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Thursday 17 October 2019

Shocking documentaries about paedophile priests led to probes

John Cooney

THE controversy raging over the Church's handling of child sex abuse allegations has its roots in three powerful television documentaries broadcast more than a decade ago.

'Dear Daughter', 'Sex in a Cold Climate' and 'States of Fear' caused huge public outrage in the early 1990s at the scale of cover-ups of child clerical abuse by bishops and religious superiors.

The storm of public indignation at 'the sins of the Fathers and the Sisters' perpetrated behind the closed doors of parish houses, monasteries, seminaries and industrial schools led to the announcement in 1995 by the Government of its intention to set up a Commission of Inquiry.

Meanwhile, priest paedophiles such as the notorious Brendan Smyth, Sean Fortune and Ivan Payne became household names through newspaper coverage of their court trials and ensuing imprisonment.

In 2002, Brendan Comiskey resigned as Bishop of Ferns after admitting he had failed to deal adequately with priest rapists such as Fortune.

A newly appointed Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, pledged full co-operation with an inquiry being conducted by Mr Justice Frank Murphy.

But it was not until October, 2005 that the report of the Inquiry into the diocese of Ferns sensationally revealed that more than 100 allegations of child sexual abuse were made in Wexford between 1962 and 2002 against 21 priests.


The report found that both Bishop Comiskey and his predecessor, Donal Herlihy, had placed "the interests of individual priests ahead of those of the community in which they served".

The small diocese of Ferns was hell enough, but attention turned to Dublin, the biggest diocese in the country.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, who admitted that abuse controversies had devastated his period as Archbishop of Dublin, retired and was replaced by Vatican diplomat Diarmuid Martin, who vowed to end the era of cover-ups. He pledged his full cooperation in March 2006, with the Commission of Investigation, chaired by Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Murphy, into the handling of allegations or complaints of abuse dating back to 1940.

The first State audit of all Catholic dioceses was to be undertaken by the Health Service Executive, and, significantly, the terms of reference mandated to Judge Murphy made provision for the Government to refer any diocese failing to meet new national child protection guidelines to the Dublin Commission.

But just as the public was regaining trust in the more open and accountable policy being pursued by Archbishop Martin and Cardinal Sean Brady, it has been stunned by the revelations of cover-up and mismanagement by Bishop John Magee that have come out of the Cork diocese of Cloyne.

Yesterday's HSE report confirms the damning findings of the Church's own watchdog that Bishop Magee's handling of allegations against two priests were inadequate.

Although Bishop Magee has ignored calls for his resignation, he has said he will stay on to implement recommended procedures. But he has been found wanting by both Church and State investigations.

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