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'Peversion of power and trust' exposed in Dublin archdiocese handling of sex-abuse complaints

November 30, 2009

An independent commission's report on the handling of sex-abuse complaints with the Archdiocese of Dublin, exposing a pattern of misconduct within the Irish hierarchy, has provoked calls for the resignation of several bishops criticized in the report.

The long-awaited report of the "Murphy Commission"-- named for Judge Yvonne Murphy, who chaired the effort-- was released on November 26. The exhaustive report, covering sex-abuse complaints between the years 1974 and 2004, fulfilled the prediction of Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who had warned that the faithful would find the material shocking.

Archbishop Martin-- who became Archbishop of Dublin in 2004 after years of service in the Vatican, and thus was not involved in the handling of sex-abuse cases during the period covered by the report-- acknowledged that the report showed serious misconduct by Church officials. His public statements were interpreted by some journalists as hints that some mother Irish bishops should consider resignation in light of the criticism.

"The report leaves us in no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was tolerated and covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities," the Irish government noted in a statement released in conjunction with the report's publication. The government saw a "systematic, calculated perversion of power and trust." Justice Minister Dermot Ahern noted "the cruel irony that the Church, partly motivated by a desire to avoid scandal, in fact created a scandal on an astonishing scale."

The Murphy Commmission charges that the archdiocese "did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the state."

"The Dublin archdiocese’s preoccupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets," the Murphy Commission concluded. The report provides a scathing assessment of the way sex-abuse complaints were handled by several past archbishops and auxiliary bishops of Dublin. Among those criticized in the report are 3 bishops who now head their own Irish dioceses: Bishops Donal Murray of Limerick, Jim Moriarty of Kildare Leighlin, and Martin Drennan of Galway. Also implicated are two current Dublin auxiliaries: Bishops Ray Field and Eamonn Walsh.

Cardinal Cahal Daly, the retired Archbishop of Armagh, told the Sunday Business Post that the misconduct exposed by the Murphy Commission was "almost beyond belief." His successor, Cardinal Sean Brady, said that he was "shocked and ashamed" by what he read in the report.

The Murphy Commission complained that the Vatican had not responded to requests for information about sex-abuse cases. Vatican officials said that the commission had not made the requests through proper diplomatic channels, and that the matter was best handled by local Church leaders.

The Irish bishops, in a series of public statements responding to the Murphy Commmission report, emphasized that they had implemented new policies to ensure proper handling of sex-abuse complaints. Bishop Eamonn Walsh, the Dublin auxiliary, said that it would serve no useful purpose to expand the scope of the Murphy Commission to examine the treatment of sex-abuse complaints by other Irish dioceses, since the bishops had already learned the essential lessons.

Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe took a more militant stand, complaining that the bishops criticized in the Murphy Commission report were being subjected to a "public trial" in the mass media, and warning against the impulse to "get a head on a plate."


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  • Posted by: geardoid - Jan. 03, 2010 12:34 AM ET USA

    It is a bit ripe to read secular criticism that the Church in Ireland in the interest of protecting reputations or even the seal of confession "did not implement its own canon law rules". The things revealed may be unconscionable, and episcopal culpability acknowledged (a positive response), but I agree with Bishop Walsh that we should take no comfort in feeding near the great white sharks in government and media; nor should we gloat over resignations of our bishops !