00:00 Saturday 23 July 2011  Written by Editor

Church betrayed its people

THE people of the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne - and, sadly, moreso the victims of clerical child sexual abuse - were betrayed by those in the position of most trust and greatest power, who failed to engage promptly and meaningfully with the health and police authorities in accordance with agreed guidelines when allegations of abuse were made. It is obvious from the conclusions of the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne that now retired Bishop John Magee and the former Vicar General of the Diocese, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, put the interests of the institution ahead of those of the victims of abuse and their families, whom their true vocation should have been to serve.

In so doing, they betrayed all the people of their flock by trying to shield the minority of clergy in the diocese who perpetrated insidious acts of abuse on vulnerable children from the rigours of the law by not reporting allegations to the civil authorities in a timely manner. Only those who suffered such sick and reprehensible abuse by people flouting their positions of authority can really know the true horrors of the experience, because they have to live with it for the rest of their lives, but when attempts are subsequently made by people in a higher position of authority within the church to either cover up or not deal properly with their allegations, it adds insult to injury and makes it even more difficult psychologically for the victims to cope and to get on with their lives.

This is what happened in the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne and nothing, but nothing can justify the actions - or perhaps, more correctly, the lack of same - of the erstwhile Bishop and Vicar General, the latter of whom was entrusted to act as a delegate or director of child protection, in accordance with the agreed Catholic Church's Guidelines for Child Protection, 1996. Seemingly, Vicar General O'Callaghan thought he knew better and decided to deal with allegations of abuse himself in a secretive manner, not reporting them immediately to the gardai as required by the church's own guidelines - which, incidentally, Bishop Magee assured the Minister for Children as recently as 2005 were fully in place in the diocese and being complied with.

The Commission of Investigation, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy who also carried out the investigation into clerical child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, found that Bishop Magee's assurance was false. Before being made Bishop of Cloyne in 1987, Magee had been a personal secretary to three Popes - Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II - and was very familiar with the Vatican and its culture of secrecy, which obviously applied in his Co Cork diocese too, especially if something was likely to adversely affect the reputation of the church.

While church authorities in Ireland had agreed their own guidelines for child protection, the underlying Vatican attitude was that this was merely 'a study document' of a voluntary nature and that the church's hands were not tied by it. This has yet to be properly explained by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, who told the Murphy commission he could not assist its work, telling it that the nunciature 'does not determine the handling of cases of sexual abuse in Ireland and therefore is unable to assist you in this matter.'

If the man from head office in the Vatican is not prepared to co-operate with investigations into alleged misdeeds by or failings of people in one of its branch offices, it is - effectively - being dismissive of the work being carried out by our civil authorities and, by extension, insulting the people of Ireland. Little wonder then that there have been calls for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio, who is the Ambassador of the Vatican State to Ireland.

The Cloyne investigation differs from other catalogues of horrific abuse outlined in reports of recent years, such as Ferns, Ryan (religious orders) and the first Murphy report (Dublin), in that it concentrates mainly on how 40 complaints made against 19 clergy in the diocese in the years from 1996 - when the church guidelines were introduced - to early 2009 were handled. While the other reports mentioned above dealt with abuse, no less horrific, that happened decades ago, what has alarmed people most is that the church's culture of secrecy continued right up to recent years in Cloyne, just as we thought the awful past had been put behind us and that we were living in more enlightened times in dealing with the area of child protection.

According to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the report 'is a terrible indictment of the inertia that was present in the Cloyne diocese towards child protection.' It also begs the question as to whether the church's guidelines have been followed properly in every other diocese in the country; presumably the civil authorities would voice their concerns if they though otherwise.

A number of welcome initiatives are to be implemented and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald is placing the revised Children First guidelines on a statutory footing, while the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is publishing a proposed Bill to create a criminal offence of withholding information relating to the commission of arrestable offences, including sexual offences, against a child or a vulnerable adult. This controversially includes breaking the seal of confession, which is respected in most other Christian countries, but needs to be properly debated before enactment, along with the whole area of mandatory reporting and its likely effects, and - of course - that long-outstanding referendum to enshrine the rights of children in our Constitution.

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