Clerics named in probe may face charges
Published 16/03/2010 | 05:00
GARDAI are re-examining the Murphy report to see if criminal charges can be brought against senior clerics who helped to cover up abuse by paedophile priests in the Dublin Archdiocese.
The Irish Independent has learnt the non-reporting of abuse to the civil authorities by auxiliary bishops and others is forming a key part of the garda review of the report.
A "fresh look" is being taken at the issue despite the fact that previous garda investigations did not lead to any cover-up prosecutions. However, a variety of legal obstacles are likely to limit the options available to the review team.
Hundreds of cases of sexual abuse dating from 1975 to 2004 were covered up by the archdiocese and other church and state authorities.
A previous garda investigation launched in 2002 also focused on the issue of church officials covering up abuse.
The gardai involved were tasked with ascertaining whether there was sufficient evidence to charge anyone with misprision of felony.
The offence relates to a person who knows a felony has taken place and, although not being party to it, conceals it from the authorities.
However, the 2002 investigation did not lead to any files being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to misprision of felony.
The Murphy report acknowledged there were legal difficulties with potential criminal charges against clerics because the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour, a less serious crime, was abolished in 1997. Before then, rape was considered a felony, but less serious sexual assaults could have been considered misdemeanours.
The report was critical of the failure by gardai to seek legal advice on the use of the charge.
The way certain laws were drafted has also militated against gardai charging clerics with covering up crimes.
For example, anti-terror laws make it a crime to withhold information about a serious offence. But sexual offences were omitted from the legislation. Recently enacted child endangerment laws also cannot be used as they can't be applied retrospectively.
One possibility that may still be open to gardai is bringing charges for obstruction or perverting the course of justice.