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.

Like many others who were lucky enough to have known or worked with Mary Raferty, I was deeply saddened to hear of her death yesterday, January 10th. Mary’s passing is a loss to us all, but most especially of course to her husband, her son and wider family who are very much in my thoughts.

The following is a tribute to Mary I wrote for the Irish Independent.

I never once came away from a conversation with Mary Raftery without learning something. She had an incredible mind; an extraordinary ability to absorb and store information combined with a gift for insight and analysis the like of which I have rarely encountered. Mary had a nose for the truth, and an unwavering commitment to get to the heart of a difficult, complex and challenging issue and reveal it with objectivity and real integrity. She cared enough about people to not simply dismiss the terrible things she saw as someone else’s responsibility but to do something about it herself.

She held up a mirror to Irish society, and in her measured and gentle tone, she doggedly revealed the darker truths about how we have treated each other. She forced us to finally hear the voices of the children we abandoned to torture in State funded institutions. She fought to expose the truth of how Ireland punished women and girls whose family circumstances or reproductive history offended a society determined to be blind to the simple realities of life.  Most recently, in what would be her final television series Behind the Walls, she asked us to face the truth of how we have treated people detained or placed in psychiatric institutions.

In her writing and other media contributions she was searing in her analysis of how those in power responded to her films and the various investigations that followed them. She never suffered blather or fudge or spin. She never lost her cool, never raised her voice in anger. She blew away lies and deceit and mealy-mouthed excuses for terrible failure with simple truth.

Mary knew how to reveal these stories. She was forensic in her pursuit of the facts, and never gave up. Where others might have been intimidated by the barriers they faced from a system and a society determined to keep the truth hidden, Mary seemed to know no fear. She was dogged in her pursuit of the truth. But what made her truly extraordinary was the depth of her humanity. She cared. Not about getting the scoop, not about winning awards, but about the people whose stories she told, about justice and what is simply right. She was all that a truly great investigative journalist should be.

I hope that Mary’s legacy will be even more that her body of amazing work. I hope that in considering her loss, those charged with the management of our media will value her contribution enough to ensure that her real legacy is an enduring respect for the importance of painstaking and courageous investigative journalism. In a world where few of our institutions, including the media, remain untouched by scandal or corruption of one kind or another, Mary should be an example to our media of what it should and can be. Tireless and fearless, insightful and objective, honest and compassionate, her loss is a loss to us all.

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?

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.

The following post first appeared as an article in the Amnesty International UK Magazine. It sets out the themes I will explore when I give the annual Amnesty International Lecture as part of the Belfast Festival 2010 on October 21st. More on the lecture here.

 

Ireland has struggled in recent years to come to terms with the horrific legacy of child abuse in institutional care. The harm done to many thousands of Irish children by those charged with their care has rocked our society to its core. The State abdicated responsibility for the welfare of its most marginalised children to almost entirely unaccountable agencies. Those children were abused and degraded on an unthinkable scale. It is made all the worse because those agencies were churches, institutions charged with providing moral guidance.

In the southern Irish context the Roman Catholic Church operated most institutions, but a number were also run by Church of Ireland agencies. After decades of silence and denial by all of us, once named, the simple stark horror of what happened in those institutions could no longer be ignored.

International law is clear about the obligations on any State to address such past human rights violations.

States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right of victims of human rights violations to an effective remedy.  In addressing past violations, states must ensure that the truth is told, that justice is done and that reparation is provided to all the victims. States obligations are the same even if non-state agencies such as churches are responsible for the abuse.

Addressing past violations has enormous value for wider society, by exposing the failures in law, social policy and attitudes, which allowed child abuse to occur on such a scale.

In this context responding to the past is not simply about addressing a historic hurt. It is also about acknowledging a source of ongoing trauma for victims of abuse by ending their enforced silence and the widespread, political and social denial of their hurt.

So this is not simply a matter of making real a past denied; it reveals the impact of that past today, on the lives of those who were abused and their families. In dealing with the past, as difficult and frightening as it is, we will find a way to name it, respond to it and learn from it.

Too often, we run from things we have done that we feel mark us as bad. I know that feeling; for so many years I ran from my own feelings of shame related to my own experiences of childhood abuse.

I believed that what I saw then as shameful, awful experiences named the truth of who I was. But they don’t.

The truth of who I am is to be found in the way I responded to the events that I have experienced. How I chose to deal with them, once I was free to do so.

In Ireland we have been forced to face up to the fact that thousands of Irish children were raped and abused by some of the most powerful members of our society, and that many of us turned a blind eye to the abuse, or refused to believe it was even possible. We can never again say, “I didn’t know”.

So what of that future? Can we move on with confidence, certain that we have faced what we needed to face and consign all of this to history?

I don’t think so.

As long as history has something to teach us about what it means to be human we must be open to hearing it again and again. We must learn that the terrible things we humans do to each other are only possible because we choose to tolerate them. We must learn that doing nothing in the face of great wrong is not passive neutrality. It is an act of violence – a violent refusal to act to prevent harm when we have both the capacity to understand the harm caused and the power to prevent it.

We have created the world we live in and we have the power to change it when change is needed. It may not always be easy to do so, but it is possible, even inevitable, if enough of us decide to demand change.

Be it ending the cover up of clerical sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church, or closing Guantánamo Bay and ending the use of torture, or outlawing the use of the death penalty, we can each be a powerful force for good, if we choose to be.

Too often, we are so frightened of acknowledging the awful things done to others by people close to us, and even by ourselves that we end up allowing such things to happen through our denial. In our silence we collude, in our denial we facilitate and in our softly spoken words of gossip we fail to take responsibility for what we know.

We are so frightened of seeing the darkness in our collective humanity that we fail to embrace the light that exists in at least equal measure there; the profound beauty in our own humanity that can respond with truth and courage to the things we see and do that are simply wrong.

What we have yet to understand is that we can only be enriched if we have the courage, compassion and integrity to name and confront injustice wherever we see it, especially when we are party to causing injustice ourselves.

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?

An edited version of this article was published in Th Independent newspaper (UK) on March 22nd 2010.

On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI published his letter to the Irish Church on the issue of child abuse. What was necessary seemed clear. As Pope, acknowledge the cover up by Roman Catholic Church of the rape and abuse of children by priests, take responsibility for it, and show how you will ensure it never happens again.

But the letter failed to do any of this. There was no acceptance of responsibility for the now established cover up, no plan to ensure that across the global church those who rape and abuse will be reported to the civil authorities and children properly protected.

The letter is clearly an effort to restore the credibility of a church rocked by the publication of three state investigations into clerical crimes and church over ups in Ireland. The Pope has seen all three of these reports.

Published in May 2009, following an eleven year State investigation, the Ryan Report detailed the full extent of the horrific abuse endured by children abandoned to the ‘care’ of the church.

It reported ritualized, savage beatings, endemic rape and sexual assault and the exploitation of children forced to work to enrich the bloated religious congregations charged with their care.

Disgracefully, the Pope used his letter and this issue to attack one of his favourite targets, secularisation. We are asked to believe that the secularisation of Irish society led to abuse and cover up. In fact, it is the secularisation of society that finally led to the exposure of the crimes of the church.

The most horrific abuse was perpetrated, not in a secularised Ireland, but at a time when Irish society was dominated, socially and politically, by the Catholic Church.

That the Pope appears to have wilfully ignored this established fact is a blatant and disgraceful deceit.

Some have reported that the Pope issued a heartfelt apology to victims of abuse. In fact the word ‘sorry’ appeared just once in a letter running to almost four thousand seven hundred words.

The Pope said he was “truly sorry” that victims had suffered. Well, I too am sorry that human beings seem able to tolerate and perpetrate acts of brutality and depravity upon others. That sorrow and outrage is what informs my every day work towards universal respect for human rights.

But an expression of sorrow is not the same as an acceptance of responsibility. The letter does go some way to acknowledge the remorse of the church, but why is it impossible for this Vicar of Christ on earth to name truth in simple, unambiguous terms? Is that really too much to ask?

The Pope’s letter has been described as ‘unprecedented’ and an important step forward by the Vatican in dealing with clerical child sexual abuse.

It is neither. Just consider an earlier Papal decree addressing the issue of catholic clergy abusing children.

In his papal order Horrendum, Pope Pius V said that priests who abused children were to be stripped of the priesthood, deprived of all income and privileges and handed over to the civil authorities.

Pretty strong stuff, especially when one considers that it was issued in 1568.

Compare with that the actions identified by this modern day Pope at the end of his letter.

He has decreed that Irish Catholics should pray, fast and do penance for the next year in order to bring about the rebirth of the Irish Church.

And he has ordered a Vatican investigation of some Irish dioceses, presumably to ensure that they are following church law; the same law used by church leaders to explain their failure to report rapist priests to civil authorities.

So this letter is in fact a massive step backward when compared to the standard set by a seventeenth century Pope. Strip away some worthy and welcome sentiments, consider the important issues ignored and all that remains is a constant concern for the preservation of the institutional church.

Most damningly, there is little to suggest any real concern for the safety of children across the global church.

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.

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.’

This is the original version of an Op ed written for The Independent newspaper. An edited version was published in the March 9th edition of the paper, link here.

The recent revelations that the brother of Pope Benedict XVI may be called upon to testify in the growing child sexual abuse scandal in the German Catholic Church has led to questions about just how much the current Pope knew about these allegations of child abuse. Whilst such questions are understandable, a more valid, and in my view more revealing, line of enquiry would be to examine the extent of the pontiff’s knowledge of the global clerical sexual abuse scandals.

In early December 2002, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, suggested 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 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 in any catholic diocese across the world.

The Pope’s brother appears to share the view that the emergence of such scandals has some sinister anti-catholic church agenda.

Questioning what might be behind recent revelations in an interview to an Italian newspaper last week the Rev. Georg Ratzinger was quoted as saying, “I want to note that I sense a certain animosity toward the church”.

Post the publication or three damning reports of Irish State investigations into clerical child abuse, all of which uncovered clear evidence of a systemic cover up by the institutional church of horrific crimes against children, the Vatican spin machine has gone into overdrive to distance itself from any responsibility.

Added to the now usual platitudes condemning individual acts of child rape and abuse as “heinous crimes” and expressing the hurt and shock of the Pope upon hearing of such crimes, we are now told that the ‘failures’ are the result of governance issues in the Irish national church.

This is a blatant deceit.

Right across the global church, the only governance structure is one of individual dioceses reporting directly to the Vatican. Failures in governance within the Roman Catholic Church are Vatican failures, not those of any illusory ‘national governance structure’.

The Vatican has fought to ensure it remains unaccountable for the cover up of clerical crimes. If it admits responsibility then it exposes itself to potentially massive financial losses should any court hold it to account for its negligence and inaction.

Globally many thousands of cases have now emerged. In Ireland, the United States and Australia, there is compelling evidence of a cover up which saw offending clerics moved from parish to unsuspecting parish where they devastated countless lives, families and communities as Rome watched from a distance and failed to intervene to protect children despite its moral obligation to do so and clear responsibility as the ultimate governors of this global church.

Even today, after all that has been exposed by those of us who have stood up and spoken out about our experiences of brutalisation, first at the hands of clerical sex offenders and then at the hands of a legalistic, uncaring and punitive hierarchy, the Vatican continues to refuse to act to properly protect children.

As new scandals erupt in Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Nigeria, Pope Benedict has failed to put in place and enforce mandatory global child protection policy across his church.

I recently asked a senior church figure why this was the case. The answer was depressingly familiar. I was told that to put in place global policy underpinned by church law would admit that the Vatican had the responsibility and the power to do so, and expose the Vatican to law suits and potentially massive financial losses for not doing so in the past.

So there you have it. To this very day it would appear the Vatican values its money and its position more than it values the safety of children.

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.

A comment piece written for the Irish Daily Mail in response to reports that the Bishop of Ferns wants parishioners to contribute to the ongoing costs arising from the negligent handling of clerical sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church authorities.

In 1998 I first heard that the Diocese of Ferns had known that Fr Sean Fortune had sexually assaulted children as a seminarian. The story was that he had assaulted a group of boy scouts whilst studying for the priesthood in St Peters College in Wexford. The assault was reported to the church and scouting authorities. The Scouts banned him for life, the Diocese of Ferns ordained him a priest. That was 1979, and Sean Fortune remained in active ministry and continued to abuse until I made my complaint to the Gardai in 1995. Only then, when it was clear that they could no longer cover up the scandal of his crimes, did the Diocese of Ferns act and suspend Fortune from ministry.

The Vatican was also aware of concerns about Fortunes conduct. In the early 1980’s parishioners wrote to the Papal Nuncio to outline their concerns about the errant cleric. The Nuncio responded, writing that the Vatican was aware of their concerns. But the Vatican appears to have done nothing on foot of that complaint.

It was because I discovered evidence of such negligence by Church authorities that I decided to take legal action against the Diocese of Ferns and the Vatican. I did this to try and achieve two important outcomes. Firstly, I wanted to force the church to tell the truth about how they had failed to protect me, and many others, from a known child abuser. Secondly, I wanted to hold them to account for their negligence before the courts. I knew that the State either couldn’t or wouldn’t do so. The only means available to me was a civil suit, through which I hoped to force the Church to face the consequences of its gross failures.

And I succeeded. In 2003 the Diocese of Ferns publicly admitted negligence and agreed to pay me damages.

Yesterday the current Bishop, Dr Dennis Brennan, asked parishioners to help pay the costs of the failure of the diocese to prevent abuse. He wants parishioners to pay for the crimes of the church. The diocese reported that it has paid €10.5m in damages to victims, legal costs and to treat offenders.

It is worth noting that of this €10.5m, just over €8m has been paid by insurance settlements and from non church sources, including €650k from the taxpayer towards the €2m legal bill the diocese ran up in dealing with the Ferns Inquiry. By the way, victims giving evidence to the Ferns Inquiry ran up not a euro in legal costs.

To fund the remaining €2.5m, the diocese used cash reserves and took out a €1.8m mortgage on the Bishops Palace in Wexford. It now wants parishioners to pay half the of cost this mortgage.

Having used insurance settlements and taxpayer’s money to pay eighty percent of the costs, the Diocese of Ferns now wants parishioners to stump up about half of the remaining twenty percent.

It has some nerve. Surely it recognises that it alone should pay for the consequences of its negligence, even if that means the sale of all its assets, including the Bishops Palace?

Better yet, if the Vatican is serious about the survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland, let it dip into its reserves. The people of the Diocese have paid enough and suffered enough because of Church failures. When I sued the Church, it was the hierarchy I pursued, not the people who sit in the pews. At a time when most families are struggling to make ends meet, the Church should stump up for its own failures.

The following is an essay I contributed to a book ‘What being Catholic means to me’, published by Columba Press last year.

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

Has it struck anyone else as obscene that in their rush to rationalise the abject failure of the Pope to properly address the deliberate cover up of the rape and abuse of children by Roman Catholic Priests, Irish Bishops seem to be suggesting that victims must be patient and wait for the Vatican’s grand design for our healing to be revealed?

In a letter from Bishop of Ferns Dr Denis Brennan which was read at masses in the Diocese, Dr Brennan asserted that the visit by Bishops was only one part of a process designed to bring healing to victims.

Well excuse me, but since when did those who were responsible for the cover up of abuse and its resultant trauma get to dictate or design the healing process for victims?

And just why exactly is the Pope unable to name the terrible wrong that the institution he heads is guilty of?

The Vatican, Catholic Bishops and Pope Benedict XVI have now made many statements about clerical sexual abuse. They have blamed the media, the decadence of western society, the sexual revolution, gays and now a “weakening of faith” and countless others for the scandal of clerical sexual abuse.

What they have consistently failed to do is name the simple truth of their own guilt in overseeing a cover up of crimes against children on a grand and global scale.

The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI are fully aware of the extent of clerical abuse, not only in Ireland but worldwide, and have overseen the cover up of that abuse for decades. The failures exposed by the investigations we managed to force here in Ireland are the result of a deliberate and well orchestrated policy of cover up and denial spanning decades. And at the heart of the cover up, as Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman Apostolic Church in all his ermine and finery sits the Pope.

So enough of the lies and half truths and breathtaking arrogance, enough of the blaming everyone and everything else.

If you can’t speak the truth, then perhaps it’s time to shut up.

But do not presume that anyone else can or will wait for you to sanction or ‘design’ their healing process.

The simple truth is that the problem is not a “weakening of faith” or the corruption of society. The problem is a corrupt institution led by an arrogant and deceitful hierarchy.

Its Christmas Eve and I have just done two radio interviews for the BBC following the resignation of the Bishop of Kildare. Bishop Moriarty resigned four weeks after the publication of the report of the Commission of Investigation into child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

He was the second bishop to resign, Donal Murray quit last week and three further bishops, Eamonn Walsh, Raymond Field and Martin Drennan are under increasing pressure to resign their positions.

The report was damning in its view of how the Catholic Church managed child abuse by its priests. It didn’t simply find that individual bishops had mismanaged cases; it found that there had been a deliberate cover up in an effort to protect the institution, its money and its interests.

The Commission has no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities over much of the period covered by the Commission’s remit. The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up. The State authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes. The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests.

Noteworthy is the mention of “other Church authorities” and the finding that “the structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up”. The Commission clearly believes that the cover up extends beyond the Archdiocese of Dublin and is the result of established Roman Catholic Church rules and structures. And who is responsible for Church rules and structures? The Vatican is of course and the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI.

So what has the response of the Vatican been to the Murphy Report? Well, the Pope has expressed his disgust and outrage at the content of the report. Mind you given the fact that he was responsible for the management of clerical child sexual abuse within the global church for the best part of two decades it can’t have been the detail of the abuse that “outraged” him, he must have been very familiar with that already. Perhaps it was the criticism of the institution that alarmed him? No doubt we will hear more in his upcoming pastoral letter to the Irish Church due sometime next year.

Whist we wait for that stunning moment though we do have other indicators of the Pope’s view of the scandal. Yesterday he gave his annual address to the Roman Curia (the global church government departments) yesterday. This event is akin to a ‘State of the Union’ address, an annual speech which addresses the important events in the life of the church over the preceding year.

Given the findings of both the Ryan and Murphy Reports, both published this year, one might have reasonably expected the Pope to address the issue of child abuse by priests and the now established fact that his church has grossly mismanaged such abuse. But he did not.

Not important enough clearly.

A Vatican spokesperson explained that no special significance can be attached to the Pope’s failure to mention the abuse scandals. The Irish Times covers the story – Link here.

Fr Lombardi said it would be wrong to attribute any significance to this, saying the pope would shortly be dealing with Ireland in the relatively unprecedented context of a “pastoral letter” to the “faithful in Ireland”.

“This speech is . . . not intended as a speech that will cover all the events of the year . . . As for Ireland, the pope will have plenty to say about the Irish church in his forthcoming pastoral letter to the Irish faithful. You will have plenty to reflect on in that document.”

Fr Lombardi also said the speech to the curia was addressed to the “universal church”.

“It’s obvious that the Irish church’s problems are very serious, there is a very dramatic situation there. However, this is really the specific problem of one country.”

So there we have it. It’s our problem you see. A local issue and not something worthy of mention in the context of the “universal” church.

So the scandals haven’t been an issue anywhere else at all really. Not in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, not in France despite the conviction of a Bishop there for failing to report abuse, not in Brazil where up to ten percept of Roman Catholic priests have been accused of sexual misconduct.

No, not in any of those places…just here.

Fair enough so.

So all we need is the wise counsel of Benedict XVI in the form of his pastoral letter and we will surely learn how to redeem ourselves and find our way back to goodness.

In the past seven years we have now seen the resignations of four bishops in Ireland who have been implicated in the mismanagement of child sexual abuse by priests of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Brendan Comiskey resigned in April 2002 after his resignation was sought by the Vatican under a code of canon law which requires a bishop who is deemed unfit for office to resign. Cardinal Desmond Connell resigned as Archbishop of Dublin in 2004 after many months of pressure and public outrage about his management of child abuse in the Dublin diocese. His resignation was scheduled, we were told as he had reached retirement age, but it was clear that he could not have continued in office following revelations of appalling mismanagement of child abuse.  Bishop John Magee quit as administrator of the Diocese of Cloyne this year after child protection practice in the diocese was described as “dangerous” by the church’s own child protection body.

And finally, after much public disquiet, and widespread public condemnation of his role in the sex abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Dublin it is reported that the Vatican will announce the resignation of  Bishop Donal Murray at 11am tomorrow .

It must be said that not one of them went easily or with much grace. All resisted public pressure and public outrage and appeared to be unwilling or unable to understand the need for them to take responsibility for the dreadful and wilful mismanagement of child abuse in diocese for which they had responsibility. Of course, Bishop Donal Murray is not the only serving bishop who had responsibility for child protection in the Archdiocese of Dublin over the period investigated by Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team. His resignation will likely lead to increased pressure on the remaining four named in the Murphy Report; Bishops Walsh, Field, Moriarty and Drennan.

But we must ask ourselves just how much has been achieved by any of these resignations? Certainly many people may feel better knowing that these men are no longer in positions of enormous responsibility and power, but will their resignations result in any meaningful change to the culture of cover up and self-preservation which has placed so many children at the mercy of serial abusers right across the global Roman Catholic Church? I don’t believe so.

The fact remains that the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI continue to evade accountability for the cover ups at a global level and have failed to even respond to calls for them to put in place mandatory child protection across the global church. The Vatican ignored requests for information from the Murphy about their knowledge of and policy on child abuse by priests.

The church asserts that things have changed, that it is tackling child abuse and has put in place new mechanisms and policies to protect children. The fact remains thought that these policies have only been created in countries where scandal and public outrage which resulted from the advocacy of victims and media scrutiny forced a response upon a reluctant and dishonest church.

In countries where there have been no scandals and where victims remain marginalised and silent there have been no new polices and no action to protect children. Of course it is also clear that adherence to these shiny new policies are at best patchy. Evidence of this is to be found in the case of the Diocese of Cloyne and similar stories continue to emerge in other countries.

The cover up of child sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church is not the result of some befuddled bishops failure to understand the nature of abuse and its impact on children. Church history is littered with references to clerical paedophilia going back as far as the first century AD. Bishops took out insurance to protect their money from any future legal claims by victims of clerical abusers here in Ireland in the mid to late 1980s. Dioceses across the world also took out similar policies. This years before the scandals became public and the self same Bishops protested that they had no understanding of child abuse; they told us they didn’t even understand such crimes were prevalent. They lied and covered up crimes against children and turned a blind eye to the activities of the serial abusers they knowingly unleashed on unsuspecting communities.

The culture of the institutional Roman Catholic Church is rotten. It is corrupt. It’s that simple really. And until the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI accepts responsibility for its deliberate and wilful mismanagement of child abuse nothing will change and children will remain in terrible danger.

You may have read the article I wrote for the Irish Times this week where I made the point that responsibility for covering up child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin was not limited to Bishop Donal Murray but had to be shared by all those in positions of leadership in the Archdiocese.

In particular I pointed out issues arising from the involvement of Bishop Eamon Walsh of a case in the Archdiocese of Dublin and questions about the level of cooperation he gave the Ferns Inquiry when serving as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Ferns. Link here to that article.

Bishop Walsh was none too happy with the facts I laid in my article and responded with barely concealed fury. His response didn’t really deal with the issues raised, instead he accused me of trying to “speak  out if the other side of my mouth”. He went on to call into question my role as Executive Director of Amnesty. The article can be read here.

In the course of his diatribe he did however let slip some rather interesting facts.

For example he said:

But as far back as 1990, I wasn’t a month in the job as a bishop, and I stood up at a meeting and I said that not alone should the police, who were already informed about an individual, but we should say where he was living and the number of his car, because I felt he was a danger.

This is especiall interesting given that Bishop Walsh is both a qualified Barrister (lawyer) and a Canon Lawyer. Often bishops have told us that they did not fully appreciate fully understand child abuse, that they didn’t so much consider it a crime as a moral lapse of some kind. This rather ridiculous excuse has been used in an attempt to suggest that the cover up of these crimes wasn’t deliberate but the result of a mistaken and confused approach to the rape of children by priests. 

But Bishop Walsh has now made it clear that he, a person eminently qualified in the law, appreciated as far back as 1990 that sexual abuse was a crime and that the church should report such crimes to the police.

So the question which Bishop Walsh must now answer is simple enough. Why didn’t be do so?

Bishop Walsh was a member of the first Advisory Panel of the Archdiocese of Dublin established in 1996 to manage child abuse cases. Did Bishop Walsh ensure every case reviewed by the panel was referred to the police?

It appears he did not.

Mary Rafftery addresses this and raises a number of further questions in today’s Irish Times.

BISHOP EAMONN Walsh on Wednesday last made a series of revealing statements to this newspaper on issues of clerical child sexual abuse in both Dublin and Ferns. It is worth analysing these in detail.

Defending himself against those who have called for his resignation, he stated the following: “As far back as 1990, I wasn’t a month in the job as a bishop, and I stood up at a meeting and I said that not alone should the police, who were already informed about an individual, but we should say where he was living and the number of his car, because I felt he was a danger.”

The strong implication here is that the archdiocese reported a specific priest to the Garda as early as 1990. This is a dramatic revelation, particularly as there is no reference to anything like it in the Murphy commission report.

Further, the behaviour of the Dublin bishops at this time was entirely aimed at covering up awareness and allegations of child abuse against their priests. The first time the Dublin archdiocese volunteered information on paedophile priests to the Garda was in fact a full five years later, when in 1995 archbishop Desmond Connell passed on the names of 17 priests (but omitted a further 11 against whom complaints had been made to the archdiocese).

A number of key questions now arise for Bishop Eamonn Walsh, particularly in the light of our knowledge of how the archdiocese applied the principle of mental reservation. Firstly, who precisely informed the Garda in 1990 about this priest, and what exactly was reported? If, as is likely, it was not the archdiocese, but rather a victim, or the parents of an abused child, what co-operation, if any, was offered by the bishops to the Garda?

Given the fact that Bishop Walsh was able to decide in 1990 that the priest was “a danger”, it can be assumed that the bishops had detailed knowledge of this priest’s criminal abuse of children. How much, if any, of this was passed on to the Garda, and when was it passed on?

Secondly, who else was present at the 1990 meeting to which Bishop Walsh refers? If it was one of the regular monthly meetings of all the Dublin bishops, what precisely was the nature of the discussion around reporting these matters to the Garda? What decisions were taken on foot of this? And, crucially, did Bishop Walsh actually follow up on his own suggestion and pass on what he knew about this abusing priest to the police?

Thirdly, Bishop Walsh refers to “a certain person” who “wrote in horror to the archbishop that somebody could even think that way” – a reference to Bishop Walsh’s own suggested reporting to the Garda.

Why does Bishop Walsh not now name this individual? In addition, if the bishop had concerns that information was being withheld from gardaí as early as 1990, what steps did he himself take personally to fulfil his own duty as a citizen to report all criminal activity of which he was aware to the civil authorities?

In relation to the Ferns diocese, the bishop claims an unblemished record. From 2002 to 2006, he was apostolic administrator in Ferns, and thus in charge of handing over the files to the non-statutory inquiry into child abuse established by the government and chaired by retired judge Frank Murphy.

As Bishop Walsh himself states, the Ferns report praises him for his co-operation. Also true is his claim that the report exonerated him in the matter of the last-minute handing over of internal diocesan files containing concerns and allegations against eight new priests. His tardiness was the “result of genuine errors of judgment”. Nonetheless, it meant that these allegations could not be fully investigated, and they appeared only as an appendix to the body of the report.

However, there is another, separate incidence of documentation withheld from the Ferns inquiry until the last moment. The Ferns report took a much sterner attitude to this case, a fact which Bishop Walsh does not mention in his recent remarks. The issue here was particularly serious as it concerned a priest (Fr Iota) still in ministry, a potential continuing danger to children.

The relevant file, which showed that the diocese had known Fr Iota was a child abuser as far back as 1970, was handed over to the inquiry by Bishop Walsh only after the victim (known as “Pamela” in the report) had come forward in the summer of 2005 and had contacted One In Four and Colm O’Gorman. This is despite the fact that the bishop himself had undertaken a complete review of all files upon his arrival in the diocese in 2002 with a focus on identifying any present and continuing risks to children.

The Ferns report states that it “was concerned that the details of this case were not communicated to the inquiry until its work had reached an advanced stage”. It added that the file’s contents “should have alerted the diocese to the existence of a potential child protection issue”.

In fact, Bishop Walsh had been in charge of the Ferns diocese for three years before any action was taken to protect children from this priest, who at the time was ministering abroad.

A full explanation for this three-year delay in dealing with a known child abuser remains to be provided by Bishop Eamonn Walsh.

It appears Bishop Walsh still has a number of questions to answer about his role in the managment of child abuse cases in both the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Ferns.

So today Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Cardinal Sean Bready met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the report of the Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

After their meeting the Vatican issued the following statement:

Today the Holy Father held a meeting with senior Irish Bishops and high-ranking members of the Roman Curia. He listened to their concerns and discussed with them the traumatic events that were presented in the Irish Commission of Investigation’s into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin

After careful study of the Report, the Holy Father was deeply disturbed and distressed by its contents. He wishes once more to express his profound regret at the actions of some members of the clergy who have betrayed their solemn promises to God, as well as the trust placed in them by the victims and their families, and by society at large.

The Holy Father shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland, and he is united with them in prayer at this difficult time in the life of the Church.

His Holiness asks Catholics in Ireland and throughout the world to join him in praying for the victims, their families and all those affected by these heinous crimes.

He assures all concerned that the Church will continue to follow this grave matter with the closest attention in order to understand better how these shameful events came to pass and how best to develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence.

The Holy See takes very seriously the central issues raised by the Report, including questions concerning the governance of local Church leaders with ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children.

The Holy Father intends to address a Pastoral Letter to the faithful of Ireland in which he will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the situation.

Finally, His Holiness encourages all those who have dedicated their lives in generous service to children to persevere in their good works in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd.

His statement has not exactly been lauded. For obvious reasons.

The suggestion that the Pope was “deeply disturbed and distressed”  by the content of the report is pretty ambigious to say the least. Benedict XVI was for more than twenty years the head of the Congregation for the Doctorine of the Faith (CDF), when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In this capacity he headed the Vatican department which was responsible for the management of abuse cases right across the global Roman Catholic Church.

In 2001 he wrote to every Bishop in the world in May 2001 instructing them on how they were to handle cases of child sexual abuse by priests. The letter stated that the CDF would “continue to have exclusive competence” for how cases were to be handled. Note the word “continue” here, as in it alreaday was the entity with exclusive competence to decide how cases were to be handled.

The letter said the CDF was to be informed about all cases of priests who sexually abused children and asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and kep the evidence confidential for up to ten years after the victim reached adultood. Link to news coverage here.

So Pope Benedict XVI has detailed personal expereince of managing the issue of clerical sexual abuse for many years, at the global level. He is fully aware of the scale of the problem and is the source of the document about which the Commission of Investigation wrote to both the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican in an effort to discover the nature of the church cover up of abuse in Dublin. The Vatican and the Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s ambassador to Ireland, both failed to even reply to the letters from the Commission. Link here to that story.

Any expression of surprise or outrage by the Pope on reading the report of the commission is disingenuous in the extreme. He can not be surprised by either the scale and nature of the abuse, or more importantly, the deliberate cover up of the absue by the Archdiocese and its Archbishops and Bishops over many decades.

What is especially outrageous is the suggestion that the Pope shares the “outrage, betrayal and shame felt by many of the faithful in Ireland”. Isn’t it obscene that the leader of this global church who has personally previously dicated a policy of secrecy in the handling of abuse by priests. So how has he been betrayed exactly? Is he himself guilty of a staggering betrayal of children and members of the church he now leads?

It is frankly sickening that the Pope is portaying himself as a victim in this context.

It is interesting though to read how the Vatican, and the Pope, have clearly decided to place the bleame for the cover up identified by the Commission fully on the Irish church authorities. Given that every bishop is directly and solely accountable to the Pope, and that in 2001 the Pope, in his previous role with the CDF, directed the approach national churches and individual bishops were to adopt in managing complaints of abuse by priests it seems clear that he, and the Vatican share responsibilit with national or local church authorities.

The undertaking to continue to work to “understand better how these shameful events came to pass and how best to develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence” is also galling.

The Roman Catholic Church has been aware of paedophilia in its ranks almost since its foundation. As I detailed in my book Beyond Belief, Church history is littered with references to previous scandals and church law going back as fard as the first century AD. Just how long does the Church need to understand its own actions?

Much more detailed information on this history is documented in the excellent Sex, Priests and Secret Codes by Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe and Patrick Wall.

Finally, the suggestion that those of us affected by this cover up and these apalling crimes might gain somekind of comfort from the announcement that the Pope will now write a pastoral letter to the Irish demonstrates an appalling arrogance on the part of the Vatican.

We don’t need a letter, announced in breathless excitement by Archbishop Martin.

We don’t need any more papal expressions of regret at the actions of some priests and clergy.

The only thing we need is the truth.

Admit the nature and scale of the cover up. Get real, tell the truth and take responsibility.

Try and be at least a little Christ-like in your response to the deliberate and wilfull disregard of the welfare of children by the church you head, and then, and only then, you might begin to deal with this issue in a meaningful way.

The scale and deliberate nature of the cover-up revealed by the Murphy report has left many people outraged and, quite understandably, there have been vociferous calls for accountability. In the white heat of the past week much of the outrage has been directed at Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray, who now seems set to resign, but the responsibility for such a wide and systemic cover-up cannot be limited to one man.

All those who held positions of responsibility in the Archdiocese of Dublin are implicated in this institutional cover-up.

The role of Bishop Eamonn Walsh is significant. He served as secretary to Archbishop McNamara before his appointment as auxiliary bishop in 1990. He was a member of the first Dublin Archdiocese Advisory Panel established by Desmond Connell in 1996 to monitor child protection.

One of the cases considered by the panel in 1997 was that of Fr Noel Reynolds. Cardinal Connell put in place an investigation into complaints about the priest in late 1995, though it appears complaints against Reynolds dated back as far as the 1970s. The panel considered the case in March 1997 and decided that there was no clear evidence of child sexual abuse but that some inappropriate behaviour did happen.

In 1998 a social worker told Bishop Walsh that a client had alleged she had been abused by Reynolds. Bishop Walsh told her to write to the chancellor, Msgr Dolan. He did not tell her to report the case to the Garda, nor did he do so himself. In fact the archdiocese decided that no formal complaint had been made and they therefore didn’t report the case to the Garda or to the health board.

In June 1999, the social worker contacted the archdiocese to inform them that two sisters had contacted the gardaí to make a complaint about Fr Reynolds. Later the same month, the archdiocese finally contacted the Garda and informed them that it had received complaints of sexual abuse by Reynolds in the late 1970s. Reynolds later admitted he sexually assaulted more than 20 children. He told gardaí he had inserted a crucifix into the vagina and anus of one of his victims, even offering the crucifix to gardaí as evidence.

The archdiocese appears to have informed the Garda of the complaints only after it became clear that the victims had themselves reported Reynolds to the Garda.

It is not the only occasion when Bishop Walsh was involved in the delayed passing on of information to the civil authorities. In his role as administrator of the diocese of Ferns, Bishop Walsh was responsible for ensuring that all information about child abuse concerns held on church files was passed to the Ferns inquiry

In the summer of 2005, I was approached by a woman who had been abused in the early 1970s by a priest from the diocese of Ferns. She was certain the diocese had been aware of the complaint for more than 20 years, and in an effort to know what the diocese might have held on file about her, she contacted them in May 2005. She became dissatisfied with the response of the diocese and in July she contacted me at the offices of One in Four.

At the request of Pamela, the pseudonym the woman was given in the Ferns report, I wrote to Bishop Walsh on July 14th, 2005, asking that any further contact with her should be routed through One in Four, thus putting the diocese on notice that One in Four was aware of the case. One in Four also arranged for Pamela to attend the inquiry.

Two weeks later, some two months after Pamela first contacted the diocese of Ferns, the diocese sent documents to the Ferns inquiry that made it clear the complaint against the priest had been known to the diocese since the early 1970s. These files had not been disclosed to the inquiry.

The diocese explained that this was due to “a regrettable error” on its part. Following a full review of files held by the diocese, information relating to a further eight priests was found not to have been disclosed as a result of this same “regrettable error”. Five of the eight cases were found to be relevant to the inquiry, but could not be properly investigated as the inquiry had concluded its investigation. Bishop Walsh was fully aware of at least two of these cases, having reviewed both upon his appointment to Ferns in 2002. This review involved meeting both of the priests involved and referring one for assessment. Yet he failed to notify the inquiry of either case for more than three years.

Fr Iota, who abused Pamela, had spent more than 20 years working in São Paolo, Brazil. He remained in ministry there until after Pamela made her complaint, despite the evidence contained in the diocesan files. It is hard to understand how this was possible if Bishop Walsh had properly reviewed all files upon his appointment in 2002.

In late 2006 I went to São Paolo while making the BBC television Panorama film, Sex Crimes and the Vatican. I visited the impoverished community where Fr Iota had lived for two decades. I went to see his house, beneath which was a creche. I interviewed the bishop of the diocese there about the case.

The Ferns report said Bishop Walsh had undertaken to find out if there were any concerns about Fr Iota during his time in São Paolo. I asked the bishop if he had been asked to carry out any such investigation by Bishop Walsh. He replied he had not, and that he had no reason to believe any such investigation was even necessary as Fr Iota had denied the allegations, and that he believed the priest. He said he had limited contact with the diocese of Ferns about the case.

It is certain that the negligence and deceit uncovered in Dublin extend to church leaders across all dioceses. No one resignation will account for their collective failure or make things right.

The horrifying contents of the Dublin Archdiocese report and the sheer scale of the cover up have shocked Irish society even after the Ryan report last May and the Ferns report in 2005.

Bishops in Dublin colluded with child abusers, protecting them and hiding them, enabling them to prey on the innocent. Children were deliberately sacrificed to protect the Church and its money. In all, fourteen bishops were found to have failed in some way in the handling of cases of child abuse by priests.

Worst of all, it was the most vulnerable children who often the victims. Dublin’s poorest communities, places where people were less likely to challenge the men who called themselves spiritual leaders, were used as sanctuaries for abusers.

Priestly abusers raped and assaulted countless children, destroying lives, devastating families and the communities they were meant to support and guide. And yes, once again, Bishops knew, and did nothing.

Those who carried out these unspeakable atrocities can’t be allowed to get away with it. The Irish people, especially their victims, need to see them in a courtroom. They must face justice. Sadly it would appear that there is little possibility of those who covered up such crimes, who lied to and misled the public, who failed to report child abuse and rape to the police here in Ireland and who callously put self-interest and their own wealth ahead of the protection of children facing any criminal sanction in this state. It is another glaring example of failure on the part of our legis;ature that this is the case.

In 2005, when working with One in Four Ireland, I successfully campaigned for new laws that would criminalise such willful disregard for the protection of children  by people in high positions of responsibility. But the law we won will not result in prosecutions of any bishop who covered up child abuse in the past. No law can be applied retrospectively.

The response of the Catholic Church to the report has been a complete failure of leadership. The only thing the bishops seem to know about responsibility and accountability is how to avoid them.

But this goes beyond Ireland. The Vatican and the Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s ambassador to Ireland, ignored requests for information from the inquiry. They have been largely silent since the report was published last week but our own Government seems unable, or perhaps unwilling, to challenge them.

If this State is no longer the servant of the Church, and if the days of deference to the Church by politicians and civil servants are truly over, then the Pope’s ambassador must be summoned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to explain himself. If he was the Ambassador of any other State which had questions to answer about the rape and abuse of Irish children this would already have happened.

But we cannot pretend that this was all the fault of the Church. We must not point the finger at the clergy and say they, and they alone, are to blame. While we punish the guilty we cannot continue to avoid our own responsibility.

From Breakingnews.ie:

We don’t protect our children in Ireland.

More than three years ago the Ferns report revealed that the HSE has no powers to prevent abusers outside the family from having contact with children. Nothing has changed despite all the handwringing that followed Ferns.

When she was Minister for Education Mary Hanafin announced that the State, our Government, has no legal responsibility for what happens to our children in our schools.

This must change. In this State, if a company director breaks the law, he can be barred from being a director, but it seems that a Bishop who has been found to have covered up the rape of children can remain the patron of state funded schools and be left responsible for the safety of tens of thousands of children.

This is not about driving the Church out of our schools; this is about the State living up to its responsibilities and taking seriously its duty to protect our children.

Where the State fails to defend the rights of children then abuse and exploitation are often the result. Our children are our responsibility, and not the responsibility of any agency that places itself above the law. We can see now the consequences not only of cover up on the part of the Catholic Church, but also of the State’s failure to guarantee children’s rights and child protection.

 So what are we going to do about it?

 It is over ten years since Fianna Fáil came to power promising a referendum to put children’s rights at the heart of our Constitution. They said it was “a key priority”.

 It was promised again in 2002 and again in 2007, and again when the revised programme for government was agreed with the Greens.

 But the rights of children are not on the agenda in Government Buildings and won’t be until we force our politicians to put it there.

Unless our most fundamental law demands that we put children’s rights at the heart of the decisions we make they will remain targets for abuse and neglect. Our Government will simply wash its hands of them.

And it will be our fault, because we let them do it.

I was moved to my core by the depth of isnight in the letter copied below from today’s Irish Times.

It is searing in its insight, but also in the hope central to the demand Christopher sets us all as individuals who make up our families, communities, institutions and societies.

the problem is best described as the abuse of power, in all its forms, from the personal to the institutional, for control or profit. Resolving this will protect children, and much more, in the future. It is linked in essence to all struggles for liberty, and must be at the heart of and visibly resolved in any decent, healthy society that dares to call itself decent.

Donnacha O’Connell, former Dean of Law at NUIG speaking at an Amnesty International event a few months back described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted in direct response to the horrors of Wordl War II as “wisdom distilled through trauma”.

His description of the UDHR rushed to my mind upon reading Corneilius Crowley’s words.

Madam, – I spent my childhood in Irish Catholic boarding schools, ranging from the very top schools to reformatories, from age five-and-a-half to 17, and as a ward of court, I was  during holidays, in custody of my relatives. Who were less than empathetic.

Thus, as a child there was no one for me to turn to talk to about my experiences. I grew up believing those experiences, and my shame, were normal.

I believed my low self-esteem was my own fault, that I was evil, a sinner and at heart a disgusting, filthy and ugly person, even though I could pass myself off as reasonably affable.

My life has been pretty much ruled by those experiences and how I “‘adapted” to them, how I internalised the values of those who abused me, and took on the image they projected on to me as my own identity.

Years and years of unhappiness, dysfunction, insecurity and a nameless rage (for which, for a long time I had  no target – and that meant I turned the rage upon myself and those close to me) have dogged my life.

I have struggled as best I can to heal this for myself, and to understand, to fully comprehend  the dynamics of abuse operating at such a huge scale, such that it might be classed a societal problem, if not the societal problem, simply because the problem is tractable, because the cycles can be broken, and because this should never happen to any child. I, and many others are living proof of this.

And the problem is best described as the abuse of power, in all its forms, from the personal to the institutional, for control or profit. Resolving this will protect children, and much more, in the future. It is linked in essence to all struggles for liberty, and must be at the heart of and visibly resolved in any decent, healthy society that dares to call itself decent.

And that is the only path which I as a survivor deem plausible if we as a society and as parents are to honour all children, for all time.

It is time, well past time actually, to clean up our collective and centralised acts. – Yours, etc,

CORNEILIUS CROWLEY

London, England.

An article for the Irish Daily Mail, published on May 27th 2009.

They lied, at times by omission, at times by distorting the truth and at times just blatantly. The most senior leaders of the Catholic Church in Ireland lied to and deceived us all, and sacrificed children in the interests of their authority and most damningly, their money. Not terribly Christian of them was it? Can you imagine what Christ might say to Cardinal Desmond Connell and his fellow Bishops about their bizarre relationship with the truth and their willingness to turn the other way whilst children were raped and abused by their Priests?

Reading the Dublin Report was a shocking experience. Even after all these years, after all that I know about the scale and extent of the abuse and the cover up by Church leaders, I was profoundly shocked. The depth of the self-deluded and self-preserving betrayal of all that is decent by men sworn to a higher power and who placed themselves in positions where they told the rest of us we were flawed is staggering. In their world their lies are not lies, merely examples of ‘mental reservation’. Ever hear of that one? No? Well it means that an Archbishop can tell a blatant untruth as long as he lies by omission and then ‘reserves’ the missing words that would turn his lie into truth to himself, saying them only inside his own head.

So when Cardinal Connell failed to tell the truth, he didn’t lie. He just omitted the bits that would have been self-incriminating and said them to himself, inside his head. Children remained at risk and victims and their families were deceived. But that’s ok, because the Cardinal can tell himself he didn’t lie.

The State failed too of course. In traditional style, it deferred to the crosier. Too often, state officials, with some notable exceptions, failed to investigate credible reports of abuse and looked the other way, deferring to the majesty of the Church and its princes.

It may be the past, but this is not ancient history. The Commission investigated cases of abuse right up to 2004 when Cardinal Desmond Connell surrendered control of the Archdiocese of Dublin to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Back in 2002 when I began to campaign on this issue, our Government didn’t believe the abuse of children by priests was any of its business.  Asked for a comment of the Ferns scandal in March 2002, then Taoiseach Bertie Aherne retorted that is was a matter for the Church, and he wasn’t going to cross religion and politics.

Unsurprisingly Cardinal Connell agreed with him. The Church, he proclaimed, was above the law of the Land. Canon Law, the rules of the Roman Catholic Church was superior to state law. The State could not investigate the Church.

But the past is not some other country, or some faded reality with little relevance to us today. This history matters today. It affects the lives of not just those who experienced abuse, but all of us, most especially our children. It reveals huge flaws in our child protection law which leave children at risk today.

Back in October 2005 the Ferns Report found an alarming gap in Irish child protection law. Mr Justice Frank Murphy discovered that the HSE had no explicit legal power to act in cases of third-party child sexual abuse, i.e. cases where the abuser is not a family member. The HSE could investigate and validate the abuse, but once it had done so, the only power it had was to inform the employer of the abuser of the risk. It could do little to ensure that people who pose a risk to children were prevented from accessing children.

The Ferns Report recommended that the Minister for Health and Children explore the introduction of new legislation which would give the HSE power to apply to the High Court to restrain any employee, including a priest, from having unsupervised contact with children where a concern exists about his ability to interact safely with children.

The Dublin report again details the same gaps in our current child protection law, four years on from the publication of the Ferns Report.

Responding to the publication of the report, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said, “Judge Murphy in writing this report noted the extraordinary delay in introducing child protection legislation in this State.  Successive Governments failed in their responsibilities as legislators to put in place a comprehensive child protection legislative framework.”

We now know the consequences of such delays. The four years which have passed since the publication of the Ferns Report is a current and unacceptable example of this, as is the delay to enshrine children’s rights in our constitution.

So enough of delays and apologies and procrastination, instead, it’s time for resolute action. Where the state fails to guarantee and defend the rights of children and abdicates responsibility for their safety, then abuse and exploitation are all too often the consequence. Our children are our responsibility, and not the responsibility of any agency which places itself outside or above the law. Today we see the consequences not only of cover up and deceit on the part of the Catholic Church, but also of state failure to guarantee children’s rights and child protection.

Yesterday was an important day, a day on which as Minister Andrews put it “Church and State respond with words of sincere and fulsome regret.”

And those are good words, but they remain just words. And they are not enough.

Colm O’Gorman is the author of Beyond Belief and the Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland

An op ed I wrote for the Irish Daily Star which was published today. The report was published this afternoon. More to follow on the report later.

It can be downloaded here.

Even after the Ryan report last May and the Ferns Report in 2005, the contents of the Dublin Diocese report, the scale of the cover-up, will shock Irish society.

 Bishops in Dublin colluded with child abusers, protecting them and hiding them, enabling them to prey on the innocent. Children were deliberately sacrificed to protect the Church. Dozens of priests and members of the clergy were involved.

 Worst of all, it was the most vulnerable children who were the victims. Dublin’s poorest communities, places where people were less likely to challenge the men who called themselves spiritual leaders, were used as sanctuaries for abusers.

 Priestly abusers raped and assaulted countless children, destroying lives, devastating families and the communities they were meant to support and guide. And yes, once again, Bishops knew, and did nothing.

 Those who carried out these unspeakable atrocities can’t be allowed to get away with it. The Irish people, especially their victims, need to see them in a courtroom. They must face justice.

The Catholic Church in Ireland will never be the same after this report is published. But we cannot pretend that this was all the fault of the Church. We must not point the finger at the Church and say they, and they alone, are to blame.

 While we punish the guilty we cannot continue to avoid our own responsibility.

We don’t protect our children in Ireland. We never have.

Over three years ago The Ferns Report revealed a shocking gap in Irish child protection law. It told us that the HSE have no powers to prevent abusers outside the family from having contact with children. The Dublin Report is likely to tell us that this is still true today; nothing has been done despite all the handwrining which followed Ferns.

When she was Minister for Education in 2006 Mary Hanafin announced that the state, our government, has no legal responsibility for what happens to our children in our schools.

It is over ten years since Fianna Fáil came to power promising a referendum that would put children’s rights at the heart of our Constitution. They said it was “a key priority”.

It was promised again in 2002 and in 2007, and again just a week ago when the revised programme for government was agreed with the Greens.

The rights of children are not on the agenda in Government Buildings and won’t be until we force our politicians to put it there.

Unless our most fundamental law demands that we put children’s rights at the heart of the decisions we make they will remain targets for abuse and neglect.

Our Government will simply wash its hands of them.

Until the next report.

Because make no mistake, unless we act, we’ll be back here again.

A feature written for the Irish Sunday Mail about the RTE ‘Would You Believe’ film, My Fathers House which was broadcast on Sunday November 1st 2009.

The house really hasn’t changed much, at least not from the outside. It sat at the end of a long driveway; about two hundred metres back from the road, perched above the church which rests in the hollow below. It’s quite an ugly house, pebble-dashed and still painted the same sickly peachy cream colour as it had been years earlier. Two stories high at the front, there’s another floor hidden from view, a basement.  One of the first things Fr Sean Fortune did upon his appointment to Poulfur in 1981 was to establish youth groups in that basement and a “reconciliation room” for boys who were in trouble at home.

I could see the roof of the church, in a deep hollow to the left of the driveway. The church is built on an old penal mass site, a place of worship going back hundreds of years. The church itself is rather beautiful, nestling at the bottom of the old mass hollow, below the road and surrounded by trees. Driving down the winding roads that lead to Poulfur is a strange experience for me still. It’s almost thirty years since Fr Sean Fortune first brought me there. But driving that road still always takes me back in time. I still get a sense of what it felt like years earlier as he drove me down the same road, away from my home and family and towards this house, his house, and the place where he hurt me so terribly.

I had been back to Poulfur a few times over the years since then. I came back in 1995 when I made my first statement to the Police, detailing how I had been abused for more than two years by Fortune in this same house from 1982 to 1983. I had come back again in 2001, this time with a BBC TV camera crew to make the film Suing the Pope. That was the first time I had come back to the house itself, but I didn’t go inside. Instead we had filmed in the church grounds, with the shadow of the house looming above. Late one night when we had finished filming I went up to the house and peered through the kitchen window. It was dark and the house was empty so I couldn’t see in. I climbed up on the window sill and hung there, peering in to the darkness, desperately trying to see if it was still the same, half-expecting to see the fourteen or fifteen year old me in there slumped over the kitchen table, alone and miserable, trapped there, unable to prevent or even name what was happening to him. That day I had been desperate to get into the house, desperate to find that me, the boy still trapped in that hidden horror. But now, eight years on, things are very different.

For a start I am not trapped any more. I have come back not to free myself from a secret and hidden history, the truth is long out, and I am free of it all. But not everyone is.

The house is no longer the home of the parish priest in Poulfur. After Sean Fortune left and the savage history of his time there was revealed, his successor didn’t want to live there. So the Diocese built a new house for the new priest and Fortune’s house has instead become a space used by community groups for occasional meetings. No-one lives there now. No-one wants to.

A woman from the area said to me recently that she has often wanted to drive down there late one night and burn it down. That she hated it remaining as a kind of dark mausoleum that reminds everyone of the terrible things that happened there.

When RTE’s Would You Believe asked me to work with them on a film following the publication of my book Beyond Belief earlier this year I knew that this was a great opportunity to talk about this history in a new way. I wanted to explain how facing the truth of my own past, and facing it with those whom I loved, had allowed me to finally break free of it. I wanted to try to show how the same might be possible for anyone who remains caught in a past they fear is too painful to face, whatever the cause. How the truth, and a commitment to try and respect each other as we struggle to move beyond secrets and lies and unspeakable hurt, really can set us free.

And so I had to go back, not only to Poulfur but to Adamstown, the County Wexford village I lived in as a child. I had to go back to my father’s house, to the land he had farmed, as had his father before him. I went back there so that I could talk about how facing the truth of the abuse I suffered had allowed me to find my father. Dad and I had been distant for years, each of skirting around the things we couldn’t say to each other and trapped in silence. Facing the past, reporting the abuse to the Police, had forced us to face each other and changed both of our lives. Dad was central in my coming forward back in 1995, his love and his courage made it possible for me to face my own fear. He was and is a huge source of inspiration for me in everything I do.

What we were able to achieve together in facing the truth taught me that allowing hurt to fester only causes greater hurt. It taught me that in facing that which we fear most we often discover the best of who we are. That’s what happened for my Dad and me. That’s our truth.

Fear corrupts. It freezes us. It leaves us unable to react. I used to be afraid all the time, afraid of facing the past for fear of what I might find out about myself. But not anymore.

So often, we run from things we have done that we feel mark us as bad. I know that feeling; for so many years I ran from my own feelings of shame and self-blame.

 

I ran from my life on the streets, the nights where I allowed myself to be exploited in exchange for a bed. I ran from the abuse, my memories of it, my physical reactions to it and my powerlessness to prevent it. I believed that these shameful, awful experiences named the truth of who I was. But they don’t.

 

The truth of who I am is to be found in the way I responded to the events that I have experienced. How I chose to deal with them, once I was free to do so.

 

The things we do as we struggle to survive unspeakable trauma name the power of our instinctive desire to survive, but they say very little about who we are – what we believe and feel, and the principles and values we hold dear. It is only when we have the space to make free and informed choices that we discover who we actually are.

 

And we can only make those kinds of choices when we face our fear and name the truth. We cannot make them if we allow a house to become a tomb to our fear, a place where we hide our demons and refuse to face them. And that’s what Fortune’s house had become to so many people. That’s why it was time to go back and open up those doors, to refuse to allow that place to remain a house of horror and show instead that it was just a house; that no bogey man lives there now and that it cannot hurt us anymore.

I was met at the door by Fr Oliver Sweeney, the parish priest who came to Poulfur back in 2002, just weeks before Suing the Pope was broadcast and who has been there ever since. He is a good and decent man; with a powerful commitment to the people he serves. He had at first feared allowing me to return with cameras in tow, but in the end he saw that letting the world in might allow this place to break free of the past too.  That took courage, and faith, both of which he has in abundance.

He left me alone to walk around the house. I soon forgot the camera was there as I went from room to room. What had been the dining room back then, where Fortune had insisted I sit and have breakfast with him every morning I was there, is now an office. The dark wood dining table and shelves lined with silver teapots are gone to be replaced by filing cabinets and a desk. The room next door is now a meeting room, where regular AA meetings take place; a room where people face their own demons and find strength from a community of others who walk the same road. I liked that a lot. It seemed to me to defy the idea that this house could only ever be a dark place; instead it could become a place of hope and courage.

I went upstairs then. What had been Sean Fortune’s bedroom is on the left at the top of the stairs; it has a big old wooden door painted a gloss white with an old-fashioned ceramic doorknob. There were two other doors at the top of the stairs off the same small landing, leading to other bedrooms, rooms I was never allowed to sleep in when I was brought there. Opposite his bedroom door there had been a prayer space. A kind of small room which had contained a statue of the Virgin Mary which sat upon an altar surrounded by candles in front of which was a prayer kneeler over which there had always been draped a set of glass rosary beads. But that was all gone now. The space was empty, nothing more than a dusty old cupboard.

As I turned to go into Fortune’s old room I remembered how it has looked years earlier. There had been a huge old wardrobe along the right hand wall as one came into the room. Just beyond it used to be a sink in the corner and on the opposite wall was a dressing table with a mirror over it, to the left was the bed, again big and made of old polished wood.

As I walked in, I half-expected it to be the same still. But it wasn’t of course. All the furniture was gone, only the sink in the corner was left. There was nothing there. It was just a room.

As I stood and looked out the window I remembered all that had passed. There were no more secrets. No need to hide from the past anymore. Now it was time to talk about how we might move forward together.

I walked out of the room and headed downstairs to have a cup of tea with Fr Ollie and some members of the parish council and talk about the future. After all, if we allow ourselves to triumph over the past, what else is there?

 

Colm O’Gorman is the author of the memoir Beyond Belief.  

The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was “busy cleaning its own house” and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

As reported in The Guardian

Yet another mind boggling Vatican attempt at deflection of blame for the gross negligence of the Roman Catholic Church to deal with child sexual abuse by its priests.

What is most disgraceful is the failure of Pope Benedict XVI to put in place mandatory child protection procedures across the global Roman Catholic Church. To this day the only global policy which exists is designed to ensure that the Vatican decides how each case is to be handled. There is no obligation for church personnel to report child abuse by clergy to civil authorities.

More of the same then. Its someone else fault…it’s the gays…the media…the decadence of modern society…anyone and everyone is to blame apart from the Catholic Church hierarchy.

The Holy See (The Pope) continues to look to scapegoat others. What neither this Pope nor his predecessor has done is explain why their institution has acted to cover up the rape and abuse of children by its clergy. This cover up is no local or national phenomenon; instead it is the result of a long standing negligent failure on the part of the highest authorities in the Catholic Church.

As Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the Sydney Bishop who headed efforts to deal with child abuse in the Australian Church said back in 2007, the Catholic Church is still not serious about confronting sexual abuse, only “managing” it. Link here.

Its not the first time the Vatican and senior bishops have used this vile attempt at deflecting blame as the following excerpt from Beyond Belief  shows.

Six months earlier, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected Pope Benedict XIV. The new Pope was reported as having denounced the Harry Potter novels as a corrupting influence on children and had in the past blamed the media for the scandal of clerical sexual abuse, but he had nothing to say about the Ferns Report.

In The US, Bishops had often sought to create a link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse.  After a crisis meeting at the Vatican in 2002, the head of the US Bishops Conference Bishop Wilton Gregory clearly expressed that view. “It is most importantly a struggle, to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men. Not only is it not dominated by homosexual men, but that the candidates that we receive are healthy in every possible way, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually”, he said.

One month after the Ferns Report was published the Vatican issued a new policy on gays and the priesthood. The document declared that men with what it called “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies could not be ordained. Whilst it did not mention the sex abuse scandals it was widely believed to be in part a response to the issue. It caused widespread dismay amongst victim support organisations, many of whom believed that the Vatican was once again sidestepping its responsibility for the scandals and scapegoating gay men as the cause of the problem in the first place.

The Ferns Report had researched this issue, having formed an expert group of clinicians with specific experience of working with priests who had sexually abused children. The group was unanimous in its view that homosexuality is not a factor in increasing the risk to children.  It would be seen as a factor in increasing the risk to adolescent boys but no more than a heterosexual priest would be a risk to adolescent girls.

One member of the group, Joseph Sullivan said, “It’s easy to make the link between someone abusing boys and being homosexual but would we call someone who sexually abuses 12 and 13 year old girls heterosexual? “No, we wouldn’t; we’d call them a child abuser.”

I was asked to speak about this at an event organised by Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic organisation established to show solidarity with victims of clerical sexual abuse and ensure greater participation of lay people in the power structures of the church.

“Any church that sees itself as the true church of Christ must surely embrace truth and be open to its own failings,” I said. “The naming of truth should never be seen as a challenge to the church of Christ. Surely Christians have a duty to respond to hurt with care, compassion, integrity, honesty, courage and love?”

“As a man who often reflects on my own relationship with God I find myself questioning where Christ would be in this debate. Would He be seated in Rome telling us these scandals are the fault of the corruption of western society, of an anti-catholic media, of greedy victims, of homosexuals, of all and any but those who ignored the truth and moved offender after offender to places where any sane and objective person would know there could only be one consequence; more rape and abuse?”

“Or would Christ be here? What or who would Christ clear from the Temple in this third millennium?”

“How can it be that a Church Hierarchy who comments upon the content of a children’s film can fail to comment upon a report commissioned by this State and authored by a former Supreme Court Judge that found Rome culpable in the rape and abuse of Irish children? How can the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church see fit to suggest that Harry Potter is a threat to the development of children yet refuse to acknowledge findings by this sovereign State that the institution he heads has permitted the rape and abuse of children?”

“How can a church that speaks in the name of Christ fail to respond to the hurt of its people, its faithful, who are struggling to understand how this could have happened?”

It appears little has changed. Not exactly a shock I know. Still though, I don’t know which I feel most, mad or sickened.

augustinian3This week I had the unique experience of being “uninvited” from taking part in a Mass of Healing and Reconciliation planned by Fr Iggy O’Donovan at the Augustinian Church in Drogheda. It seems the Archdiocese of Armagh, led by Cardinal Sean Brady, believes there was something “inappropriate” about the invitation and instructed Fr O’Donovan to withdraw it.

It’s a real shame. A shame that senior Church leaders have chosen to close their hearts, their minds and their ears to words offered in a true spirit of hope. Hope informed by an absolute belief in the endless possibilities to be found in our human capacity to transcend terrible trauma and find a way forward together.

But there it is. They have refused. They have used their power to prevent such a process from finding even more powerful expression by locating it in Church.

As things have worked out though it would appear that the Archdiocese has shot itself in the foot once again. What would have been a quiet, if significant moment, for a few hundred people max in Drogheda has turned into somehting much bigger. Four days of media reports of their instruction to “uninvite” me has simply left them looking foolish and meant that many more people are interested in what I might have said. I have had a few requests from media to give them the text of what I planned to say.

So what are the words I would have spoken that they deem, without any inquiry, to be inappropriate?

As it happens, I didn’t have a text prepared. I prefer to speak without a pre-prepared text as it allows me to engage more with the group I am speaking to in the moment, rather than deliver something I decided would suit before even meeting them.

I of course had a clear sense of what I wanted to say, but wanted to do that in a spontaneous, rather than in a prepared way.

So I sat down and wrote it out. The Irish Times ran bits of it, and earlier today I recorded it for the This Week show for RTE Radio 1. It will go out tomorrow between 1 and 2pm, ironically enough at the same time as the service in the Augustinian Church in Drogheda.

Anyway, here it is, the words Cardinal Brady and Bishop Clifford feared and believed would be somehow “inappropriate”:

I am not here today to rake over old, established hurts. Instead I want to speak about my sense of an immense opportunity for us all, that having named and to a large part owned the truth of the terrible crimes inflicted upon children within church, we might now find a way forward together in a new spirit of truth, compassion, understanding and love. That this might happen within Church here today has I think particular power. If we can come together in the very place where such hurt has in the past been hidden and denied then we really can model something new, something renewed within ourselves; the courage to listen to difficult truths, to learn and to move forward together. We will have conquered fear and refused to be held back by those who remain trapped in their own fear and denial.

We know the harm done. We know the price of our failures to address terrible wrongs and we know we must change the way we work as a society to confront such abuses in the future, to become the kind of society we aspire to be. Perhaps we still fear change? But what would it be like if we were to change? What would that demand of us, and what would it mean for us?

We are so frightened of seeing the darkness in our collective humanity that we fail to embrace the light that exists in at least equal measure there; the profound beauty in our own humanity that can respond with truth and courage to the things we see and do that are simply wrong.

We are so frightened of acknowledging the awful things done to others by people close to us, people we love and even by ourselves that we end up though our denial allowing such things to happen. In our silence we collude, in our denial we facilitate.

What we have yet to understand is that we can only be enriched if we have the courage and compassion, the humanity and integrity to name injustice wherever we see it, especially when we are party to causing injustice ourselves.

I believe in the power of truth. Naming the truth in difficult circumstances is always the right thing to do. If we have the courage to hear and accept the truth of who we are and what we have done, to face it and own it, and to find a way forward from that place, then we can change the world. 

Truth used like that challenges us to face the worst of who we can be, but also to discover the best of who we are. So often, we run from things we have done that we feel mark us as bad. I know that feeling; for so many years I ran from my own feelings of shame and self-blame.

I ran from the abuse, my memories of it, my physical reactions to it and my powerlessness to prevent it. I believed that these shameful, awful experiences named the truth of who I was. But they don’t.

The truth of who I am is to be found in the way I responded to the events that I have experienced. How I chose to deal with them, once I was free to do so.

And the same is true for us all. We can run from the past, deny our responsibility for it, we can blame, judge and hate others, if we choose to. Or we can turn and face it, learn from it and move forward together. We now know what happened within our church and our society. What matters now is how we respond to it, that we find the capacity to learn and change, the compassion to understand the hurts we each experienced and the love to move forward together.

Facing this dark part of our history has been painful in so many ways. But in facing it together we now have the opportunity to discover who we are as a society. We have the chance to show that we have the courage, the integrity and the humanity to work through and past our shared hurt, our failures, our anger and our disappointment, and to become the best of who we can be. In facing our collective darkness we will discover our collective humanity. Surely we owe each other that?

From the first letter of St. John:

Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

 

Well this was an interesting debate. Dr Bill Donohue of the Catholic League issued a statement in which he condemned “hysteria” over clerical sexual abuse in Ireland.

Matt Cooper at Today Fm’s Last Word asked me to come on the show and debate the issue with the good Dr Donohue. It was quite the discussion.

I never ceased to be amazed at just how blind some ‘commentators’ can be when faced with a truth which challenegs their view of the world. Dr Donohues simplistic analysis of the Ryan Report is shocking to say the least. I am always of the view that it is better to give space and time in such debates for the opposing view to undermine itself. In this case it didn’t take much time or effort on my part for that to happen.

Let me know what you think.

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