January 12, 2012
The New York Times
By BRUCE WEBER
Mary Raftery, a journalist whose television documentaries
exposed decades of abuse of needy children in state-sponsored, church-run
schools in Ireland, prompting an apology by the prime minister and a government
investigation, died on Tuesday in Dublin. She was 54.
The cause was cancer, her niece Isolde Raftery said.
Ms. Raftery uncovered the child abuse as a producer for Ireland’s national
broadcasting service, RTE, and brought it to national attention in “States of
Fear,” a three-part documentary series broadcast in April and May 1999. In
examining the state child-care system in Ireland, the series brought to light a
Dickensian network of reformatories and residential schools for poor, neglected
and abandoned children known as industrial schools.
The schools, which were financed and supervised by the government and managed
largely by religious orders, mainly Roman Catholic, served about 30,000 children
from the 1930s to the 1990s, according to a government report in 2009.
The films, making poignant use of interviews with victims, focused on the system
in midcentury and presented a horrifying litany of torments the young people
suffered at the schools: beatings, semi-starvation, insufficient clothing,
filthy living conditions, overwork, emotional abuse and sexual assault.
Ms. Raftery was not the first to report on the abuse. In 1970, in what was known
as the Kennedy Report, a government commission deplored the mistreatment and
recommended that the schools be closed. (Some of the more egregious ones were.)
Later, memoirs like “The God Squad” by Paddy Doyle and “Fear of the Collar” by
Patrick Touher, as well as “Dear Daughter,” a television documentary about a
woman named Christine Buckley, all bore vivid witness to the savagery visited
upon children by the school authorities, including priests and nuns. In 1998,
the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order that ran many of the most notorious
schools in Ireland, issued a public apology to those who had been abused in
The widely seen “States of Fear” was not only painstakingly researched but also
comprehensive, making the powerful case that the abuse had been widespread and
“What television can do, if you get it right, is it can concentrate and focus a
story at a particular time, and make people face it and make people furious,”
Ms. Raftery said in a television interview in 2010. “So it was a question of
constructing a series of programs that wouldn’t allow people to go back into
denial again, in other words that the body of evidence would be so overwhelming
that it could not be denied anymore.”
Ms. Raftery and a co-author, Eoin O’Sullivan, followed the series with a
book-length adaptation of the material, “Suffer the Little Children: The Inside
Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools.”
The documentary series and the public outcry it engendered prompted the Irish
prime minister, Bertie Ahern, to apologize publicly. “The government wishes to
make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for
our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their
rescue,” he said, speaking before the Irish Parliament on May 11, 1999.
His government also established the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse,
which, after an investigation of nearly a decade, released a withering report in
2009, describing the schools’ treatment of young people in agonizing detail.
Thousands of victims received compensation, though the report was criticized by
victims’ advocates for not naming the abusers.
After “States of Fear,” Ms. Raftery further jolted Irish society with
investigative programs like “Cardinal Secrets,” about the sexual abuse of
children in the Dublin Archdiocese, and “Behind the Walls,” about Ireland’s
psychiatric hospitals and the large number of people committed there by their
“Bringing the truth out is always a positive thing, even though it may be a
painful truth,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of the Dublin Archdiocese said in a
tribute to Ms. Raftery this week. “I believe that through her exposition of sins
of the past and of the moment, that the church is a better place for children
and a place which has learned many lessons.”
Mary Frances Thérèse Raftery was born in Dublin on Dec. 21, 1957. Her father,
Adrian, was in the Irish foreign service, and she spent much of her childhood
abroad. Though she entered the University College of Dublin to study
engineering, she was derailed by an interest in journalism and never finished
Ms. Raftery was a reporter for a local weekly in Dublin and a radio critic for
another newspaper before she began writing investigative pieces for Magill, a
current affairs magazine. A prescient article that forecast the collapse of a
powerful developer’s empire propelled her career. She worked for RTE from 1984
Ms. Raftery is survived by her mother, Ita; her husband, David Waddell; a son,
Ben; two brothers, Adrian and Iain; and a sister, Iseult.
“She demanded attention to the stories she told,” Colm O’Gorman, executive
director of Amnesty International in Ireland and the founder of One in Four, an
organization that supports victims of sexual abuse, said in an interview on RTE
after Ms. Raftery’s death. “And they changed Ireland. They changed our society.”
The New York Times
By SARAH LYALL
Even as it remains preoccupied with its struggling economy, Ireland is in the
midst of a profound transformation, as rapid as it is revolutionary: it is
recalibrating its relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that
has permeated almost every aspect of life here for generations.
This is still a country where abortion is against the law, where divorce became
legal only in 1995, where the church runs more than 90 percent of the primary
schools and where 87 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic.
But the awe, respect and fear the Vatican once commanded have given way to
something new — rage, disgust and defiance — after a long series of horrific
revelations about decades of abuse of children entrusted to the church’s care by
a reverential populace.
While similar disclosures have tarnished the Vatican’s image in other countries,
perhaps nowhere have they shaken a whole society so thoroughly or so intensely
as in Ireland. And so when the normally mild-mannered prime minister, Enda
Kenny, unexpectedly took the floor in Parliament this summer to criticize the
church, he was giving voice not just to his own pent-up feelings, but to those
of a nation.
His remarks were a ringing declaration of the supremacy of state over church, in
words of outrage and indignation that had never before been used publicly by an
“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposed an
attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry into a sovereign, democratic
republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago,” Mr. Kenny said,
referring to the Cloyne Report, which detailed abuse and cover-ups by church
officials in southern Ireland through 2009.
Reiterating the report’s claim that the church had encouraged bishops to ignore
child-protection guidelines the bishops themselves had adopted, the prime
minister attacked “the dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism” that he said
“dominate the culture of the Vatican.”
He continued: “The rape and torture of children were downplayed, or ‘managed,’
to uphold instead the primacy of the institution — its power, its standing and
its reputation.” Instead of listening with humility to the heartbreaking
evidence of “humiliation and betrayal,” he said, “the Vatican’s response was to
parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”
The effect of his speech was instant and electric.
“It was a seminal moment,” said Patsy McGarry, the religious affairs
correspondent for The Irish Times. “No Irish prime minister has ever talked to
the Catholic Church before in this fashion. The obsequiousness of the Irish
state toward the Vatican is gone. The deference is gone.”
While both sides are talking in more emollient terms now, there is no question
that Mr. Kenny’s declaration deeply angered the Vatican. It immediately withdrew
its ambassador from Dublin, ostensibly to help fashion the Vatican’s formal
response. (The ambassador has since been reassigned to the Czech Republic.)
The position of Irish ambassador to the Vatican is currently vacant, too, and
there is talk here of merging it with the ambassadorship to Italy. While
government officials say the question is part of a general re-examination of the
diplomatic budget, such a move would be seen as a pointed snub to the Holy See,
a sovereign state to which countries generally dedicate separate embassies.
Meanwhile, in what has developed into a tit-for-tat war of words, the church’s
latest formal communication with Dublin — 24 pages of densely argued prose —
took issue with both the Cloyne Report and Mr. Kenny’s remarks, saying that a
crucial document had been “misrepresented” by the inquiry and calling
“unsubstantiated” Mr. Kenny’s assertion that the Vatican had tried to “frustrate
an inquiry” into the abuse scandal.
Sympathizers with the church’s position say the Vatican made valid and nuanced
points. And they say Mr. Kenny went too far. “Personally, I think it was
excessive,” David Quinn, founder of the Iona Institute, a right-leaning
religious advocacy group, said of the prime minister’s speech.
In an interview, Mr. Quinn said that the relationship between the Vatican and
the Irish government was “at a very low ebb.” The state of affairs had not been
helped by the fact that newspapers in China, he said, had written editorials
using Mr. Kenny’s remarks as an argument for “why the church should be under
Mr. Kenny, who took office in March after the long-dominant Fianna Fail party
imploded over the financial crisis, has been accused of opportunism by some
critics. But his position as a practicing Catholic from a conservative area
helped give moral weight to his speech. And his government’s feisty new tone has
been met with widespread approval in a place that feels doubly betrayed: first
by the abuse itself, and second by what many see as a cover-up by the church,
compounded by the often opaque, legalistic language with which it defends
“You can talk about the finesse of diplomatic ties and maneuverings, but what
Kenny was actually saying was that you have to prioritize the victims of abuse,
and you have to assert very loudly that this is a republic and civil law has to
take precedence over canon law,” said Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern
Irish history at University College Dublin.
While most people have not abandoned their religion, many seem to have abandoned
the habit of practicing it. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recently
estimated that only 18 percent of the Catholics in his archdiocese attended Mass
The government has announced that it will introduce a package of new legislation
to protect children from abuse and neglect, including a law — considered but
rejected as too contentious by previous governments — that would make it
mandatory to report evidence of crimes to the authorities. It has also
established a group to examine how to remove half of the country’s Catholic
primary schools from church control.
In a recent interview, Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said that
Ireland had asserted its role as a “modern democracy.”
No longer would the church enjoy its previous privileges and powers as in times
past, when it, with the government’s collusion, “effectively dictated the social
policy of the state,” he said.
“Historically, there was a view within the Catholic Church that there was a
parallel law, that they had their own system of law, and that was the law to
which they were accountable,” Mr. Gilmore said. “At a minimum, that blurred the
understanding of the necessity for full compliance with the law of the state.”
He added: “The Catholic Church is perfectly entitled to have its own view and
its one rule and to view matters according to its own light. But this is a
republic. And there is one law.”
When it comes to protecting children, Mr. Gilmore said, “Everybody in the state
— irrespective of whether they’re ordinary citizens doing everyday work, or a
priest or a bishop — has to comply with the law.”
September 3, 2011
The New York Times
By RACHEL DONADIO
VATICAN CITY — In a strong rebuke to the Irish government, the
Vatican said Saturday that it had never discouraged Irish bishops from reporting
the sexual abuse of minors to the police and dismissed claims that it had
undermined efforts to investigate abuse as “unfounded.”
The Vatican’s statement was the latest salvo in a tense diplomatic standoff
since the Irish government released a report in July accusing the Vatican of
encouraging bishops to ignore guidelines requiring them to report abuse cases to
Days later, Prime Minister Enda Kenny assailed the Vatican as trying to block an
inquiry into sexual abuse by priests and placing its interests ahead of
protecting children, prompting the Vatican to recall its ambassador.
In its first public statement on the issue since then, the Vatican said Saturday
that it “understands and shares the depth of public anger and frustration at the
findings” of the July report, “which found expression in the speech” by Mr.
Kenny. But it said both the report and the speech hinged on a
“misinterpretation” of a key letter.
The Vatican also dismissed as “unfounded” a statement by the Irish Parliament
that the Vatican’s intervention “contributed to the undermining of the child
protection framework and guidelines of the Irish state and Irish bishops.”
The July report, the fourth in a series of scathing Irish government reports
into sexual abuse by priests and evidence of a widespread cover-up, found that
clergy members in the rural diocese of Cloyne had not acted on complaints
against 19 priests from 1996 to as recently as 2009. The guidelines adopted by
Irish bishops in 1996 required that abuse cases be reported to the police.
The report pointed a finger at Rome for encouraging bishops to ignore the
The report cited a confidential letter to the bishops of Ireland from the
Vatican ambassador in 1997, in which he said that he had “serious reservations”
about the child-protection guidelines, and that they violated canon law.
The Cloyne Report said that letter “effectively gave individual Irish bishops
the freedom to ignore the procedures” and “gave comfort and support” to priests
who “dissented from the stated Irish church policy.”
The Vatican said Saturday that the letter had been misinterpreted. Taken out of
context, the Vatican statement said, the letter could generate “understandable
criticism.” But the Vatican said the bishops had defined the child-protection
policies as an “advisory document” and had never sought to make them legally
binding by asking the Vatican to incorporate them into canon law, as bishops in
the United States had done.
The Vatican added that in Ireland, bishops were “free to apply the penal
measures of canon law to offending priests,” and that they had “never been
impeded under canon law from reporting cases of abuse to the civil authorities.”
The Vatican also dismissed as “unsubstantiated” Mr. Kenny’s assertions that the
Vatican had tried to “frustrate an inquiry” into the sexual abuse scandal. The
Vatican said the Cloyne Report “contains no evidence to suggest that the Holy
See meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish State, or, for that matter, was
involved in the day-to-day management of Irish dioceses or religious
congregations with respect to sexual abuse issues.”
Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, who also is foreign minister, described the
Vatican response as “legalistic and technical,” and said he held firm to the
view that the Vatican had interfered in the affairs of a sovereign, democratic
state. The 1997 letter, he said in a statement, “provided a pretext for some to
avoid full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities.”
Terrance McKiernan, the president of Bishop Accountability, which monitors
sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church, said that the Vatican’s response
“shows that the Vatican is still in denial.”
Irish government investigations have found that thousands of children were
abused in state-run Catholic boarding schools from the 1930s to the 1990s. But
dioceses often moved predatory priests to new posts where they continued to
abuse children, the government found, rather than turn them over to the police.
For years, bishops worldwide have cited widespread confusion about how to
discipline errant priests. In the past, some high-ranking Vatican officials said
that bishops should protect priests, not police them, while others sought a
balance between respect for canon law and protecting children. Only with the
explosion of a new sexual abuse scandal in Europe last year has the Vatican
stepped up its efforts to clarify its procedures.
The Vatican statement on Saturday also suggested that the Irish government
should share the blame for the sexual abuse cases. The statement noted that
Irish law still did not require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse by clergy
members to the police, even though the issue was debated in the mid-1990s.
“Given that the Irish government of the day decided not to legislate on the
matter, it is difficult to see how” the Vatican’s “letter to the Irish bishops,
which was issued subsequently, could possibly be constructed as having somehow
subverted Irish law or undermined the Irish state in its efforts to deal with
the problem in question,” the Vatican said.
The Irish Parliament is now debating a controversial law that would make failure
to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities punishable with jail time.
There was one part of the Vatican statement on Saturday that the Irish
government did welcome.
“The Holy See is sorry and ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims
of abuse and their families have had to endure within the Church of Jesus
Christ,” the statement said, “a place where this should never happen.”
July 1, 2010
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
and DAVID M. HALBFINGER
In its long struggle to grapple with sexual abuse, the Vatican
often cites as a major turning point the decision in 2001 to give the office led
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the authority to cut through a morass of
bureaucracy and handle abuse cases directly.
The decision, in an apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II, earned Cardinal
Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, a reputation as the Vatican insider who most
clearly recognized the threat the spreading sexual abuse scandals posed to the
Roman Catholic Church.
But church documents and interviews with canon lawyers and bishops cast that
2001 decision and the future pope’s track record in a new and less flattering
The Vatican took action only after bishops from English-speaking nations became
so concerned about resistance from top church officials that the Vatican
convened a secret meeting to hear their complaints — an extraordinary example of
prelates from across the globe collectively pressing their superiors for reform,
and one that had not previously been revealed.
And the policy that resulted from that meeting, in contrast to the way it has
been described by the Vatican, was not a sharp break with past practices. It was
mainly a belated reaffirmation of longstanding church procedures that at least
one bishop attending the meeting argued had been ignored for too long, according
to church documents and interviews.
The office led by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, had actually been given authority over sexual abuse cases nearly 80 years
earlier, in 1922, documents show and canon lawyers confirm. But for the two
decades he was in charge of that office, the future pope never asserted that
authority, failing to act even as the cases undermined the church’s credibility
in the United States, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, an outspoken auxiliary bishop emeritus from Sydney,
Australia, who attended the secret meeting in 2000, said that despite numerous
warnings, top Vatican officials, including Benedict, took far longer to wake up
to the abuse problems than many local bishops did.
“Why did the Vatican end up so far behind the bishops out on the front line, who
with all their faults, did change — they did develop,” he said. “Why was the
Vatican so many years behind?”
Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, had not yet become pope, a divinely ordained
office not accustomed to direction from below. John Paul, his longtime superior,
often dismissed allegations of pedophilia by priests as an attack on the church
by its enemies. Supporters say that Cardinal Ratzinger would have preferred to
take steps earlier to stanch the damage in certain cases.
But the future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of
nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction.
More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal
Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the
scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions
that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.
As pope, Benedict has met with victims of sexual abuse three times. He belatedly
reopened an investigation into the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the
Legionaries of Christ, a powerful religious order — and a protégé of John Paul’s
— and ultimately removed him from ministry. He gave American bishops greater
leeway to take a tough line on abuse in the United States, and recently accepted
the resignations of several bishops elsewhere. And on June 11, at an event in
St. Peter’s Square meant to celebrate priests, he begged “forgiveness from God
and from the persons involved” and promised to do “everything possible” to
prevent future abuse.
But today the abuse crisis is still raging in the Catholic heartland of Europe:
civil investigators in Belgium last week took the rare step of raiding church
headquarters and the home of a former archbishop. The Vatican under Benedict is
still responding to abuse by priests at its own pace, and it is being besieged
by an outside world that wants it to move faster and more decisively.
Vatican officials, who declined to answer detailed questions related to
Benedict’s history, say that the church will announce another round of changes
to its canon laws, as it did in 2001, so that the church can improve its
response to the abuse problem.
But the suggestion that more reforms are ahead is a nod to the fact that there
is still widespread confusion among many bishops about how to handle allegations
of abuse, and that their approaches are remarkably uneven from country to
National bishops’ conferences in some countries have adopted their own norms and
standards. But several decades after sexual abuse by priests became a problem,
Benedict has not yet instituted a universal set of rules.
Scandal and Confusion
The sexual abuse scandal first caught much of the world’s attention in 2002,
with reports that the Boston archdiocese had been covering up for molesters for
years. But the alarm bells had already been sounding for nearly two decades in
many countries. In Lafayette, La., in 1984, the Rev. Gilbert Gauthé admitted to
molesting 37 youngsters. In 1989, a sensational case erupted at an orphanage in
the Canadian province of Newfoundland. By the mid-1990s, about 40 priests and
brothers in Australia faced abuse allegations. In 1994, the Irish government was
brought down when it botched the extradition of a notorious pedophile priest.
Bishops had a variety of disciplinary tools at their disposal — including the
power to remove accused priests from contact with children and to suspend them
from ministry altogether — that they could use without the Vatican’s direct
Some used this authority to sideline abusive priests, minimizing the damage
inflicted on their victims. Other bishops clearly made things worse, by
shuffling abusers from one assignment to the next, never telling parishioners or
reporting priests to the police.
But as court cases, financial settlements and media coverage mounted, many
prelates looked to the Vatican for leadership and clarity on how to prosecute
abusers under canon law and when to bring cases to the attention of the civil
authorities. In the worst cases, involving serial offenders who denied
culpability and resisted discipline, some bishops sought the Vatican’s guidance
on how to dismiss them from the priesthood.
For this, bishops needed the Vatican’s help. Dismissing a priest is not like
disbarring a lawyer or stripping a doctor of his medical license. In Catholic
theology, ordaining a priest creates an indelible mark; to return him to the lay
state required the approval of the pope.
Yet throughout the ’80s and ’90s, bishops who sought to penalize and dismiss
abusive priests were daunted by a bewildering bureaucratic and canonical legal
process, with contradicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions in Rome,
according to church documents and interviews with bishops and canon lawyers.
Besides Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, bishops
were sending off their files on abuse cases to the Congregations for the Clergy,
for Bishops, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and for
the Evangelization of Peoples — plus the Vatican’s Secretariat of State; its
appeals court, the Apostolic Signatura; and the Pontifical Council for
“There was confusion everywhere,” said Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson of
A new Code of Canon Law issued in 1983 only muddied things further, among other
things by setting a five-year statute of limitations within which abuse cases
could be prosecuted.
During this period, the three dozen staff members working for Cardinal Ratzinger
at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were busy pursuing other
problems. These included examining supernatural phenomena, like apparitions of
the Virgin Mary, so that hoaxes did not “corrupt the faith,” according to the
Rev. Brian Mulcahy, a former member of the staff. Other sections weighed
requests by divorced Catholics to remarry and vetted the applications of former
priests who wanted to be reinstated.
The heart of the office, though, was its doctrinal section. Cardinal Ratzinger,
a German theologian appointed prefect of the congregation in 1981, aimed his
renowned intellectual firepower at what he saw as “a fundamental threat to the
faith of the church” — the liberation theology movement sweeping across Latin
As Father Gauthé was being prosecuted in Louisiana, Cardinal Ratzinger was
publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that the church
should work to empower the poor and oppressed, which the cardinal saw as a
Marxist-inspired distortion of church doctrine. Later, he also reined in a Dutch
theologian who thought lay people should be able to perform priestly functions,
and an American who taught that Catholics could dissent from church teachings
about abortion, birth control, divorce and homosexuality.
Different Focus for Cardinal
Cardinal Ratzinger also focused on reining in national bishops’ conferences,
several of which, independent of Rome, had begun confronting the sexual abuse
crisis and devising policies to address it in their countries. He declared that
such conferences had “no theological basis” and “do not belong to the structure
of the church.” Individual bishops, he reaffirmed, reigned supreme in their
dioceses and reported only to the authority of the pope in Rome.
Another hint of his priorities came at a synod in 1990, when a bishop from
Calgary gingerly mentioned the growing sexual abuse problem in Canada. When
Cardinal Ratzinger rose to speak, however, it was of a different crisis: the
diminishing image of the priesthood since the Second Vatican Council, and the
“huge drop” in the numbers of priests as many resigned.
That concern — that the irrevocable commitment to the priesthood was being
undermined by the exodus of priests leaving to marry or because they were simply
disenchanted — had already led Cardinal Ratzinger to block the dismissal of at
least one priest convicted of molestation, documents show.
“Look at it from the perspective of priestly commitment,” said the Rev. Joseph
Fessio, a former student of Cardinal Ratzinger’s and founder of the conservative
publishing house Ignatius Press. “You want to get married? You’re still a
priest. You’re a sex offender? Well, you’re still a priest. Rome is looking at
it from the objective reality of the priesthood.”
After another abuse scandal in 1992 in Fall River, Mass., bishops in the United
States pressed the Vatican for an alternative to the slow and arcane canonical
justice system. Without a full canonical trial, clerics accused of abuse could
not be dismissed from the priesthood against their will (although a bishop could
impose some restrictions short of that). In 1993, John Paul said he had heard
the American bishops’ pleas and convened a joint commission of American and
Vatican canonists to propose improvements.
John Paul rejected its proposal to let bishops dismiss priests using
administrative procedures, without canonical trials. But he agreed to raise the
age of majority to 18 from 16 for child-molestation cases. More important, he
extended the statute of limitations to 10 years after the victim’s 18th
It is not known whether Cardinal Ratzinger spoke up in the internal
deliberations that led to the two changes, which applied only to the United
But those changes clearly did not go far enough. And as the crisis steadily
spread in other countries, bishops and church administrators from across the
English-speaking world began meeting to compare notes on how to respond to it.
After gathering on their own in 1996 and 1998, they demanded that the Curia, the
Vatican’s administration, meet with them in Rome in 2000.
Frustrations Boil Over
The visiting bishops had reached the boiling point. After flailing about for 20
years, with little guidance from Rome, as stories about pedophile priests
embroiled the church in lawsuits, shame and scandal, they had flown in to Rome
from Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South
Africa, the United States and the West Indies.
Many came out of frustration: the Vatican had too often thwarted bishops’
attempts to oust pedophile priests in their jurisdictions. Yet they had high
hopes that they would make the case for reform. Nearly every major Vatican
office was represented in the gathering, held in the same Vatican hotel that was
built to house cardinals electing a new pope.
“The message we wanted to get across was: if individuals are to hide behind
church law and use that law to impede the ability of bishops to discipline
priests, then we have to have a new way of moving forward,” said Eamonn Walsh,
auxiliary bishop of Dublin, one of 17 bishops who attended from overseas. (He
was one of several Irish bishops who offered the pope their resignations last
year because of the abuse scandal, but his has not been accepted.)
Yet many at the meeting grew dismayed as, over four long days in early April
2000, they heard senior Vatican officials dismiss clergy sexual abuse as a
problem confined to the English-speaking world, and emphasize the need to
protect the rights of accused priests over ensuring the safety of children,
according to interviews with 10 church officials who attended the meeting.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, then the head of the Congregation for the
Clergy, set the tone, playing down sexual abuse as an unavoidable fact of life,
and complaining that lawyers and the media were unfairly focused on it,
according to a copy of his prepared remarks. What is more, he asked, is it not
contradictory for people to be so outraged by sexual abuse when society also
promotes sexual liberation?
Another Vatican participant even observed that many pedophile priests had Irish
surnames, a remark that offended delegates from Ireland.
“Prejudices came out,” said Bishop Robinson of Australia. “There were some very
silly things said at times.”
Though disappointed, the visiting bishops were not entirely surprised.
“It wasn’t that there was bad will in Rome,” Bishop Walsh said. “They just
didn’t have the firsthand experience that the dioceses were having around the
world — experience with the manipulative, devious ways of the perpetrators. If
the perpetrator said, ‘I didn’t do it,’ they would say, ‘He wouldn’t be telling
a lie, he has to be telling the truth, and he’s innocent until proven guilty.’ ”
An exception to the prevailing attitude, several participants recalled, was
Cardinal Ratzinger. He attended the sessions only intermittently and seldom
spoke up. But in his only extended remarks, he made clear that he saw things
differently from others in the Curia.
“The speech he gave was an analysis of the situation, the horrible nature of the
crime, and that it had to be responded to promptly,” recalled Archbishop Wilson
of Australia, who was at the meeting in 2000. “I felt, this guy gets it, he’s
understanding the situation we’re facing. At long last, we’ll be able to move
Clarity Comes in a Letter
Even so, the meeting served as much to expose Cardinal Ratzinger’s inattention
to the problem as it did to showcase his new attitude.
Archbishop Wilson said in an interview that during the session he had to call
Vatican officials’ attention to long-ignored papal instructions, dating from
1922, and reissued in 1962, that gave Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, previously known as the Holy Office, sole responsibility
for deciding cases of priests accused of particularly heinous offenses:
solicitation of sex during confession, homosexuality, pedophilia and bestiality.
Archbishop Wilson said he had stumbled across the old instructions as a canon
law student in the early 1990s. And he eventually learned that canonists were
deeply divided on whether the old instructions or the 1983 canon law — which
were at odds on major points — should hold sway.
If the old instructions had prevailed, then there would be no cause for
confusion among bishops across the globe: all sexual abuse cases would fall
under Cardinal Ratzinger’s jurisdiction.
(The Vatican has recently insisted that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office was
responsible only for cases related to priests who solicited sex in the
confessional, but the 1922 instructions plainly gave his office jurisdiction
over sexual abuse cases involving “youths of either sex” that did not involve
violating the sacrament of confession.)
Few people in the room had any idea what Archbishop Wilson was talking about,
other participants recalled. But Archbishop Wilson said he had discussed the old
papal instructions with Cardinal Ratzinger’s office in the late 1990s and had
been told that they indeed were the prevailing law in pedophilia cases.
Just over a year later, in May 2001, John Paul issued a confidential apostolic
letter instructing that all cases of sexual abuse by priests were thenceforth to
be handled by Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. The letter was called “Sacramentorum
Sanctitatis Tutela,” Latin for “Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments.”
In an accompanying cover letter, Cardinal Ratzinger, who is said to have been
heavily involved in drafting the main document, wrote that the 1922 and 1962
instructions that gave his office authority over sexual abuse by priests cases
were “in force until now.”
The upshot of that phrase, experts say, is that Catholic bishops around the
world, who had been so confused for so long about what to do about molestation
cases, could and should have simply directed them to the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith all along.
Bishops and canon law experts said in interviews that they could only speculate
as to why the future pope had not made this clear many years earlier.
“It makes no sense to me that they were sitting on this document,” said the Rev.
John P. Beal, a canon law professor at the Catholic University of America. “Why
didn’t they just say, ‘Here are the norms. If you need a copy we’ll send them to
Nicholas P. Cafardi, a Catholic expert in canon law who is dean emeritus and
professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law, said, “When it came to
handling child sexual abuse by priests, our legal system fell apart.”
There was additional confusion over the statute of limitations for sexual abuse
cases — or whether there even was one, given the Vatican’s reaffirmation of the
1922 and 1962 papal instructions. Many bishops had believed that they could not
prosecute cases against priests because they exceeded the five-year statute of
limitations enacted in 1983, effectively shielding many molesters since victims
of child abuse rarely came forward until they were well into adulthood.
Mr. Cafardi, who is also the author of “Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops’
Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children,” argued that another effect of the
2001 apostolic letter was to impose a 10-year statute of limitations on
pedophilia cases where, under a careful reading of canon law, none had
“When you think how much pain could’ve been prevented, if we only had a clear
understanding of our own law,” he said. “It really is a terrible irony. This did
not have to happen.”
Though the apostolic letter was praised for bringing clarity to the subject, it
also reaffirmed a requirement that such cases be handled with the utmost
confidentiality, under the “pontifical secret” — drawing criticism from many who
argued that the church remained unwilling to report abusers to civil law
Reforms, but Limited Reach
After the new procedures were adopted, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became more
responsive to requests to discipline priests, said bishops who sought help from
his office. But when the sexual abuse scandal erupted again, in Boston in 2002,
it immediately became clear to American bishops that the new procedures were
Meeting in Dallas in the summer of 2002, the American bishops adopted a stronger
set of canonical norms requiring bishops to report all criminal allegations to
the secular authorities, and to permanently remove from ministry priests facing
even one credible accusation of abuse. They also sought from the Vatican a
streamlined way to discipline priests that would not require a drawn-out
The Vatican initially rejected the American bishops’ proposed norms. A committee
of American bishops and Vatican officials, including Cardinal Ratzinger’s
deputy, watered down the American mandatory-reporting requirement to say only
that bishops must comply with civil laws on reporting crimes, which vary widely
from place to place.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reserved for itself the power to
dismiss a man from the priesthood without a full canonical trial — the kind of
administrative remedy that American bishops had long been begging the Vatican to
delegate to them.
Even so, the American bishops got most of what they asked for, and Cardinal
Ratzinger was their advocate, said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, then the
president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Americans were allowed to keep their zero-tolerance provision for abusive
priests, making the rules for the church in the United States far more stringent
than in most of the rest of the world. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith also said it would waive the statute of limitations on a case-by-case
basis if bishops asked.
Archbishop Gregory said he made 13 trips to Rome in three years, almost always
meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger.
“He was extraordinarily supportive of what we were doing,” Archbishop Gregory
said in an interview.
Other reforms enacted by American bishops included requiring background checks
for church personnel working with children, improved screening of seminarians,
training in recognizing abuse, annual compliance audits in each diocese and lay
review boards to advise bishops on how to deal with abuse cases.
Those measures seem to be having an impact. Last year, according to the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 513 people made allegations of sexual
abuse against 346 priests or other church officials, roughly a third fewer cases
than in 2008.
Yet the Vatican did not proactively apply those policies to other countries, and
it is only now grappling with abuse problems elsewhere. Reports have surfaced of
bishops in Chile, Brazil, India and Italy who quietly kept accused priests in
ministry without informing local parishioners or prosecutors.
Benedict, now five years into his papacy, has yet to make clear if he intends to
demand of bishops throughout the world — and of his own Curia — that all priests
who committed abuse and bishops who abetted it must be punished.
As the crisis has mushroomed internationally this year, some cardinals in the
Vatican have continued to blame the news media and label the criticism
anti-Catholic persecution. Benedict himself has veered from defensiveness to
contrition, saying in March that the faithful should not be intimidated by “the
petty gossip of dominant opinion” — and then in May telling reporters that “the
greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but
is born from the sin in the church.”
The Vatican, moreover, has never made it mandatory for bishops around the world
to report molesters to the civil authorities, or to alert parishes and
communities where the abusive priests worked — information that often propels
more victims to step forward. (Vatican officials caution that a reporting
requirement could be dangerous in dictatorships and countries where the church
is already subject to persecution.)
It was only in April that the Vatican posted “guidelines” on its Web site saying
that church officials should comply with civil laws on reporting abuse. But
those are recommendations, not requirements.
Today, a debate is roiling the Vatican, pitting those who see the American
zero-tolerance norms as problematic because they lack due process for accused
priests, against those who want to change canon law to make it easier to
penalize and dismiss priests.
Where Benedict lies on this spectrum, even after nearly three decades of
handling abuse cases, is still an open question.
The Irish State colluded with the religious authorities to cover up child
abuse that was "endemic" in Catholic-run schools and care homes for 70 years, a
devastating report concluded today.
The Child Abuse Commission catalogued sexual, physical and emotional abuse
inflicted on 35,000 disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children by both
religious and lay staff over the last 70 years.
The long-awaited report of the decade-long inquiry was launched today amid
controversy and recrimination, when victims were barred from a Dublin venue and
police were called.
Angry exchanges took place between Commission staff and victims of abuse, who
complain that no abusers will be prosecuted as a result of the inquiry.
The inquiry chairman, Justice Sean Ryan, read a short statement and refused to
take questions at a press conference. His predecessor, Justice Mary Laffoy,
resigned in 2003 in protest at the lack of co-operation from some state bodies.
John Walsh, an abuse victim, called the report a hatchet job that left open
“The little comfort we have is the knowledge that it vindicated the victims who
were raped and sexually abused,” said Mr Walsh, of the leading campaign group
Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca).
“I’m very angry, very bitter, and feel cheated and deceived. I would have never
opened my wounds if I’d known this was going to be the end result.
“It has devastated me and will devastate most victims because there is no
criminal proceedings and no accountability whatsoever.”
Judge Ryan concluded that when confronted with evidence of sex abuse, religious
authorities responded by transferring the sex offenders to another location,
where in many instances they were free to abuse again.
The report found: "The risk (to children) was seen by the congregations in terms
of the potential scandal and bad publicity should the abuse be disclosed...
"There was evidence that such men took up teaching positions sometimes within
days of receiving dispensations because of serious allegations or admissions of
sexual abuse. The safety of children in general was not a consideration."
Institutions run by religious orders, including industrial and reform schools,
institutions for the disabled, orphanages and ordinary day schools have been
examined by the Commission over the past nine years.
Sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ schools, while in girls’ schools children were
subjected to predatory abuse by male employees, visitors and while on outside
Abuse was rarely reported to the State authorities but on the rare occasion the
Department of Education was informed, it colluded with the religious orders in
the culture of silence.
The Department generally dismissed or ignored sexual abuse complaints and never
brought them to the attention of the Garda.
"At best, the abusers were moved but nothing was done about the harm done to the
child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual
activity, and was punished severely," the report stated.
Children were so badly neglected, survivors spoke of scavenging for food from
waste bins and animal feed.
Unsupervised bullying in boys’ schools often left smaller, weaker children
Accommodation was cold, spartan and bleak while children were often left in
soiled, wet work clothes after being forced to toil for long hours outdoors in
farms, the report found.
While the names of alleged individual perpetrators have not been published -
except for those already convicted by the court - the inquiry produced specific
findings against 216 facilities.
The Sisters of Mercy and Christian Brothers, which ran the largest number of
children’s institutions, were among the long list of orders investigated.
While the chairman emphasised the willingness of some religious orders to
co-operate, the 3,500-page report, running to five volumes, makes for
relentlessly grim reading, chronicling the shocking conditions under which the
children were held, many from infancy until reaching adulthood.
One victims' group said that it hoped the report would validate the long
campaign for many to have their stories believed, and would highlight "an
absolutely disgraceful episode in Irish history – we should all hang our heads
May 20, 2009
From The Times
The life into which Patrick Walsh was born seems unimaginable in modern
Ireland. “Hunger was a constant companion, we were child slaves,” he told The
Mr Walsh’s story would seem straight out of a Dickens novel, yet it began as
recently as 1955. “It was a different age then – you would have to compare it to
Iran. Ireland was a theocratic state.”
He was two years old when he was taken to court with his two elder brothers aged
3 and 4 and a sister of six months. Their crime: their mother was in an unhappy
marriage and had left her husband.
“My father denounced her because she wanted a divorce, which was illegal. We
were put in the dock, charged and sentenced for ‘having a parent who does not
exercise proper guardianship’.”
It was legislation introduced by Eamon de Valera in 1941 that trapped Mr Walsh
and his siblings in a nightmare system until he turned 16. In law, either parent
could have a child locked up but, to recover them, both parents had to make
joint petition - a task made impossible by his parents’ irrevocable break.
In fact, to make matters worse, that notorious clause was struck out by the
Supreme Court in Ireland in 1955. Mr Walsh has only discovered in recent years,
through the Freedom of Information Act, that his mother was lied to by the
Government of the day.
“For years we wouldn’t believe that she had tried to get us out, but she made
numerous attempts and was told it was impossible. She had to go back to her
husband if she wanted her children. “She was viewed as the guilty party by
Church and State.”
Throughout his incarceration he saw his mother just once, in 1959. The next time
was in 1966 when, as a clarinettist in the famous Artane Boys Band, she came to
see him play in Blackpool.
“Because we were abroad, the rules were relaxed. I remember seeing this woman
staring up at me from the audience, smiling. It sent a cold shiver up my spine
and I asked my brother, who was also in the band, who was the woman who stared
so intensely at us. After the concert we were introduced backstage.”
Contact remained highly restricted once back in Ireland. “She sent me a watch
and I remember a Christian Brother coming up to me and handing me a package that
had been opened and just saying, ‘This is for you’. “All post was opened and
Mr Walsh’s memories of his 14 years in the “industrial school” system are grim.
“There was abuse of many different types, physical and emotional. The constant
hunger was par for the course but the worst was the physical aspect, the
gratuitous violence of the Christian Brothers.
“They were men of real violence. When I arrived in Artane in 1963 there were 450
boys and it had a stench of violence about it. The home was also used as a
detention centre for young offenders, so we were preyed upon not just by the
Brothers but by feral gangs.
“The Government criminalised us, mixing innocents with some really hardened
With reluctance he revealed that he had also been sexually abused twice by a
specific individual Christian Brother.
Mr Walsh described the system as a “marriage of convenience between Church and
State: “The Church received capitation grants, which were the life-blood of the
religious orders, and the children were used as the means to fill their pockets
with cash. I learnt in later years that Artane would get a cheque, say for
£10,000, every month from the Government.
“Of that Artane would send £8,000 to Rome. As a consequence we were badly fed
and we worked 12-hour days in the fields and workshops. I was put to work in the
At the age of 16, he was finally free to leave. “The system was being wound down
by then and I remember, just before I left, talking to a man in the shoe shop
who had worked there for 44 years and had just been made redundant.
“He said to me, ‘Listen son, we’ve just been told that all this belongs to the
past, that we’re joining the Common Market and none of this is part of that
bright future’. I was given ten shillings and told to go on my way.”
He left immediately for England. “It was the route for many of us, because in
the eyes of people in Ireland we were tainted by where we had been. For others
the memories were just too painful to endure.”
Mr Walsh built a new life in London, working in the City. “I made my way but
many hundreds more fell along the way.”
Tom Hayes was committed at the age of 2 because he was born out of wedlock. He
said: “I was told my mother had died when I was born but in fact she went to
England and made a new life. I didn’t discover the truth until 2003.
“In my first institution, run by the Sisters of Mercy, it wasn’t too bad, apart
from the hunger, cold and fear of punishment.
“But it was when I was moved to Glin, in Limerick, that I joined a system where
most of the children came from a background of petty crime, and they made life
for those of us who were orphans a living hell.
“Sexual abuse took place on a large scale, operated by gangs who had the
protection of the Christian Brothers. After I complained to a priest outside the
school about it, I was threatened with being sent to a reformatory school in
Letterfrack which had an even more notorious reputation.
“It was a particularly vicious place without any sense of accountability.”
Both men said they hoped that the report would bring out the whole truth. Mr
Walsh added: “We’ve had apologies from the State and some of the religious
Orders but never from the hierarchy, the leaders of the Catholic Church.
“Ultimately the bishops, the Government and the cardinals in the Vatican knew
what was going on. It’s an opportunity for the hierarchy to make a fulsome
apology for their failure to put an end to the suffering of the children.”
March 24, 2010
The New York Times
By RACHEL DONADIO and EAMON QUINN
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday accepted the resignation of an
Irish bishop accused of mishandling allegations of sexual abuse by priests,
adding to the fallout of a scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in
Ireland and throughout Europe.
The bishop, John Magee, who served as private secretary to three popes, stepped
down earlier this month as head of the diocese of Cloyne, in southern Ireland,
following allegations that he had not disciplined priests known to have abused
“As I depart, I want to offer once again my sincere apologies to any person who
has been abused by any priest of the Diocese of Cloyne during my time as bishop
or at any time,” Bishop Magee said in a statement on Wednesday. “To those whom I
have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg
forgiveness and pardon.”
Bishop Magee’s was the first resignation since the pope last weekend released a
long-awaited letter to Irish Catholics apologizing to victims of sexual abuse
and expressing “shame and remorse.”
Yet Benedict’s letter did not call for any church leaders to be disciplined,
feeding a growing sense of anger in Ireland, where many Catholics are calling on
the country’s chief bishop, Sean Brady, to resign over his role as a young
priest in the 1970s urging two children to sign secrecy agreements not to report
Benedict’s letter came after two scathing Irish government reports released last
year revealed decades of systematic sex abuse of hundreds of thousands of Irish
children and a widespread cover-up of the problem. The revelations have shaken
the Irish church to its core; some fear it has lost a generation to the crisis.
Bishop Magee’s resignation was not unexpected, coming amid a steady drumbeat
among Irish Catholics for more church leaders to step down.
Beyond Bishop Magee, four other Irish bishops named in the government reports
have offered to resign, but Benedict has accepted only one of their requests.
Colm O’Gorman, founder of One In Four, a campaign group against clerical abuse,
said that Bishop Magee’s resignation was “a reminder that just because the
church has policies that address child protection in Ireland does not mean that
it is following its own guidelines.”
Mr. O’Gorman, a survivor of sex abuse who is also an executive director of
Amnesty International in Ireland, added that the bishop had resigned only after
much pressure from victims groups. Mr. O’Gorman has called on the Irish
government to extend its investigation to all 26 Irish dioceses.
As new revelations of sex abuse by priests continued to emerge in Benedict’s
native Germany, as well as Austria and the Netherlands, Mr. O’Gorman said that
the Irish crisis “has lessons for other countries confronting clerical abuse.”
In December 2008, an investigation by a church panel into abuse allegations in
Cloyne found that Bishop Magee had failed to respond to charges of abuse by two
priests and said that policies to protect children were severely lacking. The
report set off a storm of calls for Bishop Magee’s resignation.
Bishop Magee, 73, relinquished his administrative duties last March, but had
retained his title.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Cloyne diocese, Father Jim Killeen, said that
Bishop Magee had “taken personal responsibility” for the findings of the
investigative panel, the National Body for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic
Bishop Magee has since been assisting a separate, government-sponsored
investigation into Cloyne being conducted by Justice Yvonne Murphy, which last
November published a damning account of priestly abuse and widespread cover-up
in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Bishop Magee will likely continue to perform pastoral work, the Cloyne diocese
At the Vatican, Bishop Magee was best known as the personal secretary who was
among the first to find the body of Pope John Paul I, who died after a month in
office in 1978. John Paul II named him bishop of Cloyne in 1987.
DUBLIN (AP) -- Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin covered up
decades of child abuse by priests to protect the church's reputation, an expert
commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation.
Abuse victims welcomed the report on the Dublin Archdiocese's mishandling of
abuse complaints against its parish priests from 1975 to 2004. It followed a
parallel report published in May into five decades of rape, beatings and other
cruelty committed by Catholic orders of nuns and brothers nationwide in
church-run schools, children's workhouses and orphanages from the 1930s to
The government said the Dublin investigation ''shows clearly that a systemic,
calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent
children in the archdiocese.''
''The perpetrators must continue to be brought to justice, and the people of
Ireland must know that this can never happen again,'' the government said, also
apologizing for the state's failure to hold church authorities accountable to
The 720-page report -- delivered to the government in July but released Thursday
after extensive legal vetting -- analyzes the cases of 46 priests against whom
320 complaints were filed. The 46 were selected from more than 150 Dublin
priests implicated in molesting or raping boys and girls since 1940.
Eleven priests convicted of child abuse are named in the report, but 33 are
referred to by aliases and two have their names blacked out because their
criminal cases are about to begin in Dublin courts.
The report rejected past bishops' key claim that they were ignorant of both the
scale and criminality of priests' abuse of children. It documented how the
Dublin Archdiocese negotiated a 1987 insurance policy for future legal costs of
defending lawsuits and compensation claims.
At the time, bishops knew of at least 17 priests linked to abuse cases, the
report said, and ''the taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of
child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the archdiocese.''
Victims appealed to the government not to let bishops retain the right to decide
whether to refer abuse complaints to police.
''Never again should the Catholic Church in Ireland blame others for its own
decision to reassign priests (to other parishes) who were clearly a danger to
children,'' said one abuse victim, Marie Collins. She was raped by a Dublin
priest as a 13-year-old hospital patient in 1960, but police and church
officials declined to pursue her complaint.
Investigators spent three years poring over 60,000 previously secret Dublin
church files. They were handed over by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a
veteran Vatican diplomat appointed to Dublin in 2004 with a brief to confront
the scandal. Among the files were more than 5,500 that Martin's predecessor,
retired Cardinal Desmond Connell, had tried to keep locked in the archbishop's
The investigators, led by a judge and two lawyers, said that while it was not
their job to confirm the scale of abuse cases, they had no doubt that the 46
priests abused many more than 320 children.
''One priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another
accepted that he had abused on a fortnightly basis during the currency of his
ministry which lasted for over 25 years,'' they wrote.
Three Dublin archbishops -- John Charles McQuaid (1940-72), Dermot Ryan
(1972-84) and Kevin McNamara (1985-87) -- did not tell police about clerical
abuse cases, instead opting to avoid public scandals by shuttling offenders from
parish to parish and even overseas to U.S. churches, the commission found.
It was not until 1995 that then-Archbishop Connell allowed police to see church
files on 17 clerical abuse cases kept in a secret, locked vault, though at the
time Connell had records of complaints against at least 29 priests, the report
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the state would renew efforts to prosecute
more of the 46 priests in the report, as well as police officers that the
investigation found colluded with church authorities to suppress complaints.
Ahern said, however, that the cover-ups reflected ''a different era where there
was deference by state agencies to the church. I don't think that would happen
The investigators lauded a handful of priests and mostly low-ranking police who
pursued complaints and prosecutions, almost always unsuccessfully, from the
1960s to the 1980s.
Senior police officers ''clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit''
and handed ''complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them,'' the
''A few (priests) were courageous and brought complaints to the attention of
their superiors. The vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye,'' it said.
Paul Gordon has waited 30 long years for justice. This week the former
“pasty-faced and weak” schoolboy, who was sexually abused by a religious order
who paid off his father, finally saw his tormentors sent to jail.
The sex abuse case is the latest to hit the Catholic Church in Ireland, whose
moral authority has been destroyed. A government-funded compensation process has
been established, involving up to 15,000 claimants at a cost of more than a
From the mid-1960s, St John’s National School in Sligo, northwest Ireland, was a
dangerous place for children. Police believe that at least 50 boys, and probably
many more, were abused by religious and lay teachers.
The chairman of St John’s board of management said that he thoroughly regretted
the school’s dark past. “What has occurred was terrible and the school
acknowledges these terrible happenings,” Father Hever said. “We are making every
effort since then, in terms of child protection, to ensure that such incidents
would never happen again.”
Victim support groups demanded government action. “The question has to be asked,
who was managing this school during this reign of abuse?” asked Deirdre
Fitzpatrick, advocacy director of One in Four, a charity and support group for
victims of sex abuse.
“As the law stands the boards of management have ultimate responsibility for
child welfare, and if something goes wrong they are accountable. This loophole
was highlighted two years ago and we have been calling on the Department of
Education to step in and take responsibility since then.”
Martin Meaney, a former member of the Marist order, who was known as Brother
Gregory during his time at St John’s, was jailed this week for two years on five
sample abuse charges. Meaney, who has already served nine years of an 18-year
sentence for indecent assault and rape at another school, denied that there was
a paedophile ring at St John’s. When asked by police whether he was acting
alone, he said: “I thought I was the only one.”
He admitted preying upon Mr Gordon. “He was a pasty-faced, weak little lad, pale
and sickly and I felt sorry for him. I did feel for boys who were deprived. I
did pick the weakest lad in Paul Gordon,” he said.
Mr Gordon, 44, told the trial that Meaney was one of three Marist brothers who
abused him. His alcoholic and violent father would receive cash in envelopes in
return for the abuse.
A fifth Marist brother and former teacher at St John’s is facing a retrial this
year after his conviction was quashed on appeal.
The abuse drove Mr Gordon to kill his father in 1983 and he was jailed for eight
years for manslaughter. His claims of sex abuse at St John’s were ignored. “I
was basically told by a garda [police officer] that I had brought enough
disgrace on my family and that my complaints would go nowhere,” he said.
Mr Gordon persisted and in 1999 a police investigation team was established and
eventually uncovered the scale of sex abuse at St John’s.
In 1999 and again in 2001, the retired teacher Michael Cunnane received
suspended sentences for indecently assaulting eight boys at the school. In 2005
Peter White, 74, formerly Brother Agnellus, was sentenced to three years after
pleading guilty to eight sample charges of indecent assault on two boys. In the
same year Patrick Curran was found guilty of indecently assaulting nine boys.
He denied 237 counts of indecent assault between 1966 and 1984, but the judge
sentenced him to 12 years in prison and described him as “a determined
paedophile”. He was dismissed from St John’s in 1999 after the allegations
Sentencing Meaney, the judge expressed shock that so many teachers could be
“debauching their pupils” in the same school.