John Cooney: 'Godfather of cover-ups' feared going to Hell
Published 09/12/2011 | 05:00
ON Monday, November 11, 1940, the day when Fr John Charles McQuaid, the former president of Blackrock College, was informed that Pope Pius XII was appointing him Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, he slipped quietly away from the many visiting dignitaries calling to offer congratulations.
The archbishop-elect drove to Kimmage Manor, a sister house of the Holy Ghost Congregation. Unannounced, he pulled rank on his former superior and took away his own personal file covering his long years studying there for the priesthood.
This was a criminal act of theft. It was Holy Ghost property. It smacked of the action of an unscrupulous control freak. But what dark secrets did McQuaid have to hide that were contained in his file?
This week, McQuaid's reputation as Dublin's 'Great Archbishop' from 1940 to 1972 has been irretrievably damaged in the light of revelations in the Murphy Commission's Supplementary Report of at least two separate allegations of child sexual abuse.
Two years ago, the Murphy Commission identified McQuaid as the prelate who spawned the "reprehensible" cover-ups by church and State of clerical abuse of children.
The damning report censured McQuaid for being obsessive about avoiding public scandal if the faithful learnt the scale of paedophile 'wolves in clerical clothing'.
In his obsession for secrecy and the dignity of Mother Church, he was unconcerned for the safety of innocent children.
It was McQuaid who established the unlawful pattern pursued by his successors, archbishops Dermot Ryan and Kevin McNamara and Cardinal Desmond Connell (until 1995), of not referring child clerical abuse complaints for garda investigation, while furtively moving offenders from parish to parish.
It was not until 1995 that Cardinal Connell first allowed gardai limited access to files.
McQuaid's fall from his iconic pedestal came only months after the Ryan Report on the religious orders criticised his failure to improve brutal conditions at Artane industrial school, run by the Christian Brothers, which was in his diocese and under his jurisdiction.
This is an almighty tumble from grace.
But this was not so 12 years ago, when the political, church and media establishments lacerated me for chronicling the awesome abuse of power, both spiritual and political, which McQuaid wielded.
At the height of national controversy which engulfed my academic biography of 'John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland', Terry Eagleton, the distinguished literary critic, described my findings as "the true Irish horror story; not Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'".
The disturbing image of McQuaid as Dracula rather than a saint provoked the wrath of his devotees who cherished his memory as austere, shy and aloof, but also as a holy and dedicated churchman concerned solely with the immortal souls of his flock and their earthly welfare, especially the sick, the dying and the poor.
Before his unexpected death on April 7, 1973, McQuaid, declining a broadcast interview, challenged journalists to write what they liked about him after his death.
He predicted his archive would reveal many surprises.
On his deathbed McQuaid, showing fear of the Grim Reaper's approach, shocked a nurse by asking if there was any hope that he would be saved from Hell.
Thirty-eight years after his death, his reputation lies in disgrace.
Seventy-one years after his appointment as Archbishop of Dublin as a result of political lobbying by Eamon de Valera, we now understand acutely better how anxious McQuaid was to dispose of his Holy Ghost file.
Archbishop McQuaid was the biggest clerical wolf of all paedophiles in an Ireland dominated by his own de facto absolute power over Government, the Oireachtas, the gardai, the medical and teaching professions.
While it would be absurd to place all blame for the astounding scale of child clerical sex abuse on John Charles McQuaid, the highly clericalist system over which he presided left his successors defenceless in the face of a more critical and educated laity.
John Charles McQuaid will now be remembered as the Godfather of Ireland's clerical abuse cover-ups. The history books of 20th Century Ireland need to be updated to take account of the implications of this awesome vista.