Yesterday I posted a letter to my 25-year-old self, I wrote recently for a feature in the Irish Independent. In that post I mentioned that a few years ago I had been asked to contribute a similar letter, on that occasion to my 16-year-old self, to a book published to raise funds to the Irish Youth Foundation.

The book was called ‘With Love, from me…to me: A Letter to my Sixteen-Year-Old Self.’

I have been asked to post that earlier letter on this blog. Which caused a bit of a dilemma as I couldn’t find it. But it turned up, or rather the fabulous Bernadette turned it up for me.

So here it is;

Dear Colm,

Right now all you know is self-doubt and self-hatred. This is not because of who you are, but because of what has been done to you. I know that it is impossible right now for you to believe that you are worthy of love and capable of living with dignity and purpose, but you are, and that you will do so is as inevitable as the sun setting and rising. It is simply who you are.

The world in which you are forced to live right now is not yet capable of acknowledging the harm you have suffered, and the hurt you are living with is made worse by that demand upon you to be silent and compliant.

It is not your fault that your society cannot face the truth of the terrible things you and others are forced to endure and that your suffering is the price of their comfort, but that too will change.

I know too that you blame yourself for not having the courage to speak out but your silence is not silly or naive; sadly you are correct in your belief that to speak out would probably be dangerous for you right now. Trust your instincts, they are wise, but learn to see the difference between that wisdom and fear of what others might think of you.

Your greatest challenge in life will be to stop fearing the opinions of others, to break free of the belief that your value lies in meeting their needs and demands. You believe that to be loved you must please people, but real love is never so selfish. Love would never demand that any person deny the truth of themselves for the comfort or pleasure of another.

You will leave home soon. And when you do life will be difficult for a time, but you will emerge from all of that with a strength and certainty of purpose that you do not yet know you possess. Along the way you will meet people who want to help you. Try and be open to that, don’t reject them. You will be inclined only be open to relationships with people when you know what you can do to make them like or need you. But the people who can and will help you most are those who want nothing from you. They will help you because they value you for who you are; a human person as worthy of love and concern as any and every other. Try and trust them, they will teach you so much about how to free that deep commitment to justice and love that is also very much part of who you are.

And on love, know that it is real. I promise you this above all else, you will live a live full of and blessed with love. I promise you that you will experience freedom of heart and of spirit, that you will love with a passion that will take your breath away and that you will receive the same love in return. This will happen not because you are redeemed somehow from all that you now believe yourself to be, but because in abandoning shame and fear and discovering that you have real worth, you will finally be free to allow yourself to be loved.

All will be good, and life will be fine.


The following is a short opinion piece I wrote for the Irish Daily Star newspaper in response to the report of the Vatican’s Apostolic Visitation to Ireland. It appeared in the paper on March 21st, 2012.

I read a newspaper report yesterday that sickened me to my stomach. It told of how at least ten teenage boys or young men were surgically castrated while in the care of the Dutch Roman Catholic Church in the 1950’s. It focused on one case, the story of a man who, after reporting in 1956 that he had been sexually abused by Catholic clergy in a care home, was sent by the police to a Catholic psychiatric hospital. A year later he was surgically castrated to cure him of his homosexuality. Sources told the journalist that cutting off a young mans testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse. This was happening at the same time as countless children were being raped, tortured and exploited in institutions here in Ireland.

Yesterday the Vatican published a seven page summary of the findings of a high level investigation into clerical child abuse in Ireland. The report is the latest document to refer to the “pain and shame” felt within the church following the abuse scandals. The Pope has previously spoken of how he is “truly sorry” that victims of abuse suffered so terribly. But what he has not done, and what this latest report certainly does not do, is acknowledge that the Vatican itself must bear responsibility for cover up of the abuse suffered by tens of thousands of children here in Ireland and countless hundreds of thousands of children around the world.

The report talks about the progressive steps taken “beginning in the 1990’s towards an awareness of how serious is the problem of abuse”. It ignores the fact that from the 1990’s on, both Bishops here in Ireland and the Vatican itself were denying that child abuse by clergy was even a real problem. Every report into abuse in Ireland found that Bishops had covered up abuse, moved known rapist priests to unsuspecting parishes ignoring complaint after complaint with little concern for children. Not that you’d think that if you read the Vatican’s seven page report.

Most disgraceful though is the suggestion in the report that all of this abuse is down to a failure to respect the rigid rule of Rome. Its something the Pope has said many times. In his letter to Irish Catholics in 2010, Benedict XVI, said that secularisation was in part responsible for the child abuse issue. Yesterdays report suggests a move back to the approach of the 1950’s, where student priests will be kept separate from other students and we are all expected to believe everything Rome tells us. Back to the 1950’s, when children were tortured and abused with impunity and Bishops ignored their plight and when young men who spoke of their suffering were castrated for daring to report rapist priests.

On September 26th 2011 Amnesty International Ireland published the results of a major research project which seeks to promote the need for a broader response to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports into institutional and clerical child abuse in Ireland. The following blog post is the preface to the research publication. More information and a download of the research can be found here.

There is an obvious clear and compelling reason why Amnesty International Ireland might commission research such as ‘In Plain Sight’. The issue central to the research, the abuse and exploitation of tens of thousands of Irish children in State funded institutions as detailed in the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (The Ryan Report) and the abuse detailed in the Ferns, Murphy (Dublin) and Cloyne Reports constitute arguably the gravest and most systemic human rights violations in the history of this State. Therefore, it is vital that these violations, and the State’s responses to them, be assessed against the standards dictated by International Human Rights Law. For those children who experienced rape and sexual abuse, physical abuse and economic exploitation it is vital that their experiences be recognised as grave human rights violations and breaches of law. Even post the publication of the Ryan Report there were those who sought to minimise the horrific reality of the abuse inflicted upon so many of our most marginalised and vulnerable children. There have been voices that have sought to dismiss systemic and barbaric cruelty as the norm in the Ireland of the time. Such voices must not be permitted to rewrite or diminish this history, neither now nor in the future, and for that reason it is vital that Amnesty International use the language of International law to clearly name the violations inflicted upon children for what they were. Systemic and repeated rape isn’t just child sexual abuse and systemic and ritualised beatings are not corporal punishment; they amount to torture in certain circumstances and the degree to which that applies in the context of the Ryan Report particularly must be properly named.

But the focus cannot be purely on the past, as if this history has no relevance for our society now. We must consider the degree to which this history reveals vital truths about the nature of our society today. The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoing.

It is widely accepted that the widespread abuse of children documented in the various reports considered by this research was made possible because the State adopted a deferential attitude to the Hierarchy of Roman Catholic Church. The State failed to honour its obligations to children and vulnerable adults it placed in the ‘care’ of church run, State funded institutions. It failed to investigate and prosecute allegations of child sexual abuse made against priests and religious with the same rigour that it investigated and prosecuted others accused of the same crimes. It failed to protect and support the most vulnerable children in our society, those living on the margins in some way due to poverty, family status, ethnicity or because pf some arbitrary judgement that they ere morally suspect. Instead it pushed them further to the edge of the margins, effectively ‘othering’ them, deeming them unworthy of social inclusion and rightful legal protection. They were made invisible, turned into outsiders by their own society and abandoned to multiple abuses and experiences of exploitation.

As such the State deferred to unaccountable and powerful interests and failed to protect the rights and needs of its people. It often responded to allegations and concerns of criminal activity not by investigating the wrongdoer but by diminishing and dismissing the victim. The law was applied, or indeed ignored, to protect the powerful not the powerless.

Accountability has become something of a buzzword in Ireland over the past few years. After the collapse of many of the supposed pillars of our society we have begun to look, albeit it somewhat belatedly, at the concept of accountability. But our focus seems not to be on the broad application and value of the principle of accountability an essential tool to guide good decision-making and governance, but rather on accountability as a means to apportion blame for past failings and to impose sanctions upon those who have failed or wronged us. This approach is in my view symptomatic of a deeper problem; a culturally systemic failure to appreciate the value of both responsibility and accountability as something other than a burden to be borne or something to be dodged so as to avoid sanction.

Our approach to accountability is not one that encourages an honest and frank exploration of failure or error in an effort to properly analyse why or how mistakes have been made, but one that seems to seek scapegoats as a first reflex. That’s not to say of course that accountability does not require an acceptance of responsibility for wrongdoing and the passing of an appropriate sanction where required, but real, meaningful accountability must be about more than that. Accountability is not simply a means through which we react or repair failure or wrongdoing. It is a vital tool for those charged with making complex and difficult decisions; one that can guide and strengthen decision making and the development of law, policy and practice. Real accountability requires for instance that those in positions of authority who make decisions which impact significantly on the lives of others should consult with and be accountable to those same people in making such decisions and in implementing them. In this way accountability becomes a vital tool to inform good decision-making and ensure that policy decisions serve the very people they most affect. 

Essentially accountability demands that power be answerable to those that it is intended to serve. In a Republican democracy such as Ireland the power exercised by the various organs of the State is power conferred upon the State by its citizens. In that context the need for accountability becomes even clearer. The State is the people, and those charged with acting for the general good of society should be clearly and meaningfully accountable to the people in whose name they act.

There is no doubt that there have been enormous failures in the application of the principle of accountability in Ireland. For example there is a general perception that the law does not apply to everyone equally. The letters pages of our national newspapers have been littered with letters highlighting how a different standard of accountability seems to apply to the transgressions of those in positions of power than to, for example, a person on the poverty line who cannot pay their television licence. The fact that a person living on the poverty line can be sent to prison for non-payment of their television licence whilst those responsible for catastrophic failures in the governance of our banking system appear to be above the law, is often flagged as proof that this is the case.

Accountability must first and foremost be concerned with an honest and courageous openness to learning what went wrong in any given context in order to ensure that we address the deficiencies at the individual or systemic level that either tolerated or caused the error or wrongdoing. Once in place accountability mechanisms serve as a preventative tool, preventing wrongdoing and informing better practice and not simply reacting after the fact to mistakes and wrongdoing.

But the Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne Reports reveal a deep seated failure to appreciate and incorporate effective accountability into our society and systems. This is true at the level of the State, but also I believe at the level of the individual. It has become a cultural phenomenon.

When such a culture is revealed it is vital that it is considered in the broadest possible context. If we work to identify how power operated in the context of the Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne Reports we will undoubtedly gain insights of critical importance as we work to strengthen child protection and children’s rights, but such insights will have also a broader application. Put simply, if in this area, power operated to protect the powerful to the cost of wider society it is likely that this dynamic was repeated in other spheres, be it in banking and business, politics or other sectors of society controlled by powerful interests.

I have believed for some time that the Reports, and the resulting public focus on the issues they reveal, offer a unique opportunity to better understand some of the fundamental flaws in our society. It is important to acknowledge the courage and determination shown by Irish people in recent years in our efforts to get to the root of the various abuse scandals. The fact that the various inquiries and investigations took place is due not just to the courage and determination of those who were victims in this context, but also to the high levels of public support that built as more and more histories emerged which spoke to the truth of what happened in industrial schools, children’s homes and reformatories, as well as in day schools and parishes all over Ireland.

For it is not the case that the emergence of these truths is a modern phenomenon, not by a long stretch. For decades people right across Irish society and at various levels of power and influence knew about the abuse perpetrated by some of those in positions of unquestioned authority, concealed by their organisational leadership and at times with the complicity of agents of the State itself. As this research documents, many voices were raised, many letters written and ignored, before wider society chose to listen and to demand action.

In many ways there is nothing quite so defensive as a system under threat, especially when that system penetrates an entire society. So often it appears easier to ignore the harm done to others than to work to force change, exposing ourselves as in opposition to the established order. In a society that punished ‘others’ by criminalising them and denying them the comfort and protection of the rule of law it is undoubtedly easier to stay silent, conform and not become an ‘other’ oneself.

Our silence in this context makes us at least in some part complicit. However, it is vital that this complicity not be overstated. Power is not equally shared in our society and the fear of marginalisation is a powerful deterrent to prevent the less powerful from speaking out. But such an application of power, and acceptance of powerlessness, has a deeply corrosive effect upon society. The Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne Reports most graphically expose this corrosive impact. By using them as a lens to explore issues such as power, accountability and the role of wider society in holding power to account we can identify, and I hope address, some critical deficiencies in our society. There is no shame or dishonour in naming and taking responsibility for our own failures, no matter how serious they might be. Looking at ourselves with courage and real honesty never diminishes us. Rather it offers unique learning and opportunities to act with both courage and compassion to become a stronger and more just society.

As such this research should be viewed not as a critical eye cast backwards in time in an effort to identify those whom we might blame for undoubtedly terrible violations, but as a call to understand and take ownership of the various levels failures of responsibility which allowed them to happen, to ensure that we have done all we can to make proper reparations to those harmed and to ensure that we repair the flaws in how our society works to ensure that all of us are guaranteed the full and equal protection of the law and the full and equal enjoyment of our human rights.

The genesis for this research was my belief that many Irish people did indeed understand that we all, at the level of the individual and as members of wider society, bear some responsibility for ensuring that such violations are not permitted or tolerated. This belief was based was based upon many conversations I had with people around the country following the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009. Women and men spoke to me of their sense of sorrow and shame at the society that we had allowed ourselves to become and expressed a real desire for change. I was struck by how this kind of insight and honesty was not reflected in much of the political or media discourse that followed and became convinced that we all must play a role in working to both identify and work for change where it is most needed.

This research is Amnesty International Ireland’s initial contribution to that process. Whether or not it succeeds in promoting such an essential public conversation is dependent upon the willingness of organisations and people across our country being prepared to participate in that process. Such a profound and vital discourse can neither be owned nor defined by any one organisation or individual. It depends upon all of us. 

Polling conducted as part of this research suggests that that an overwhelming majority of Irish people feel a clear sense of responsibility for this dark part our history. It suggests that we believe that we each as individuals have a responsibility to respect and defend the human rights of other people in Ireland. It suggests that a significant majority of us believe that Government acts when society demands that it acts.

Put simply, it appears that we understand that we have a responsibility to effect change where it is most needed and we know that we have the power to do so.

 I’m up for it. What about you?

The response of the Holy See to the Cloyne Report seeks to portray the Vatican as having never been opposed to the idea that Bishops should co-operate with civil law when it comes to reporting priests who rape and abuse children.

Interestingly they quote Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the former Prefect (Head) of the Congregation for the Clergy. This is the powerful Vatican Department with responsibility for matters involving clergy and priests and which, until 2001, played a central role in deciding how cases of clerical sexual abuse were handled.

The Hoy See quotes Cardinal Hoyos as saying, “I also wish to say with great clarity that the Church, especially through its Pastors (Bishops), should not in any way put an obstacle in the legitimate path of civil justice, when such is initiated by those who have such rights, while at the same time, she should move forward with her own canonical procedures, in truth, justice and charity towards all.”

In this way, the Holy See tells us, the Cardinal “drew attention to the fact that canon and civil law, whilst being two distinct systems, with distinct areas of application and competence, are not in competition and can operate in parallel.”

And even more significantly Cardinal Hoyos made his comments when meeting with Irish Bishops at Rosses Point, County Sligo on 12th of November 1998.

All very encouraging and progressive really, I mean even somewhat cynical old me thinks that sounds OK taken at face value.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t that the same Cardinal Hoyos who passionately believed that Bishops should NOT report abusing clerics to the civil authorities?

Who in 2001, three years after making the very reasonable statement quoted by the Holy See today, wrote to a French Bishop who had been sentenced to three months in prison for failing to report a Catholic Abbot who had raped and abused children over a period of decades?

Indeed it is. The very same Cardinal Dario Hoyos wrote a letter praising French Bishop Peirre Pican for not passing information about a rapist priest to the French police. Pican had been convicted of failing to report abuse by a Catholic Abbot sentenced to eighteen years in prison for paedophilia, including the repeated sexual assault of boys over two decades, and the rape of one of the boys.

In his letter Cardinal Hoyos wrote, “I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.” Hoyos was at the time one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church as head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. Even more significant than the fact that he sent the letter as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy is the fact that he then sent a copy to every Roman Catholic Bishop in the world and that he sent the letter with the full approval of the then Pope, John Paul II.

Also of note in the context of the current debate on mandatory reporting and the seal of the confessional is the fact that Pican’s defence argued that the secrecy of the confessional exempted him of his legal obligation to report sexual crimes against children.

The truth is pretty revealing really isn’t it?

I was always taught that a vital element of being a decent and moral human being was to be prepared to unequivocally take responsibility for ones failures and wrong doing, be they by commission or omission. That is that I should have the moral courage, insight, maturity and enough compassion for myself and others to face the truth of my actions or inactions and take responsibility for their impact upon the lives of others. This remains an important principle to me, and one that helped me face my own troubled past believing that I could work through and past all that shamed, frightened and continued to wound me and which I had ignored or ignorantly defended for years.

It allowed me to see that with courage, love, honesty and compassion there was little that could not be faced and that by facing that which I most feared I could grow as a human being and live a richer and more meaningful life.

Why then can the Vatican not do likewise?

Reading the twenty six page Response of the Holy See to the Government of Ireland regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, what strikes me most is the totally disingenuous portrayal by the Vatican of its role in the child sexual abuse scandals which have engulfed the Roman Catholic Church globally.

Any ordinary catholic will remember how we learnt that Rome was the seat of absolute power and authority within the Roman Catholic Church and that the Pope was the absolute ruler of the church. Papal authority was supreme.

But not so it would appear. At least not if the Holy See response to the Cloyne Report is to be taken at face value. Instead we need to realise that the Vatican and the Pope have little responsibility for the actions of the bishops they appoint to govern Roman Catholic Diocese, that they have no real oversight responsibilities.

Nowhere in the twenty six pages could I read or even discern a basic acceptance of the principle that with an assertion of supreme authority must come an acceptance of very significant levels of responsibility.  The Pope it appears can be the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and the Absolute Monarch of the Vatican City State, but he cannot and should be held responsible for anything that happens anywhere within that church, state or entity either by acts of deliberate commission or omission on the part of either himself or his government.

Pretty staggering stuff.

But of course it simply doesn’t stand up. It is easy enough for the Vatican to wrap itself up in a defence which focuses exclusively on one of its many complex manifestations. It can examine the Cloyne Report in the context of its role as a rather removed and powerless kind of collegial governor of far distant dioceses run by flawed Bishops all it likes, but that simply won’t wash anymore.

It all boils down to a few simple points, some of them rather powerfully reinforced by the Vatican in its response to Cloyne.

Firstly, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church has had a detailed understanding of the phenomenon of clerical child sexual abuse going back two millennia. The first reference to sexual offences against young people within the church date from the late first century.  The first Church law on dealing with clergy who abused minors was introduced by the Council of Elvira in 309ad. Church history and law is littered with references to the issue of clergy who rape and abuse children.

In the twentieth century further law was introduced. In 1922 the Vatican issued the instruction Crimen Sollicitationis. This document set out the rules to be applied by bishops when dealing with priests who solicited sex from penitents in the confessional but also against clergy who engaged in sexual activity with children or indeed animals. It was further updated and reissued in 1962 by Pope John XXIII who circulated the document to every Catholic Bishop in the world with an instruction that it be kept in a secret archive and that its existence or substance was not be publicly acknowledged or discussed.

I dealt extensively with this instruction in my 2006 documentary Sex Crimes & the Vatican (BBC Panorama, 2006). For years the Vatican and its apologists have insisted that Crimen Sollicitationis was not relevant to the issue of clerical child sexual abuse as it was developed to address the crime of solicitation and not child sexual abuse generally. This was despite the clear findings of the Ferns and Dublin Archdiocese investigation to the contrary. But the Holy See response to the Cloyne report finally admits that the instruction “included certain provisions on the crime of sexual abuse of prepubescent children. “ It should be noted that the instruction set out very strict rules on how investigations were to be handled which included high levels of confidentiality including the swearing of all witnesses, including the child victim to an oath of secrecy. Readers might recall Cardinal Sean Brady being the subject of widespread anger when it was revealed that he swore two child victims of the serial abuser Fr Brendan Smith to secrecy when he played a role in a church investigation into allegations made by the children against Smith.

What this reveals, and the Vatican now confirms, is that the Roman Catholic Church at the highest level of its institutional governance has had an understanding of the prevalence of the rape and abuse of children by its priests going back centuries. It has issued laws, rules and edicts to address this fact. It is well established at this stage that the application of those rules appear to have been more concerned with the rights of the accused priest and the authority and power of the institution than with the safety and protection of children.

The Vatican has known about clerical child sexual abuse going back centuries. So when it refers to the “steep learning curve” the church has been on regarding this issue it either has a very strange sense of the meaning of that phrase or it is being entirely disingenuous. Equally, when the Vatican itself or its apologists, denied for decades that it did in fact posses such a detailed understanding and knowledge of the phenomenon, that was also, simply dishonest.

It knew. It acted. It introduced laws and rules but it failed to protect children, tens and tens of thousands of them in Ireland alone, from bestial, depraved acts of sexual assault, rape and brutality. Instead it protected the abusers and the institution, its wealth and its privilege.

And now it expects is to accept that the gross failures of governance which allowed dangerous child protection practice in the Diocse of Cloyne as late as 2008 are somehow not its responsibility?

Answer me this; how can an institution with possessed detailed knowledge of the nature of priestly paedophilia, on notice that this remains a matter of grave concern within its structures not accept a high level of responsibility for failing to act decisively to elimate the risk to children? How can the Vatican possible defend the fact that child protection in Cloyne was in the words of Iain Elliot “dangerous” as late as 2008 and NOT accept that it could and should have acted to ensure that the Irish Bishops, appointed and governed directly from Rome, were acting to properly protect childen?

How can it claim that its refusal to even engage with the Commission of Investigation into the Diocese of Cloyne and its predecessor into the Archdiocese of Dublin was anything less than a subversion of the application of the law of this State? These investigations were after all put in place by an act of the Oireachtas (Parliament).

The Vatican refused to engage with either commission. It simply ignored requests for information and spouted trite excuses using the language of diplomatic relations. In the case of the Cmmission set up to investigate Cloyne the Papal Nunciature (Papal Embassy) told the Commission that his office “does not determine the handling of cases of sexual abuse in Ireland and therefore is unable to assist you in this matter. In fact, such cases are managed according to the responsibility of local ecclesiastical authorities, in this instance the Diocese of Cloyne.”

This reveals a particular approach that the Vatican uses to deflect calls for accountability and transparency.

The Papal Nuncio is the diplomatic representative of the Holy See to Ireland.  The Holy See is the sovereign entity that is the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. As such the Papal Nuncio is the representative of the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican has since at least 2001, but in truth from much earlier, required that ALL cases involving allegations against priests of child sexual abuse be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key Vatican Department.

So when the Papal Nuncio rejects a request for information from the Commission for information relevant to its investigation made to him in his capacity as the diplomatic representative of the Holy See in such a manner he is being at the very least disingenuous. Rome was asked to engage with the commission and it refused.

Plain and simple.

It should also be noted that nowhere in this response or in any other to my knowledge does the Holy See acknowledge its obligations under international human rights law. The Holy See has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That convention obliges the Holy See to ensure certain standards of protection for children.

Article 19 of the convention states:

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.

By any reading of Article 19 the Holy See faces a credible and serious charge of being in grave breach of its obligations under the convention. More than this, the very spirit of its response to the Cloyne Report and to the issue at a global level in my opinion demonstrates real contempt for the convention itself and the rule of law.

I could go on and on for pages on this. I could get into the same kind of Jesuitical examination and argument of fine points in an effort to avoid or apportion responsibility that the Holy See has used in its response but that simply isn’t the point. The truth is, as always, much simpler.

The Pope is the absolute ruler of the Roman Catholic Church. He appoints Bishops and the Cardinals which head the various Curia (Vatican Departments) which oversee the bishops and clergy and enforce church law and dogma. He and his predecessors have known about priests raping and abusing children for centuries and they have failed spectacularly to address it and prevent it from being perpetrated with near impunity.

Their defence now appears to be that it isn’t their responsibility and that they have all they can to prevent abuse and protect children.

That explanation seems to me to require that we draw one or the other of two very troubling conclusions.

Number one is that the Vatican despite all its history, power, authority, influence law and wealth, is utterly incapable and incompetent when it comes to discharging its responsibilities to protect children, more than that, it is simply incapable of recognising that it is in fact so responsible.

Conclusion number two is that the Vatican continues to lie and deceive, either by will or by the simple fact that it does not appreciate that its great authority confer onto it great responsibility.

The Roman Catholic Church cannot be trusted to protect children. This is now beyond doubt. Any person who thinks otherwise is either deluded or so deeply in denial that they would continue to protest otherwise even if the Pope himself were to finally admit that simple fact.

The Cloyne Report, the fourth report into child abuse perpetrated by clergy and religious of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland makes stark reading. What must be of greatest concern is that this report is no backward look into historic concerns. The investigation carried out by Judge Yvonne Murphy deals with the management of complaints against a total of nineteen priests between 1996 and 2009.

Judge Murphy found that in the 12 years between 1996 and 2008, nine out of 15 complaints of abuse which should have been reported to Gardaí, were not reported. 

As Minster for Children Frances Fitzgerald put it earlier today, “That’s very nearly two thirds of complaints un-reported, un-investigated and un-prosecuted.”

“For complaints which should have been reported to the health authorities the figures are even more stark; between 1996 and 2008 not one single complaint was reported. Not one,” she added.

Most shockingly is the revelation that in two of these cases, the alleged victim was a child. And yet the Diocese of Cloyne did not report to the civil authorities.

The Cloyne report exposes a systemic and willful failure by the Catholic Church in the Cloyne diocese to deal with allegations of child sex abuse and the dismissive attitude the Vatican continues to take to State investigations of abuse.

The Vatican has described church guidelines, which required that cases be reported to the civil authorities, as “a study document”. They made it clear that they did not support or require the prompt reporting of allegations of the rape and abuse of children to the civil authorities. And the Bishop of Cloyne and his delegate seem to have taken great comfort and support from that position.

The Vatican failed to engage with requests from the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese to provide information that it required to carry out its investigation into child sexual abuse by priests in that diocese. The Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s Ambassador to Ireland, a fully accredited diplomat, refused to appear before the Joint Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Committee on Foreign Affairs to explain the Vatican attitude to that investigation.

But the Vatican is all over this issue, first and foremost by simple virtue of the fact that it alone has overall responsibility for the governance of Irish dioceses and the oversight of bishops. A bishop, anywhere in the world, is directly and solely accountable to the Vatican. And the Vatican, despite recent protestations to the contrary, has until very recently made it very clear to Bishops that they should not report offending priests to the civil authorities. Link here for more on that case.

The Vatican has also failed itself to be properly accountable for its compliance with legally binding obligations as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As reported by Amnesty International, The Holy See was due to report on compliance with the convention in 1997, to date it has failed to do so. It has also failed to makes its initial report on the UN Convention against Torture, which was due in 2003.

The same disregard for accountability before the law and a respect for the rights of children and victims of crime demonstrated by Bishops here in Ireland is evident in the Vatican’s failure to be accountable to any court anywhere with regard to its won role in the cover up of crimes against children. And it must end.

Here in Ireland the State has relied on assurances from the Catholic Church instead of living up to its responsibility to protect children. A State’s first responsibility is to its own people, not to any other State or church. Its obligations are clear, and the failure of past Irish Governments to fulfill their obligations to protect children and ensure justice for victims of abuse is once again made abundantly clear in the Cloyne Report.

The Irish Government must act to communicate its outrage at the failure of the Vatican to act to ensure the protection of children here in Ireland and its contempt for demands that it be accountable for its role in this tragic and traumatic saga. Our government must leave the Vatican, and its bishops, in doubt that they are and will be subject to the law of the land. It must make it clear that their continued role on key areas of Irish life, most particularly any which involves the care of children and vulnerable adults, is dependent upon full compliance with the law of the State and respect for the rights of children and vulnerable adults in their care.

It would also be helpful of course if the Irish Government were to work to ensure that the Vatican is asked to guarantee its compliance with its obligations under international human rights law with regard to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by its clergy. No State can be above the law, and the Roman Catholic Church can no longer be allowed to can use its hybrid stats as faith organisation and State to dodge accountability before both national and international law.

Commitments made today by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to legislate to ensure both better child protection and greater legal accountability are welcome. Both promised new laws that would see those who cover up crimes such as child sexual abuse go to prison and face other legal sanctions. This is welcome. Strong words are important at a time like this, but strong actions must follow.

It’s now less than forty-eight hours before Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Britain. As expected, I have been busy, doing interviews, responding to media queries asking if I opposed the visit etc.

For the record I don’t. The visit is creating debate on important issues related to the Vatican and how its dogma and political power plays impact upon the lives of many millions of people. It is offering opportunities for engagement with others on either side of opinion on these issues and such debate and engagement can only be positive in the longer term.

So the interviews will continue and the debate will intensify and hopefully when the Pope and his entourage head off back to Rome we will all have learnt a little and might even continue to push for change where it is most needed. All good hopefully.

But it is a moment for personal reflection too. I find myself thinking back to 1979. I was thirteen and another Papal visit was all across the media here in Ireland. Pope John Paul II was on his way to tell the young people of Ireland that he loved us. He was greeted by ecstatic crowds everywhere. It was a joyous occasion in a country living in self-deluded denial of the corruption at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church ruled by this absolute monarch with the smiling eyes and charismatic presence.

All that has changed. And whilst it has been a shattering, painful expereince for so many people in so many ways, that change is for the better. More change is needed. Having cast off a dishonest over reliance on a corrupt institution that we looked to in order to be told how we should live, that told us, as if we were just infants, how to behave and what our values should be, we are struggling to take full responsibility for deciding those values for ourselves. But I believe that we will get there.

But there is no avoiding the loss of what was a deep connection for many of us. I know I have felt that loss. I loved my church once.

I thought it might be a fitting moment then to re-post an essay I wrote for a collection published here in Ireland last year by Columba Press.

Here it is:

I loved my church once

I’m not catholic anymore. I never formally quit the church or anything, I just came to realise that I was no longer part of it. I didn’t write to a bishop or the Pope, didn’t go through a defined process through which I renounced my allegiance to the “one true holy roman apostolic church”. I reckon that if my entry by proxy as an infant was valid, then my mature and considered decision to leave was certainly at least as valid and not at all subject to the demands for signed declarations from men who for me no longer held any moral authority.

I’ve been asked a lot over the years if I still consider myself to be catholic, and my answer was always the same. No, I no longer did.  And yet there is something so very real about writing it in the context of this essay that feels very emotional to me, a realisation perhaps of the enormity of that decision and the events which led to it. I have felt clear in my decision, in fact it has been clear to me for some time that I could not possibly belong to this church which has at an institutional level so betrayed me and the values it has professed, but nevertheless in considering this essay I have had cause to reflect back upon what the church has meant to me across my life and I am left feeling hurt and saddened in many ways.

There was a Sacred Heart picture in our kitchen when I was a boy. It had a flickering red light beneath the image of Christ who exposed his heart surrounded by thorns, a symbol of divine love for humanity. I didn’t know what it represented as a boy, but I could see that it was about love, about a demonstration of love on a powerful level that I couldn’t understand fully but felt captured by completely.  That image was a gentle but extraordinarily powerful presence in our home, as it was in most Catholic homes at the time. I loved it, though I didn’t really understand it.

Church was everywhere in my life then. At home as we knelt as a family to say the rosary, at school as I learnt my catechism and at mass on Sundays where I went with the rest of my family dressed in our Sunday best. Our church was a very ordered place back then. The women sat on the left hand side of the church, many with their heads covered by scarves, and the men on the right. Boys sat with their fathers and girls with their mothers. A few rows of men, maybe two or three deep, always stood at the back of the church. As the mass came to an end they would duck out and head for the pub next door, for that other Sunday ritual, the after mass pint. They were an incongruous crowd, standing together at the back of the church, shuffling and mumbling their way through the mass, waiting to be released. But they were there, week in and week out, just as their fathers before them. It was who they were. It was who we all were.

I loved the rituals of the church. I loved the certainty of them. The way Fr Redmond would intone the words of the mass, the weight of those words, words which spanned two millennia and which celebrated a great sacrifice, the sacrifice of a son for the love of humanity. The reverence of it all, the way we knelt with heads bowed as Fr Redmond head aloft the host and the Altar boy rang the bell to mark the moment of transubstantiation, when the bread became flesh and the wine became blood, when we were all in the presence of Christ. I was in awe of that sacrifice, of the love it was testament to, a love of humanity so great that God would give the life of his only Son. This was a loving God, a God of hope and truth.

I sometimes struggled with the messages I was given by those who instructed me on that faith. I found it difficult to reconcile that idea of a loving God with the heavy judgement of original sin or the notion that only by allegiance to this church could I find redemption. I loved the God that loved, that so believed in us that he was prepared to sacrifice his son for us. I didn’t understand this other God who was to be feared and who would cast me out if I proved not to be worthy of him. But that was how it was. I was taught that I was bad, that I was sinful and that my redemption from my sinful state was to be found by allegiance to those who spoke the words of God. If I did as I was told I could be saved from my base self, I could be made good again.

And that is what I believed. I believed that those who spoke the words of God were good and true and pure, even when they were not. I believed it because that is what I was required to believe. That was the truth of the world in which I lived and there was no room for other beliefs. That is what everyone believed, and who was I to disagree?

Imagine then how it was when a priest raped me. How was I to make sense of that? If he was undoubtedly good in the eyes of all then how was I to understand what had happened? There was only one way. I was bad. It was me, not the priest. After all I was the sinful one, the one in need of redemption, redemption that was in his gift. And so it was. I judged myself as I had been judged and took on the guilt of the sin that wasn’t mine. I carried it for years, turned it in on myself and it festered there, in a place where love did not exist, where God could surely not be found.

Years later I fought my way back to love. I confronted that past and forgave myself for crimes that I had not committed. I learnt to love myself and have compassion for the boy I was and the man I had become. I found out I wasn’t so bad after all.

The tragedy is that I did not discover this through a communion with my church. In fact I discovered it despite the actions of that church.

When I realised that I needed to speak about the things that had happened to me as a boy I had no idea of the complicity of the church. I did not know that the man who so harmed me had been ordained despite the knowledge that he had abused children. I did not know that my church had stood on the sidelines as he raped and abused and looked away, taking action only to protect itself and its money and leaving me and countless others at the mercy of monsters it had helped to create. I did not know, but those who led my church did, and they stayed silence in the presence of my pain. They did not speak, they did not own their crimes or try to comfort me. There was no love; no sacred heart that bled for those whose innocence and faith had been so offended.

When I turned to the Church that purported to be the church of the loving Christ I was not met with love and truth but with lies and obfuscation.

The denial and deceit of the hierarchy of the institutional Catholic Church was a final and terrible revelation of the corruption of its values by those who lead it. How could I trust the word of men who lied about their knowledge of such crimes and who facilitated the rape and abuse of children? For years Bishops, Cardinals and both the current and former Popes had suggested that the problem didn’t exist, or that it was wildly overstated by an anti-catholic media, or that it was an issue of homosexuals in the clergy, or most often, that they had no understanding of the reality of child sexual abuse and the recidivist nature of offenders.

But these were lies.

In early December 2002, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, made a staggering statement suggesting that media coverage of clerical sexual abuse was a conspiracy to bring down the Roman Catholic Church.

The current Pope was then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that powerful and influential role he was often referred to as Gods Rottweiler or the Vatican Enforcer. His position as head of the department once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, placed him in charge of managing and responding to cases of priests who abused children.

More than any other senior church figure apart from the Pope he had both the authority and knowledge to fully appreciate the scale of the problem. Speaking to journalists at a Catholic Congress in Rome he said, “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offences among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.”

“In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1% of priests are guilty of acts of this type,” he said. “The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts.

“Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church. It is a logical and well-founded conclusion.”

So in his view the truth was not that he and his colleagues who presided over the Church had covered up the rape and abuse of children, allowing paedophile priests to wreak havoc with virtual impunity. In fact, the real issue as he saw it was as “a planned campaign…intentional…manipulated”, based not upon outrage at the sins and crimes of the Catholic Church, but upon a “desire to discredit the church”.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s assertions were entirely discredited by a few years later by research in the US. In June 2002, US Bishops commissioned independent research into the scale of the problem. The research was carried out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and found that clerical sexual abuse was “widespread” across the US Catholic Church, affecting some ninety-five percent of dioceses and involving between two and a half and seven percent of all diocesan priests. Overall, the research discovered that four percent of all priests in active ministry in the US between 1952 and 2002 had been accused of sexually abusing a child.[1]

The study also revealed that of the 10,667 people who made allegations of rape and abuse by priests, two thirds had been made prior to 2002. This means that in the US alone, the Catholic Church was aware of over 7,100 cases of children allegedly abused by its priests prior to the public emergence of the issue.

Early Church law also reveals that the Catholic Church has had an awareness of clerical sexual crime going back many centuries. The earliest reference to forbidden sexual behaviour in church literature dates from around the end of the first century. The Didache, which set out structures and rules for the newly emerging church, condemns many sexual practices and includes a specific ban against “corrupting youth”.

Many early church laws relate to sex with adult women and homosexuality, but there are frequent references to the crime of sexually abusing boys. Sexual sins ranked as high as murder and idolatry in early church law, the three gravest sexual sins being adultery, fornication and the sexual corruption of young boys. In fact some of the earliest church law refers explicitly to that crime. The Council of Elvira, which took place in 309AD, set out early church law in the area, detailing how clergy were to abstain from sexual offending under this new law.

Canon seventy-one of the Council of Elvira condemns men who sexually abuse young boys and sets out the penalty for the crime.

In 1051 St. Peter Damian, a monk who became a Bishop and later a Cardinal wrote extensively about the sexual crimes and immorality of the clergy of his day. His strongest criticism was of the irresponsibility of church superiors who refused to take action against offenders. He condemned homosexual activity by clergy, but clergy who abused young boys especially angered him. He attacked church superiors who ordained offenders and who failed to expel those who abuse from the priesthood. He also made a direct appeal to the reigning Pope, Leo IX, to take action.

No doubt then, what this eleventh century bishop would have had to say about his modern day brother bishops and cardinals who ordained abusers and appointed them to parish after parish allowing them to rape and abuse with near impunity.

On August 30th 1568, another Pope explicitly acknowledged the issue of clergy abusing children. In his papal order Horrendum Pope Pius V said that priests who offended were to be stripped of the priesthood, deprived of all income and privileges and handed over to the secular authorities.

There are scores of other references to the issue throughout Catholic Church history that expose as a lie the many statements made by the modern Catholic Church hierarchy claiming innocence and ignorance. They have known for centuries that priests could and did abuse children. They simply failed to do anything of any real significance to prevent it.

I loved my church once, when I believed in it. But I do not anymore. It gives me no pleasure to say so, no satisfaction or closure. I remember the Sacred Heart in the kitchen of my childhood, the faith of my grandmother, the power of the sacraments, the constant presence of the faith as an anchor in all of our lives. I remember how we looked to Church to make real the momentous moments of our lives; birth, marriage and death. I remember the faith of my forefathers and I feel nothing but sadness.

[1] The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2004

An edited version of this article appeared in The Independent newspaper in the UK on April 19, 2010.

Given all we now know about the cover up of clerical sexual abuse by Rome it’s difficult to see what is significant about the Pope’s meeting with a small number of victims in Malta over the weekend. I can fully appreciate that it may have been meaningful to those who chose to meet the Pope, but it hardly represents a major breakthrough in addressing the global scandals engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

One might have expected that such meetings, as part of a meaningful engagement with victims, would have been an essential component of an appropriate response to abuse by priests. They are certainly at odds with the ongoing denial of the Vatican of its responsibility for the cover up of crimes against children and its use of sovereign immunity to block efforts to hold it to account before civil courts.

The perversity of blaming everyone else, including at times the victims themselves for the crimes and cover ups of the church in a ridiculous attempt to dodge accountability, whilst expressing care and concern for victims seems entirely lost upon the Vatican.

But there was a much more significant event this weekend.

Speaking at a Catholic University Cardinal Dario Hoyos revealed that a letter he wrote praising French Bishop Peirre Pican for not passing information about a rapist priest to the French police was sent to every Catholic Bishop in the world in 2001 with the approval of Pope John Paul II. Pican had been convicted of failing to report abuse by a Catholic Abbot sentenced to eighteen years in prison for paedophilia.

In his letter Cardinal Hoyos wrote, “I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.” Hoyos was at the time one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church as head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.

So there it is, indisputable proof that the Vatican actively supported the cover up of clerical sexual abuse.

Also exposed is the ongoing deceit of the Vatican’s protestations that the church has not covered up abuse. Only last week at the same press conference where he asserted that homosexuality was a cause of paedophilia, the Pope’s second in command Cardinal Bertone said that the church had never impeded investigations of abuse by priests.

Meetings are all very well, but surely honesty and a commitment to justice would be much more meaningful?

Below is a response to the Papal letter issued to the ‘Irish Faithful’ earlier today that I recorded for the PM programme on BBC Radio 4.

Its a first response, I will post a more detailed response soon. The full text of the Papal letter is available here.


“God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice”, said Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to the Irish faithful released today. 

But not it appears if you are the Pope. 

For nowhere in the eight page letter is there an unambiguous acceptance of responsibility for the global systemic cover up of child sexual abuse by priests. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the years of aggressive refusal on the part of the Vatican to accept the simple fact of clerical crimes and institutional church cover up. 

Nowhere is there a pledge to act to protect children by putting in place global church law that requires those aware of such crimes to report them to the police or civil authorities and place child protection ahead of the preservation of the power and wealth of the church. 

The Pope tells victims that he is “truly sorry” that we have suffered, and then goes on to tell us that we can be healed by a return to the communion of the church. This letter is primarily concerned not with the protection of children but with getting people back into the church. 

If the Pope is truly concerned for the welfare of victims, his primary focus would be on ensuring that there are no further victims, and not only here in Ireland but across the global church he governs as Supreme Pontiff. 

It was a simple enough an exercise. Acknowledge the fact of the cover up by the Church, take responsibility for it, and show how you will ensure it never happens again. 

But the Pope failed to do any of these things. 

If you think I am being too judgemental, then consider the following.  

At the end of the eight pages of fine words which fail to address the real issue at all we read what the Pope thinks are the steps to be taken to put things right. 

Catholics should pray, fast and do penance for a year in an effort to bring about the rebirth of the church in Ireland. 

And the Vatican will organise an Apostolic Visitation, a visit by its enforcers to some dioceses to ensure they are enforcing church law in dealing with child abuse. 

The same church law that has been previously used by bishops and church defenders to explain their cover up of abuse. 

You couldn’t make it up could you? 

An edited version of the following comment piece appeared in the UK Independent newspaper on March 20th 2010.

Link here.

It was not being raped by a priest at the age of 14 that shattered my faith; it was the horrifying realisation that the Catholic Church had wilfully, knowingly abandoned me to it, the knowledge that they had ordained the priest who abused me despite knowing he was a paedophile and set him free to abuse with near impunity, ignoring all complaints.

And so it is difficult not to be cynical about the likely merit of the pastoral letter that Pope Benedict XVI will publish today.

For a start the letter is intended for the faithful, it would therefore appear that the Pope is concerned only with those who remain faithful to him and his institution despite the systemic cover up of the rape and abuse of many thousands of children by Roman Catholic Clergy. Extraordinary when you think about it. The Pope will write not to those who have left or fled his church traumatised or outraged by acts of depravity and cover up, but to those who somehow hold faith despite it.

For my part I know what fractured my faith in the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. I was a faithful Catholic, born into a society where to be Irish meant being Catholic. As a child, I knelt with my family in the evenings to say the rosary and I became an altar boy, finding great meaning as a child in the idea of serving the God my elders spoke of. My faith mattered to me; it had come to me across the generations and gave me a powerful sense of myself and my place in the world.

That faith was strong enough not to be shattered by the abuse. Father Sean Fortune used my fidelity to lure me to his rural parish and sexually assault me. But my faith was so strong, and my need to believe in the goodness of the Church and its priests so powerful, that I blamed myself for his crimes, turning my hatred of the act of his abuse inwards where, for decades, it poisoned my sense of myself. My faith in myself was gone, but not my faith in my church. Over the years I drifted from regular Mass attendance, but I still held the Church in esteem – until that painful realisation of the extent of the cover-up, of my abuse and that of countless others.

If today’s letter is to represent a real and meaningful change in how the Vatican deals with abuse, it will have to be a radical departure from previous papal statements.

Firstly, it must not make any attempt to blame anyone else for Church failures. Pope Benedict must not suggest the revelations of clerical crime and cover-up are part of a global media conspiracy as he has previously done. He must not seek to blame the decadence of Western society, the sexual revolution, gays, secularisation or even the Devil, as senior church leaders have asserted over the years.

He must also move beyond bland statements expressing his shock and dismay at the revelations of recent years. As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he was the man charged with the management of cases of child sexual abuse on a global scale for more than two decades. He, more than anyone, knows about the scale of abuse across the Catholic Church.

He must not patronise us by telling us what any person with basic reason knows, that child abuse is a “heinous crime”. He must not express his regret at the actions of some, or a few, or even many priests. Neither he, nor his institution, can be held responsible for the actions of any individual priest, which has never been the charge levelled against him.

He must end the denial and deceit typified by his constant refusal to properly engage with the charge of cover-up, never mind admit it. In the face of findings of fact in Ireland, the US, Australia and Canada which have detailed the institutional corruption at the heart of these scandals, to do otherwise would be to continue to cover up by a wilful denial to address the issue.

He must take responsibility for the cover-up, and apologise for it. As supreme head of the Catholic Church he must use his power to enforce proper child protection across the global Church. He must also make it clear that those who fail to act to protect children will be properly held to account.

When I was a child I was taught truth and justice mattered. I was taught that I should have the courage to take responsibility for any wrong that I might do others. I was taught that the first step in doing so was to confess my failings. I expect no less from the head of the Church that preached those values to me.

Another case involving Cardinal Sean Brady, a Priest accused of sexual assaults and a confidentiality agreement is breaking in the news.

But I would urge caution in any rush to judgment of the actions of Cardinal Brady in this latest case.

At first glance it appears damning. A woman who has reported an allegation of  serious sexual assault by a named priest sued that priest and Cardinal Sean Brady in his capacity as Archbishop of Armagh. The case was settled in the past few months and one of the conditions of the settlement is that it be kept confidential.

But where this case differs entirely from the Brendan Smyth case and many others is that the assaults had been reported to the police. In fact the priest was charged with sexual offences in relation to another woman and the Director of Public Prosecutions directed that there be no prosecution in this second case. The priest appeared before a court in 2003 and was acquitted of the charges.

The Archdiocese has released a statement on the case this evening.

It sets out the action that Cardinal Brady says he took to manage the case.

The day following the police interview, Cardinal Brady suspended Fr*** from ministry as a priest, forbidding him to say Mass publicly, to hear confessions and to have unsupervised access to minors.

That seems like pretty decisive and appropriate action on the part of the Archdiocese.

In dealing with the suggestion that Cardinal Brady may have required confidentiality from the woman who took the case, the statement says:

..the complainant on behalf of whom no prosecution had been brought sought compensation for her injuries from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and, separately, from Fr ****  and from Cardinal Brady.

The complainant and Fr **** subsequently settled the case between themselves.

The complainant withdrew her proceedings against Cardinal Brady and her proceedings before the Compensation Board.

Cardinal Brady was not involved in the discussions between the complainant and Fr **** other than to make it clear that he would not be a party to any confidentiality agreement between Fr **** and the complainant, that he intended to commence a canonical process against Fr **** and to invite the complainant to assist as a witness by giving evidence in that canonical process.

Again, that seems appropriate in many ways, though there are a few issues that require clarification.

Firstly, as a named defendant in the case exactly what defense or attitude did Cardinal Brady adopt to the case. And most importantly how did he engage with the woman who was suing him personally in relation to her dropping/settling her case against him? Was she aware that the settlement was solely with the priest and not with the Cardinal? What communication passed between the Cardinal’s solicitors and her solicitors in that regard?

It seems difficult to understand how the Cardinal could have simply accepted that the case was going away without any need for him to clarify his own position at all.

Secondly, why has it taken more than eight years for Cardinal Brady to “commence a canonical process” against the priest?

And why, despite being suspended from ministry was the priest attending church events dressed in clerical garb and presenting himself as a priest in good standing?

The statement issued by the Archdiocese goes on to say:

Father **** remains suspended from ministry as a priest.

Cardinal Brady has forbidden Father **** from wearing clerical attire.

This again seems appropriate. However, given that the priest appears to have been wearing his clerical garb and attending church events, though this awaits final confirmation, questions arise as to the effectiveness of the management of this case by the Archdiocese.

In summary, why has it taken more than eight years to initiate a canonical process and why has the priest been able to present himself publicly as a priest in good standing and wearing his clerical garb?

As Cardinal Brady must surely have learned from the Brendan Smyth case it is clearly not enough to remove a priests ‘licence’ to minister and hear confession. If there are solid grounds for concern about a priest further action is necessary to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.

This case is not at all on a par with the case of obvious cover up and failure in the 1975 investigation into Brendan Smyth, but Cardinal Brady should clarify how he engaged with the settlement and what action he took if any to bring about an end to the suit brought against him.

The source of the money paid in damages to the plaintiff in the case must also be clarified. The Cardinal should make it clear whether or not church funds were used to fund this settlement.

Delays in the commencement of the canonical process must also be explained and the question of how the priest was able to continue to wear clerical garb must also be addressed.

As the Cardinal was personally engaged with the case from the time of the first complaint to the police he is obviously in a position to clarify these issues himself.

Again, I would caution against a rush to judgement in this case given what the Cardinal has said about his role in the case and the action he took.

I listened very carefully to what Cardinal Sean Brady had to say in his homily delivered earlier today in St Patricks Cathedral, Armagh. I downloaded the text and read and re-read it several times. I wanted to ensure that I was being as objective as possible, really listening to both what was said and how it was said. I did all that I could to be open to his words and to respect what he had to say and the possibility that he was speaking truth with integrity and purpose.

One thing is very clear to me; the journey that Sean Brady now has to undertake is a very painful and challenging one. I am acutely aware that I will never have to face the fact that an action or inaction of mine has resulted in the rape and abuse of countless children. Or that I was party to a cover up of such terrible crimes. Or that I consciously chose to swear to secrecy children who had just described how they had been brutalised and sexually assaulted by a colleague of mine, giving my allegiance not to them in their time of anguish but to the institution I represented, to its power and majesty, its position and its wealth.

That is a difficult journey for any person who has believed that their commitment to their institution was based on deeply held faith and principle, and who believed that they had a vocation to the service of a God of love and compassion.

This must be a truly shattering time for Sean Brady, and on a human level I feel concerned for him, in the struggle he faces.

It cannot be a comfortable experience for this man, this Prince of the church to have to express his shame at his past actions.

But this is not about him and his hurt. Right now our first concern must be for those who have been hurt as a result of his actions and inactions and the devastation and betrayal that they feel as they realise the depth and extent of that failure. I have heard Sean Brady express his regret and now his shame, but I have also heard in this past few days women and men brutalised by Fr Brendan Smyth express their anguish at the realisation that had Sean Brady done the right thing and reported Smyth, they might have been spared appalling abuse and trauma.

One sentence that leapt from the page at me was the following.

This week a painful episode from my own past has come before me.

It bothered me because it again suggests that the difficulty for the Cardinal is not that he was not so much what he did in 1975, but that he has been caught.

Cardinal Brady has been aware for some time that this case was an issue. It has been before him for much longer than a week. But it appears that it has only presented Cardinal Brady with a real difficulty once it became public.

I must also say that I would be much more impressed with the Cardinals homily has he restricted himself to an acknowledgement of his own failure and shame and that of his institution. But he did not.

I am struck by how so often the Church places itself beyond the rules which apply to the rest of us. In explaining his failure to report the abuse, Sean Brady and his clerical defenders have told us that he was following orders or the rules of the process as laid down in Canon Law. Canon Lawyer Mnsr Maurice Dooley went so far as to baldly state that had Sean Brady reported Smyth to the civil authorities he would have betrayed his office.

In the past we have seen the church assert that their law, canon law, was superior to the law of the State. We have heard how lies are not really lies if they are told by clergy and Bishops acting the in the interests of their Church or upon the instruction of their Church superiors. Most simply, we have repeatedly heard that they are not subject to the normal rules of morality and a duty to work for the common good.

But it appears that their shame, a shame revealed by force over many difficult years during which they lied to us time and time again and fought us every inch of the way, is in fact, Ireland’s shame.

Ireland and its people have much to be proud of.

Yet every land and its people have moments of shame.

Dealing with the failures of our past, as a country, as a Church, or as an individual is never easy. Our struggle to heal the wounds of decades of violence, injury and painful memory in Northern Ireland are more than ample evidence of this.

For the past sixteen years I have repeatedly made it clear that the abuse inflicted by priests on so many children here in Ireland was a consequence of the actions and failures of not only those who perpetrated the abuse itself, but also of those who knowing they were abusers, gave them access to and power over children. I have also made it clear that we all bear some responsibility for our collective refusal to name what we saw happen in front of our own eyes and in our own communities. Our collective denial of the terrible wrongs we suspected allowed abuse to happen and silenced its victims. The failure of our State to assert its authority over any external agency or power and fulfil its obligation to protect its children and its people from harm is hugely responsible for the brutalisation of countless children and of wider society in ways not yet fully understood.

It seems fitting to mention that in the Parable of the Faithful Servant Christ is reported to have said, “ To whom much has been given, much will be expected”.

The Roman Catholic Church and its leaders, including Cardinal Sean Brady have been given much by this society. We gave them our unquestioned loyalty and devotion for most of our history, our money even when we didn’t have any, we worked to support them in word and in action; we gave our blood, our sweat and our tears in the service of the faith they taught us.

They were the supreme authority in this society since the foundation of the State until very recently. We lauded them, kissed their rings and bowed before them. They have been given much.

And so we have the right to expect much from them. We certainly have the right to expect that when they finally and fully name and accept the scale of their failure and corrupt actions, that they will own them as theirs and not seek to pass them onto us.

Above all we have the right to expect the humility and grace which demands that any such acceptance of failure and corruption not be seen or used as a means through which they could evangelise.

It seems to me, that before they can expect us to believe that they possess any insight into the will of the Holy Spirit or any higher power, they must have developed the capacity to live by the most simple of the rules laid down by the Christ which founded their church. That we respect, care for and love each other and recognise that we must not act to cause each other harm in the service of our hunger for power, position or wealth.

The integrity of our witness to the Gospel challenges us to own up to and take responsibility for any mismanagement or cover-up of child abuse. For the sake of survivors, for the sake of all the Catholic faithful as well as the religious and priests of this country, we have to stop the drip, drip, drip of revelations of failure.

On this point I am in complete agreement with Cardinal Brady. It is time for truth, for openness and for the taking of responsibility.

The Catholic Church in Ireland must immediately disclose the full extent of the measures it took to keep secret the rape and abuse of children. It must reveal exactly how many victims of rape and abuse were sworn to secrecy and who was responsible for ordering this despicable act in each and every case.

It must open its archives and its practices to a full examination by the State to ensure that all which must be revealed about the history of clerical sexual crime is finally and fully known and so that those responsible for crimes of abuse and cover up are properly held to account. And it must reimburse the State for the full cost of this process, we have paid enough for their crimes.

Having done so, those who have been found culpable must step down from any position of power and control and work to restore trust in their institution of that is what they truly seek.

Above all they must demonstrate that their loyalty and fidelity is not to an institution or to a power structure but to truth, justice and the common good.

They can do so by breaking with any attempt by Rome to dodge or evade its central responsibility for centuries of the cover up of clerical crimes. They must prove that they are prepared to name the lies and misrepresentation spouted on an almost daily basis now by a Vatican fighting to dodge responsibility for its overseeing role in the global cover up of crimes against children.

I just got got taught another lesson about the power of social networks and new media when I popped onto my Facebook page a few moments ago. All day we have been hearing apologists for Cardinal Sean Brady assert that he committed no crime when he swore to child victims of sexual assault to secrecy and failed to report those crimes to the Gardai or any other civil authority. People like Monsignor Maurice Dooley who has been popping up to defend the indefensible and proclaim that Sean Brady committed no crime and was quite right in his decision not to report child rape and abuse to the police. I kid you not, he actually spouted this during a debate with me on The last Word on Today FM earlier. If you can stomach it you can listen to that debate here.

Well it appears that he may well have, thats provided the Offences against the State Act 1939 is still in force. That act, and thanks to Francis for the heads up on this, states:

17.—(1) Every person who shall administer or cause to be administered or take part in, be present at, or consent to the administering or taking in any form or manner of any oath, declaration, or engagement purporting or intended to bind the person taking the same to do all or any of the following things, that is to say:—

( a ) to commit or to plan, contrive, promote, assist, or conceal the commission of any crime or any breach of the peace, or

( d ) to abstain from disclosing or giving information of the Commission or intended or proposed commission of any crime, breach of the peace, or from informing or giving evidence against the person who committed such an act,

I have ommitted sections 17 (1) b & c as they are not relevant to this case. Here is a link to the full text of the act.

If this legislation remains on the statute books, and it appears it does, the Cardinal Sean Brady and his co-inquisitors may well have committed a criminal offence. I see the Labour Party have rightly called for the Gardai to investigate his conduct in this case. If they do, as they clearly should, he might yet face charges.

Of course so then should any other cleric or member of the hierarchy who required any child or adult victim of clerical sexual abuse to swear any similar oath.

An Opinion piece written for the Irish Daily Star, published March 15 2010

I was nine in 1975. Liam Cosgrave was Taoiseach and Dr Dermot Ryan was Archbishop of Dublin. The Bay City Rollers were topping the music charts and ‘Jaws’ was terrifying cinema goers everywhere. It was a different time and a very different Ireland; one where the power of the Catholic Church was absolute.

Picture a child sitting in a room with three men wearing Roman Collars. One of the three Priests is Fr Sean Brady, a thirty-six year old Professor, teacher and Canon Lawyer.  It’s the second time he and his clerical colleagues have met two children who tell them all they can about how they have been sexually brutalised by another priest, Fr Brendan Smyth. It’s been tough; the children have had to describe things they don’t really have words for. Despite all they have suffered, they are innocents in an Ireland where sex hardly exists, never mind child sexual abuse.

But at least it seems that Fr Brady believes them. Who knows, maybe the fact that they have spoken will mean Fr Smyth won’t be able to hurt any other children. Like many children who have been abused, it’s likely that they carry shame about the abuse, about the dirty nature of the things done to them. But they told the truth to the Priests anyway, because you always have to tell them the truth.

The Priests tell them that they can’t tell anyone about this meeting. They tell them that they have to swear an oath, a promise, to keep all of this secret. So they do, and they never tell, not for years and years and years.

And that’s the thing that really sickens me about this. Secrecy is what allowed those two children to be abused, secrecy is what didn’t let them tell anyone about it and get the help they needed, and secrecy is what allowed Brendan Smyth to rape and abuse dozens more children after Sean Brady and his clerical colleagues washed their hands of what they knew.

Brendan Smyth would go on to abuse and rape across the four provinces of Ireland for almost twenty years after Sean Brady established that he was a paedophile.

Last December Cardinal Sean Brady said that he would resign if a child had been abused as a result of a failure on his part. Well, dozens of children were abused after Brady failed to notify the Gardai about Smyth’s crimes.  In 1997, Smyth admitted he had abused seventy four children, sixty one girls and thirteen boys, between 1958 and 1993.

Cardinal Sean Brady says he was simply following orders when he imposed secrecy on these two brutalised children. I wonder what he has to say to the dozens of other children raped and abused by Smyth because he didn’t have the integrity to break ranks, do the right thing and act to protect them.

Cardinal Sean Brady is unfit to lead any organisation involved in the care and education of children, he should resign.

Yesterday when it was revealed that he had been a church appointed investigator into complaints by two children that had been abused by Fr Brendan Smyth, Cardinal Sean Brady told RTE that he had been following his Bishop’s orders and there were no guidelines for dealing with such investigations at that time.

A statement released by the Cardinals office said:

At the direction of Bishop McKiernan, Fr Brady attended two meetings: in the Dundalk meeting Fr Brady acted as recording secretary for the process involved and in the Ballyjamesduff meeting he asked the questions and recorded the answers given.

At those meetings the complainants signed undertakings, on oath, to respect the confidentiality of the information gathering process. As instructed, and as a matter of urgency, Fr Brady passed both reports to Bishop McKiernan for his immediate action.

Note the two references to “the process” and “the information gathering process”.  It was clearly a formal catholic church process of investigation in which Cardinal Brady, as an expert canon lawyer, played an important role.

He recorded the evidence gathered from both child victims and also questioned them as part of the “process”. This is acknowledged by the Cardinal himself.

Both of the child victims questioned by Sean Brady and his clerical colleagues were required to sign a formal undertaking, under oath, that they would not disclose the meetings or their complaints to the church to anyone.

The Sunday Times reported earlier today that the hearings with the two children:

…were presided over by three canon lawyers and examined formal complaints that Smyth had sexually abused a teenage girl and, separately, an altar boy during church-related activities. Smyth was accused of sexually assaulting the boy, then aged 10, while on holiday in west Cork. The girl said the priest first abused her around Easter 1970, when she was 14.

Both the boy and the girl were required to sign affidavits swearing that they would not talk to anybody except priests given special permission by the tribunal hearings, known in church parlance as “ecclesiastical proceedings”.

All of this sounds very much like the process laid down in Crimen Sollicitationis, the 1962 Vatican document found by the Ferns Inquiry to be church policy on how to deal with clerical child sexual abuse.

It is clear that Brady and his co-inquisitors who investigated these cases were following a formal process and it seems clear that this process was not remotely concerned with the protection of children.

No report of Smyth’s crimes against these two children was made by Sean Brady or the church to any civil authority.

Today Brady has tried to defend his behaviour by suggesting that the investigation did result in action being taken against Smyth.  Link here.

He said that he had acted – by being part of a process which resulted in Fr Smyth having his licence to practice as a priest removed.

Cardinal Brady said that three weeks after he had submitted a report to the then Bishop of Kilmore, Bishop Francis McKiernan, Smyth was suspended from practicing as a priest in the Diocese of Kilmore and throughout the country.

I have to say that I find myself unsure about which might be worse; that Cardinal Sean Brady might actually believe this self-serving nonsense or that it might be no more than cynical spin and misrepresentation designed to dodge responsibility for a gross failure to protect children.

Whatever the case by any reasonable standard Brady and all others involved failed utterly to ensure that children were protected from a now known paedophile.

In 1975 Sean Brady knew that Brendan Smyth was a paedophile and knew that he had abused these two children. His silence at the time and in the almost twenty years that followed is unforgivable. In 1997, Berndan Smyth pleaded guilty to 62 charges of sexual assault on girls and boys between 1958 and 1991. He also pleaded guilty to 12 charges of sexual assaults on boys and girls between 1991 and 1993. He committed the assaults in nine counties spread over the four provinces of Ireland. Sixty one of his victims were girls and thirteen were boys.

Cardinal Sean Brady’s personal failure to report Smyth to the Gardai or to Social Services is part of the gross failure by the Church which allowed so many young lives to be torn apart by acts of sexual brutality.

There is no way to spin these established facts which can allow any rational human being to come to any other conclusion.

When asked earlier today why he had not contacted the relevant statutory authorities, Cardinal Brady said that he was not the designated person to do so.

“Not the designated person to do so”…so the obvious question has to be just who was the designated person to do so, given Brad’s suggestion only yesterday that there were no guidelines in place to handle such issues?

And even more pointedly, how could a highly-educated thirty-six year old man, a teacher, professor and canon lawyer, not realise that he had a clear responsibility to report what were serious crimes to the police and other authorities?

Taking this forward to the current day one has to seriously question the fitness of Cardinal Brady to hold such a senior role in an organisation responsible for the education and care of many thousands of children given that he feels his conduct in 1975 was acceptable and does not amount to a personal failure.

When asked if he was going to resign he said that he would not because he did not think it was a resigning matter.

In December 2009 he said that he would resign if any failure on his part had led to a child being abused.

That his failure to report Smyth meant that this known serial child abuser went on to rape and abuse dozens more children after Brady and his co-inquisitors washed their hands of the case is beyond dispute.

Enough spin and manipulation, its time he went.

Given his admission that he was represented the Catholic Church at a meeting in 1975 where two child victims of serial paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth were required to swear oaths of secrecy about their abuse by Smyth, Cardinal Sean Brady must now resign.

In December 2009 Cardinal Brady told RTE that he would resign if a child had been abused as a result of a failure on his part :

“I would remember that child sex abuse is a very serious crime and very grave and if I found myself in a situation where I was aware that my failure to act had allowed or meant that other children were abused, well then, I think I would resign.”

Link here.

So we know that Sean Brady was a church investigator into complaints that Smyth had abused children in 1975.  By his own admission he believed the victims and believed that Smyth had abused them. But it appears he failed to report those crimes to the police or any state authority.

It seems clear that he didn’t report it in 1975 or at any point over the next nineteen years. Smyth was finally arrested in 1994 after other victims of his reported their abuse to the police.

And we know Smyth continued to abuse girls and boys for many years after this gross failure by Sean Brady in his role as church representative in the 1975 investigation.

Cardinal Daly said tonight he had been following his Bishop’s orders and there were no guidelines for dealing with such investigations at that time.

This is untrue.

As found by the Ferns Inquiry there was church policy setting out how such cases were to be handled.

…in 1962 Pope John XXIII issued a special procedural law for the processing of solicitation cases. The document was sent to a number of Bishops throughout the world who were directed to keep it in secret archives and not to publish or comment upon it. This document related specifically to solicitation in the course of hearing Confession. It is of interest to the Inquiry as it also specifically dealt with how priests who abused children were to be handled and imposed a high degree of secrecy on all Church officials involved in such cases. The penalty for breach of this secrecy was automatic excommunication. Even witnesses and complainants could be excommunicated if they broke the oath of secrecy.

This is the first document from the Vatican of which the Inquiry is aware which directs bishops on the handling of child abuse allegations. The code of secrecy which was emphasised in the document has been perceived by the media and members of the general public as informing the Church authorities on how allegations of child sexual abuse should be dealt with.

Page 13, The Ferns Report

The Catholic Church has repeatedly denied that this document, Crimen Sollicitationis, is not related to clerical child sexual abuse despite this finding by former Irish Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Frank Murphy who headed the Ferns Inquiry.

Now it would appear that the requiring an oath of secrecy from victims of abuse as laid out in Crimen Sollicitationis was used in the 1975 investigation of complaints into child abuse by Smyth.  And involved in the process was the man who would become Cardinal and Primate of All Ireland, Sean Brady.

Whatever his youth, experience of supposed innocence back in 1975, I do not find his defence of ‘I was following orders’ remotely satisfactory.

He believed that this out of control paedophile had abused children and he did nothing to report this crime to the police either then, or it would appear, at any point over the next twenty years during which Smyth continued to rape and abuse in parishes across the world with near impunity. Instead he took part in a cover up of Smyth’s crimes and swore his child victims to secrecy.

Cardinal Sean Brady is now deeply personally implicated in the gross failures of the Catholic Church in the management of Smyth and his rampant sexual offending against children.

And on that basis and given his statement of December 2009 he must resign.

Below is the text of the statement issued by Cardinal Brady’s office this evening.

‘In 1975, Fr Sean Brady, as he then was, was the part-time secretary to the then Bishop of Kilmore, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan.

At the direction of Bishop McKiernan, Fr Brady attended two meetings: in the Dundalk meeting Fr Brady acted as recording secretary for the process involved and in the Ballyjamesduff meeting he asked the questions and recorded the answers given.

At those meetings the complainants signed undertakings, on oath, to respect the confidentiality of the information gathering process. As instructed, and as a matter of urgency, Fr Brady passed both reports to Bishop McKiernan for his immediate action.’

I had a call from Sinead O’Connor last night who wanted to communicate her own strong sense of outrage at the call from Bishop of Ferns, Dr Dennis Brennan for parishioners to donate money to meet the financial costs of that diocese’s negligence in dealing with clerical child sexual abuse.

Here is what Sinead wanted to say:

“Please allow me to express my astonishment upon reading the statement made on the evening of March 1st by the bishop of Ferns, Denis Brennan.

His statement attempts to dictate to us in the same way the inquisition did, how christians should behave. Saying directly that it would be anti-christian of us to feel the church should pay its own bills for its own abuse with its own billions which it throttled from our grandparents, whom they also abused, physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually.

Evidence of sexual abuse by clergy, according to the murphy report, can be traced as far back as 320 a.d. and the first treatment centres for paedophile priests were created in 1940, named servants of the Paracletes. These centres were opened all over the world.

I would like to know  exactly whose idea this plan was, and from where were issued the instructions or permission to make such a statement.

The statement and its attempted manipulation of good catholic people could be described as unbelievable, stupid, comical. But in my opinion the only word that does it justice is evil.

How long do they expect us to restrain ourselves?

We have put up with this bull dung for hundreds of years.

A true christian is someone who, in any given situation is supposed to ask themselves what would Jesus do, and try to do that.

How an organisation which has acted  decade after decade only to protect its business interests above the interests of children, can feel it has the right to dictate to us what christian should do is beyond belief.

From the Pope on down through the vatican  and through therefore, the lower echelons (spelling?)  the whole organisation in my belief is in fact utterly anti-christian. and evil. As proven by centuries of torture, bloodshed, burnings, terrorism, and coverings up of “the worst crime” known to man.

And if Jesus christ is to be seen in the vulnerable of this world then all they have done is crucify the man over and over and over again.

If Christ was here, he would be burning down the vatican. and I for one would be helping him.

sinead o; connor.