DUBLIN, Ireland — Ireland was shocked this week by yet another damning report on clerical abuse of children, with horrific stories of young lives ruined by predatory priests.
The government-ordered report concludes that the Catholic Church is still not proactive in dealing with allegations of abuse in modern Ireland. A commission found that despite the Church's commitment to reform after earlier reports of clerical crimes outraged the public, its response is still inadequate and entirely unhelpful. The report also accuses the Vatican of not being supportive of Irish bishops who wished to implement new guidelines for reporting abuse.
Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter promised Thursday to introduce a new law under which Catholic clergy could be jailed for up to five years if they failed to report pedophiles to the police. Shatter said it was “truly scandalous that people who presented a public face of concern continued to maintain a private agenda of concealment and evasion.”
In language never heard before from an Irish prime minister about the Catholic Church leadership in Rome, Enda Kenny said Thursday, “I think this is absolutely disgraceful that the Vatican took the view that it did in respect of something that’s as sensitive and as personal with such long-lasting difficulties for persons involved. The law of the land should not be stopped by a collar or a crozier."
The commission, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, was tasked with examining complaints of abuse and cover-up in the Diocese of Cloyne — a rural area covering most of County Cork in southern Ireland — between 1996 and 2009.
Bishop John Magee, who was secretary to three popes and is remembered as the Vatican official who found Pope John Paul I’s body in 1978, was Bishop of Cloyne from 1987 until last year. The report found that he misled the Irish minister for health and children, when he insisted that the church’s own guidelines for dealing with complaints of abuse by priests were being fully complied with.
Between 1996 and 2008, two-thirds of complaints in the diocese were not reported to the police by church authorities and Magee’s oversight of child safeguard measures was described as “inadequate and in some respects dangerous.”
In a case involving a priest named Father Caden, the bishop gave contradictory accounts to the Vatican and to an inter-diocese committee in September 2005.
He told Rome privately that Caden admitted his guilt and offered his resignation when confronted with an allegation by a fellow priest. However Bishop Magee informed the committee that Caden had been shocked by the allegation and had immediately denied it. Caden was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence last year after pleading guilty to three charges of gross indecency.
Magee, who is himself cited in the report for inappropriate behavior with a young man, admitted to the commission that his approach in the Caden case was wrong. He issued a statement unreservedly apologizing to those hurt by his flawed response, but did not speak to the media.
The report has strained relations between the Irish government and the Vatican, with Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore announcing he would call in the papal nuncio to speak about the findings.
Relations between Dublin and Rome were already frayed over the Vatican’s attitude to earlier inquiries in Ireland.
Last December the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks disclosed the contents of a U.S. embassy cable from Rome informing Washington that the Vatican had not even acknowledged a request from an earlier Irish government inquiry of information from Vatican files.
Murphy’s report accused the Vatican of trying to assuage dissenters in the church by sending a secret letter to Irish bishops declaring that a strict code drawn up by the Irish hierarchy in 1996 on handling abuse allegations, was “merely a study document.”
At the heart of Murphy's 341-page report are the harrowing details of the suffering caused to child victims in a part of rural Ireland where priests traditionally enjoyed respect and deference.
“Most complainants continued to live in the small towns and parishes in which they were reared and in which the abuse occurred,” the report said. “Their difficulties were compounded by the fact that the alleged abuser was usually still in the area and held in high regard by their families and their communities.”
Many thought they were the only victim and suffered in silence, even in one case having to endure the abuser officiating at the victim’s wedding.
One victim recalled her revulsion at the abuse by a priest, and the feeling of sickness every time it happened, as if “there were golf balls in my throat.” She recalled “the smell of incense, the bible, the open confessions, the removal of his collar when he wanted to touch me more intimately… My head being pushed down, my body being invaded, the weight of his body on me.”
Magee’s former deputy, Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan, given responsibility for handling abuse cases, said he was “sorry and saddened” that his own approach in many instances caused further hurt to vulnerable people.
The allegations against 18 priests detailed in the report were passed to the police, but often too late for a successful prosecution.
The report is the latest in a series of findings that have shocked this once devoutly Catholic country and has contributed to a growth in anti-clericalism and a decline in church attendance.
In 2005 an inquiry into the diocese of Ferns in southeast Ireland catalogued some 100 allegations of sexual crimes over four decades, during which bishops failed to protect children and the police did not keep records of abuse complaints.
In May 2009 another commission disclosed the imprisonment and ill treatment of thousands of children in church and state-run homes, including the infamous Magdalene laundries (for "fallen women") and several boys’ industrial schools where pedophilia was endemic.
In November 2009, a report found that the Dublin Diocese, obsessed with the need for secrecy, had covered up the crimes of 46 priests, mostly with the collusion of the Irish police, over a period of 30 years.