale problem, which would still appear to be being brushed under the carpet.
Abuse is by no means a distinctively Irish phenomenon, of course; in 2011 the NSPCA conducted a study, published as Childhood Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today, which found 24.1pc of British adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood or adolescence, while the 2007 Baltic Sea Regional Study on Adolescents’ Sexuality surveyed more than 1,500 18-year-old Swedish girls and found that 56pc of them had having experienced unwanted sexual contact. Different methodologies result in different figures, of course, but it is clear that this is a serious problem for all countries.
Background: The Carrigan Report 1930
The 1930 Carrigan Report noted that there was ‘an alarming amount of sexual crime increasing yearly, a feature of which was the large number of criminal interference with girls and children from 16 years downwards including many cases of children under ten years’; the Irish police estimated that under 15% of abuse cases ever went to court, as it was difficult to establish guilt and parents tended to feel it would be better for their children if their experiences were kept secret. The report was shelved, and nothing was done.
The 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) study gave a fuller picture of the extent to which sexual abuse had been prevalent in Ireland; approximately 27% of 3,000 surveyed adults said that they had experienced sexual abuse in their childhood or adolescence.
Approximately one abuse survivor in sixty said that his or her abuser had been a religious minister; a further one in sixty saying his or her abuser had been a teacher who was a member of a religious order.
The fact that this report found that almost 60% of Irish abuse had taken place in the context of the family circle, including neighbours, friends, and babysitters, has had little or no impact on Irish public life and has been but infrequently mentioned in Ireland’s mass media over the past twelve years. It seems to have been shelved almost as effectively as the Carrigan Report.
In 2009 the Irish Times quoted an Irish detective who works with Interpol as saying that 85% of child sexual abuse takes place within the family circle; that same year the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland revealed that 97% of the abuse cases brought to their attention in 2008 had involved abuse within the family circle. Such claims and revelations have been resolutely ignored, however: Ireland’s public narrative of abuse remains resolutely focused on abuse by clergy and members of religious orders.
The seriousness of the abuse of children within the Catholic Church in particular should certainly not be minimised in any sense, and the Irish State was quite right to address through a series of public reports the issue of abuse by clergy, members of religious orders, and lay people who worked with said orders.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (2009), otherwise known as the Ryan Report, examined the issue of abuse – sexual or otherwise – in the industrial schools that were long a feature of the Irish landscape. As the 2011 Colm O’Gorman-commissioned Amnesty International report In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy, and Cloyne Reports notes, 173,000 people entered these schools between 1936 and 1970 and 30,000 former residents complained to the Irish state of abuse they had suffered, with 14,448 of these seeking redress from the Residential Institutions Redress Board; just eleven cases of alleged abuse were, however, forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in only three cases did the DPP make a decision to prosecute.
Despite how Catholic religious orders ran the State’s industrial schools, references to the Holy See are conspicuous by their absence from the Ryan Report , the Vatican being mentioned barely at a dozen points over the course of the Report’s five volumes, usually in the context of when orders had been founded or how things changed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council; sections about communications with Rome invariably turn out to be about communications between particular orders’ Irish provinces and international headquarters.
At no point is Rome criticised in the Report, which implicitly recognises that the Holy See was in no meaningful way responsible for how these Irish schools were run; rather, the Report instead focuses on the religious orders themselves as essentially autonomous and distinctly Irish entities and on the Irish State which established, funded, and monitored the schools, and was responsible for children being sent to them in the first place.
One telling detail of the report is section 1.6.77 which notes that when a Christian brother was suspected of abuse, the Irish authorities would often encourage him to seek dispensation to leave of his own accord rather than undergo the dismissal procedure; this, of course, meant that reports of abuse were not submitted to Rome.
The other three reports– the Ferns Report (2005), the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin (2009) otherwise known as the Murphy Report, and the Commission of Investigation, Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne (2011), otherwise known as the Cloyne Report – were very different. These examined how between 1962 and 2009 Church and State had responded to allegations of child sexual abuse within the dioceses of Ferns and Cloyne and the archdiocese of Dublin.
If these reports can be said to have had a central finding it is that in the investigated dioceses, the Church’s own canon law policies on how to take action against priests accused of abuse were never followed. In Plain Sight recognised this, and a close reading of the reports bears this out: over the course of three official inquiries, the Irish State examined how the Irish Church handled 86 abuse allegations received between 1962 and 2009 and revealed that prior to 2003 not even one was submitted to Rome. No excuses can or should be offered for how these matters were mishandled by those in authority in the Irish Church.
Other than the cataclysmic mishandling of allegations, victims, and abusers by the Irish hierarchy and those associated with them, the Irish reports demonstrate something that Charles Scicluna, then in charge at the time of the CDF section that handled abuse cases – and a man who Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins has described as someone who really ‘gets it’ when it comes to the Church and abuse – told The Tablet in 2010: at the time when clerical abuse was at its most prevalentRome simply wasn’t told what was happening on the ground.
Over the last decade, almost half of all Irish Times articles mentioning abuse have mentioned clerical abuse, despite this representing, it would appear, between 1.7 and 3.4% of all Irish abuse, and insofar as Ireland’s government is interested in fighting abuse, it is concentrating on abuse within institutions, religious or otherwise, despite it now seeming that institutional abuse in general is almost – though sadly not quite – a thing of the past.
It is, of course, right that governments should seek to stamp out abuse within all sorts of institutions; they should, however, be seeking to do much more than that in order to prevent abuse, help survivors of abuse, and bring to justice the perpetrators of abuse, the vast majority of whom operate outside institutional walls.
The Ferns Report
The 2005 Ferns Report examined allegations of abuse in the diocese of Ferns between 1962 and 2002. It considered allegations of abuse made against 21 priests; not even one allegation was passed on to Rome during the period covered by the report, although in 2003 the apostolic administrator of the diocese sought Rome’s advice regarding the case of Monsignor Michael Ledwith, with the CDF subsequently dismissing Msgr Ledwith from the clerical state.
- Fr Donal Collins – not referred to Rome.
- Fr James Doyle – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Alpha – not referred to Rome.
- Fr James Grennan – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Sean Fortune – not referred to Rome.
- Msgr Michael Ledwith – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2003.
- Canon Martin Clancy – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Beta – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Gamma – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
- Fr Delta – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
- Fr Epsilon – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Iota – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Kappa – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Lamda – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Zeta – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Sigma – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Upsilon – yet to be referred to Rome.
- Fr Theta – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Omikron – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Tau – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Omega – pending advice, not referred to Rome.
- Unnamed priests – inquiry took view that diocese and police were right in taking no further action, therefore not referred to Rome.
The Murphy Report
The 2009 Dublin or Murphy Report examined allegations of abuse against a representative sample of 46 priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004, including cases where the civil authorities declined to prosecute, cases where the accused priests were dead at the time of accusations, cases where the accused priests were clearly innocent, and every single case where clergy had been convicted in the criminal courts.
Not one of these cases was sent to Rome for disciplinary reasons, although in three cases priests sought voluntary laicisation, and in three other cases priests appealed to Rome when action was taken against them. In one of these three cases the appeal was upheld by the Roman Rota on technical grounds with the penalty being reduced; in another the appeal was initially upheld by the Roman Rota only to be subsequently overturned by the Pope; in a third the CDF rejected the appeal and confirmed the original decision.
- Fr James McNamee – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Edmondus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Phineas – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Vidal – although he subsequently retracted his request, voluntarily sought laicisation from Rome.
- Fr Patrick Maguire – after decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota on technical grounds in 2002 and was instead suspended from ministry for the following nine years.
- Fr Ioannes – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Tyrus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Jovito – after 1993 decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota in 1994 and had penalty reduced to ten years suspension in a monastery; Dublin argued against this decision, and in 1996 Fr Jovito was dismissed by the Pope.
- Fr Patrick McCabe – voluntarily sought laicisation in late 1987 and after Dublin contacted the CDF urging it to act quickly, was laicised in early 1988.
- Fr Horatio – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Donal Gallagher – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Hugo – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Ivan Payne – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Donato – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Harry Moore – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Septimus – after priestly faculties were removed, appealed to CDF Rome in late 2002, with the CDF supporting the decision to remove priestly faculties.
- Fr William Carney – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Thomas Naughton – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Cicero – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Clemens – at time of reporting, not referred to Rome.
- Fr Dominic Savio Boland – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Quinton – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Marius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Noel Reynolds – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Daryus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Terentius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr John Kinsella – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Laurentius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Klaudius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Francis McCarthy – sought laicisation from Rome.
- Fr Sergius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Dante – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Cassius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Giraldus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Aquila – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Blaise – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Benito – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Magnus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Jacobus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Guido – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Rufus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Ignatio – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Cornelius – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Ricardus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Augustus – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Ezio – not referred to Rome.
The Cloyne Report
The 2011 Cloyne Report examined allegations of abuse and concerning behaviour on the part of 18 priests – and one bishop – in the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009. The first case to be reported to Rome was that of Fr Brendan Wrixon, the report’s Fr Caden, who was reported in December 2005. Suspended in the meantime, in April 2007 Rome confirmed that he should be barred from exercising any priestly ministry; in 2010 the Circuit Criminal Court in Cork gave him an 18-month suspended sentence for an act of gross indecency committed in the early 1980s.
- Fr Ronat – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
- Fr Corin – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Darian – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Calder – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
- Fr Moray – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Flan – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Drust – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
- Fr Tarin – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Kael – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Baird – Private intervention sought advice from CDF in 2004; Msgr Scicluna advised that diocese be asked to conduct a preliminary investigation. Diocese did not further contact Rome.
- Unknown Priest – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Rion – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Caden – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2005.
- Two priest teachers in a diocesan college – not referred to Rome
- Fr Naal – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Kelven – not referred to Rome.
- Fr Zephan – not referred to Rome.
- Bishop John Magee – referred to Congregation for Bishops in Rome in 2009.