Priests 'abused so many children, they can't remember names'

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Lynn Kelleher

The Archbishop of Dublin has told of his shock at finding serial paedophile priests are unable to conclusively confirm newly-reported cases of abuse they were involved in because they had so many victims.

Dr Diarmuid Martin made the disturbing revelation in an RTE documentary detailing how the Vatican came to exert control over almost every aspect of Irish life since the foundation of the State.

Former Minister for Justice and Attorney General Michael McDowell takes a forensic look at how the Catholic Church was handed the power over health, education, social services and morality in the State for nearly a century.

In the RTE programme Rome v Republic, Dr Martin talks frankly about the scale of abuse, expressing his deep concern that paedophile priests can often be unsure if they abused a victim or not when a new case comes to light.

He said: "Any organisation has to ask how is it that at a particular time, there was a large number of serial paedophiles. I'm talking serious paedophiles, we're talking about hundreds.

"There are cases coming forward and my people will ask, for example, a priest, if a new case comes up, from one of these historical cases, does this name mean anything to you? Sometimes they say, 'Yes, I abused that person'.

"Sometimes, and this is the more worrying one, they (say) 'the name means nothing, but I can't say, it could have happened...'

"They don't even, they didn't even know how many people they abused."

Former President Mary McAleese, who has been studying in Rome since leaving office, reveals the astonishing attitude to abused children she still encounters in some parts of the Catholic hierarchy.

She said: "I've heard it said many times here in Rome by senior churchmen in whose company I have been that 'God chose these men, and the devil works through children'.

"They have no idea that the person hearing sees that as preposterous - for them it is frankly, normal."

Dr McAleese also recalls she shot down a request from one of the Vatican's top cardinals to place incriminating church files beyond the reach of Irish State enquiries during a presidential visit to Italy in 2003.

It occurred during a private meeting with then Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano.

"I left there really quite shattered that this was the No.2 in the church I belonged to. Everything about him I found horrifying."

In Rome v Republic, Michael McDowell reveals 170,000 children were sent to a network of church-run institutions from the 1930s to 1970s.

"In many of the institutions, they were treated like prison inmates, neglect was widespread, children were frequently hungry and many were subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse. In the boys' institutions ,there was an endemic culture of sexual abuse."

He reveals how the State effectively let the Church off the hook when it came to paying compensation to victims.

"In the dying days of the 2002 administration, Michael Woods, on behalf of the Government, met the representatives of the religious orders and did a deal with them under which the State would effectively cap the liability of the religious orders.

"I was the Attorney General at the time and neither I nor members of the Government in Cabinet were consulted on this matter. The simple fact is that as a result, the State effectively signed a blank cheque that cost us €1.4bn in the end in exchange for a promise of a contribution of £100m (€128m) from the religious orders."

Despite two decades of horrific scandals, cover-ups and revelations, the documentary concludes that the Church remains embedded in Irish life.

'Rome v Republic', RTE One, Thursday, 10.15pm.