Since the release of the Murphy report in November, revealing “scandalous” child sex-abuse in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004, the ramifications on the Catholic Church have been felt all the way to the Vatican.
Two former arch-bishops of Dublin; Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray, and Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Jim Moriarity, have resigned because they failed to report incidents of abuse. Victim support group ‘One in Four’ called for the resignation of the other three bishops named in the report, Dr Martin Drennan, Dr Ray Field, and Dr Éamonn Walsh.
In addition, Father Thomas Naughton was convicted of sexually abusing an altar boy in the County Wicklow parish of Blessington and was imprisoned for two years after a court hearing in December. The Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was called to a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Micháel Martin in November for failing to respond to the Murphy investigation, and Cardinal Sean Brady, the current Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and the Papal Nuncio met with the Pope in December to discuss the report.
In response, Pope Benedict said he was “deeply disturbed and distressed” by the “heinous crimes” committed by Irish Catholic priests who sexually abused children. He pledged that “the church will continue to follow this grave matter with the closest attention in order to understand better how these shameful events came to pass and how best to develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence.” He was criticised by victims’ groups for not issuing an apology or visiting Ireland.
Pope Benedict’s words have rang hollow for victims’ groups and commentators who refer to 2001 when the Pope, who was then the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Vatican’s Holy Office which oversees Catholic doctrine), wrote a letter in Latin to every diocesan bishop in the Catholic Church telling them to report cases of clerical child sex-abuse to Rome where decisions would be made on how to deal with them. The document was accompanied by a letter, also in Latin, stipulating that the instruction was to be kept secret.
Complaints against 46 priests were investigated by judge Yvonne Murphy and her team. They involved over 320 abused children, mostly boys, and included cases of rape.
Some of the priests investigated are currently before the courts; others have died.
“The avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and the priests” was the main focus of the church during the period, the report concluded.
Not only did various arch-bishops and clergy facilitate the cover-up of child sex-abuse by refusing to report their knowledge of the abuse to the Garda, the state authorities regarded the church as being “outside their remit” and failed to investigate reports of abuse from victims. In some cases the Garda passed such cases onto the arch-bishop at the time.
In one instance the church had claimed that a priest had sexually assaulted a young girl while she was in hospital because of “wonderment” about the female anatomy. One priest abused over 100 children and another said he abused children twice-fortnightly over 25 years.
It was revealed that “mental reservation” was introduced by Cardinal Desmond Connell as a means of getting around the truth. He said it “permitted a churchman knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying.”
The report said it was satisfied that effective procedures for dealing with child sex-abuse are now in place and all complaints are reported to the Garda.
In response to the revelations, Fr Brian D’Arcy, the noted Passionist priest, author, newspaper columnist and broadcaster, said that the “hierarchical church” needs to reform “its sadistic use of power” and “its pathetically dysfunctional theology of sex.”
He concluded: “We need a complete new way of being Christian, and of living responsible, healthy, human and spiritual lives.”