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Wednesday 28 June 2017

Court clears way for public release of sex abuse report

Dearbhail McDonald, Ralph Riegel and Tim Healy

THE report into the handling of child sex-abuse allegations in the diocese of Cloyne will be published next week.

The move comes after the High Court yesterday paved the way for the publication, with the exception of one portion of a chapter. The section, relating to one priest, will not be made public as it might prejudice the forthcoming criminal trial of the cleric concerned.

A commission of investigation, set up by the last Minister for Justice, prepared the report. It examines the handling, by both church and state authorities, of allegations of child sexual abuse against clerics operating in the diocese -- which covers most of Co Cork -- between January 1, 1996, and February 1, 2009.

The report relates to 19 clerics against whom complaints were made. It followed a two-year investigation by Judge Yvonne Murphy's commission, which had also investigated the handling of child-sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese.

The handling of clerical sex-abuse allegations has already inflicted substantial collateral damage on Cloyne, one of Ireland's wealthiest dioceses.

The Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, stepped aside in the wake of the controversy in early 2009.

Last month, the High Court was asked for directions on what part of the report should be published, as it might prejudice any criminal proceedings being brought against one particular priest.

Yesterday, High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns cleared the way for the publication of most of the report. He ruled that publication of a portion of the report, relating to one priest, should be delayed until July 15, when the matter is to come back before him for review.

Trial

The judge said he was making the ruling so that nothing would be done which would run the risk of prejudicing the priest's trial, which is due to take place very shortly.

Last night, Maeve Lewis, executive director at abuse charity One in Four, said that although the postponement of one chapter was regrettable, the court's decision would come as a relief to the people who were sexually abused as children in the diocese of Cloyne.

"Very few survivors of child sexual abuse engage with the criminal justice system," said Ms Lewis, adding: "It is important that the cases which come before the courts are not jeopardised in any way.

"However, we are concerned that the omission of certain sections may undermine the integrity of the report and may also mean that the full picture of how children were endangered in the Cloyne diocese will not emerge."

An application to have yesterday's hearing held in private was made by Alexander Owens SC, for the current minister, supported by Anthony M Collins SC, for the DPP.

Mr Justice Kearns agreed with a suggestion from Mr Collins to adopt a procedure used in a similar application over the publication of the Dublin report, whereby the press and public would be invited back into court after a private hearing.

The judge said the court did not have the power to order the rewriting of any part of the report, but merely to say what parts should be delayed in circumstances where there was a pending trial.

He was not saying that none of chapter nine should be published, but only those sections relating to the individual priest.

The judge gave liberty to all parties, including the priest, to apply to the court, should anything happen that will alter the circumstances.

Irish Independent

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