Monday 18 December 2017

The history: Only one conviction in diocese despite widespread abuse

Shane Phelan

THE sexual abuse of children by some Catholic priests in the Cloyne Diocese was widespread -- but just one cleric has been convicted of a crime.

If anyone was wondering why more priests have not been hauled before the courts, they got their answer yesterday when the Commission of Investigations report into the diocese was published.

The 421-page document revealed the complete failure of the diocese to deal properly with the allegations which were brought to the attention of its officials.

At the centre of these failures was one person, Bishop John Magee, a man who served as private secretary to three popes.

In the clearest terms, the report states that Dr Magee had little interest in implementing child protection guidelines during the 13-year period investigated.

He was primarily responsible for the failure to implement agreed child sexual abuse procedures in the diocese after they were introduced in the mid-1990s.

According to the report, he misled the government and the Health Service Executive (HSE) when he told them his diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sex abuse to the authorities.

But the commission's investigators found that allegations had been made against at least 18 priests in the years between 1996 and 2009, many of which were not reported to gardai when they should have been.

That none of these priests were ever prosecuted is primarily down to Dr Magee's actions -- and to a slightly lesser extent those of his second-in-command, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan.

The report found the diocese's response when victims came forward with complaints was "inadequate and inappropriate". Of 15 cases between 1996 and 2005 which should have been reported to gardai and the HSE, nine were not.

In a number of cases, by the time gardai were made aware of complaints, their ability to secure a prosecution was greatly diminished by the passage of time.

Some of the priests died before anyone could properly investigate their alleged activities.


To compound matters further, the Vatican aided this culture of withholding information from the proper authorities. According to the report, the Vatican was "entirely unhelpful" to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse in Ireland.

It criticised the failure of the Vatican to recognise the agreed framework document on child sexual abuse drawn up by the Irish Bishops' Conference in 1996 as an official document.

Under the agreed guidelines drafted in the framework document, it became mandatory for a church official to report to the gardai an allegation of abuse.

But a key sentence in a letter to the Irish bishops from the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy stated the guidelines were "not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document".

That letter continued: "The situation of 'mandatory reporting' gives rise to serious reservations of both moral and canonical nature."

This in effect gave individual bishops the freedom to disregard the guidelines if they wanted to.

It is clear from the report that Dr Magee either did not believe in these guidelines or had no appetite for taking them seriously.

The report described how he "detached himself" from the day-to-day management of child sexual abuse cases.

"It is a remarkable fact that Bishop Magee took little or no active interest in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the framework document was adopted," the report found.

"Bishop Magee was the head of the diocese and cannot avoid his responsibility by blaming subordinates who he wholly failed to supervise."

Dr Magee's failures went further than not telling the HSE or the gardai about complaints. In one case, he was also found to have deliberately confused matters by creating two different accounts of a meeting with a priest accused of abuse.


His right-hand man, Msgr O'Callaghan, appeared equally against the full implementation of the abuse guidelines.

"While Bishop Magee must take ultimate responsibility, in practice the implementation of the framework document was stymied by Msgr O'Callaghan," the report said.

His compliance with the guidelines was "limited and incomplete", it said.

According to the report, Msgr O'Callaghan outlined his thinking in a letter to a canon lawyer in 2002.

"Why should we take it on ourselves to report when the complainant does not want it done? This commitment on our part also seriously compromises our relationship with the priest against whom the allegations have been made," he wrote.

The report concluded that, in taking this view, Msgr O'Callaghan "failed to understand that the requirement to report was for the protection of other children".

Although the report is largely complimentary towards the gardai, there were some cases which caused considerable concern for the commission.

In one such case a statement was put in a drawer and seemingly forgotten.

In another, a garda superintendent had insisted an investigation was launched into claims about a priest when all the available evidence suggests that this was not the case.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan last night apologised to the victims in these cases.

Irish Independent

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