The Catholic Church

The weakening of the authority, credibility and influence of the Catholic Church was given added momentum by the revelation of scandals in the 1990s; indeed this progression continued in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In November 2009, the Report of the Commission of Investigation, Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, chaired by Justice Yvonne Murphy, was published (The Murphy Report).  It had its origins in the 2002 broadcast by RTE television of a series produced by the acclaimed Irish documentary maker Mary Raftery, Cardinal Secrets, which investigated the handling of child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin Catholic archdiocese. Following the broadcast, the Government pledged to establish a full independent judicial inquiry into the archdiocese’s handling of abuse allegations, which led to the setting up in 2006 of an investigation into the handling of those allegations by church and State authorities from 1975 until 2004. It found that four successive archbishops of the Dublin Catholic archdiocese handled allegations of child sexual abuse badly, with “denial, arrogance and cover-up”, and did not report their knowledge of abuse to the Irish police over a period of three decades. The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated the cover-up of abuse. It was revealed thatauxiliary bishops of Dublin were also aware of complaints of child sex abuse, yet assignments of priests to parishes were often made without any reference to child sex abuse issues. The report detailed cases involving 46 priests, and more than 320 children, most of them boys. Senior members of the Irish police force regarded the actions of priests as being outside their remit, and some of them reported complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them. While some priests did bring allegations of abuse to their superiors, there was, it was found, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

The Murphy Report was the third devastating report. The Ferns Report, published in 2005, related to the abuse of children in a Wexford Diocese. The Ryan Report of 2009 concerned child abuse in institutions run by religious orders funded by the state that vindicated the abused child and revealed much about how power was used and abused in the past. In providing such an overwhelming body of evidence about an “obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal” and “little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child”, these reports provided a corrective to the atmosphere of secrecy and shame that surrounded these experiences for so many years. The Murphy report also made it clear that the extent of the sexual assaults on children could not be explained by maintaining that the country was too poor and ignorant; there were calculated cover-ups by the church and a deliberate abdication of state responsibility. The documentation available and the decision in 1986 to protect church assets from abuse victims by taking out an insurance policy gave lie to the claims that there was not enough knowledge of what was going on or that the church hierarchy “was on a learning curve”’, as it maintained.


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