Wednesday 18 September 2019

Why diocesan priest sex inquiry is certain to provoke another outcry

What hopes are there that a judicial probe, with an 18-month limit, can uncover the true scale of abuse in Ireland's largest Catholic diocese? Dearbhail McDonald and John Cooney report

WHEN Marie Collins was interviewed by detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, she breathed a sigh of relief. It was November 2002 and 42 years since she was sexually abused by Paul McGennis, a Dublin parish priest.

Ms Collins was only 13 and recovering from surgery in Crumlin Children's Hospital in 1960 when McGennis sexually abused her, taking photographs of the terrified schoolgirl.

McGennis was convicted of abusing young girls, including Ms Collins, in 1998. He is one of only eight priests of an estimated 102 offending clerics in the Dublin diocese who has been tried and convicted in the Irish courts. The final tally of the capital's victims, already in excess of 400, may never be known.

McGennis has since been released, but it is what Ms Collins believes to be the Church's prior knowledge of his paedophile tendencies and its efforts to obstruct the garda investigation which led to his conviction that has now caused the Dublin housewife to dismiss a four-year garda probe as a waste of time.

"I'm sorry to admit that I have lost my faith in the garda inquiry," she said.

Senior Church figures knew in 1960 that Paul McGennis was abusing children. Anxious to conceal his crimes, McGennis sent the films containing the obscene images to Britain to be processed. A concerned technician who developed the images passed them on to the British police. British detectives then alerted gardai in Dublin to the possibility that McGennis was a paedophile and dispatched the images to Ireland for them to investigate.

But McGennis was never questioned by gardai. Instead, detectives made a courtesy call to John Charles McQuaid, Dublin's then archbishop, who assured them that the matter would be dealt with.

No action was taken against McGennis by the church or gardai. Some 35 years later, in 1995, McGennis was still serving as a priest in Dublin when Ms Collins finally found the courage to complain to the office of Cardinal Desmond Connell, McQuaid's successor. The diocese promised to co-operate fully with gardai.

Monsignor Alex Stenson, the diocese's chancellor, even wrote to Ms Collins to tell her that McGennis had admitted to the hierarchy that he took disturbing photos of her and had abused many children. She gave the letter of admission to gardai handling her case, prompting a furious outburst from Mgr Stenson, who threatened to sue her.

Despite its pledge to co-operate, the diocese withheld its full dossier on McGennis from gardai, a file that included a complaint by a youth worker in 1994. Mgr Stenson even refused to confirm to investigating detectives the confession by McGennis that he had abused Ms Collins and other young girls.

Indifference

The stony indifference by the diocese to the plight of hundreds of abuse victims in the capital was laid bare in a damning RTE documentary screened in October 2002 which chronicled how priests were granted a licence to abuse children even after church authorities had received complaints from parents. At least 450 legal actions had been initiated against clerics in the diocese.

Much of the detail about abusive priests in the 'Cardinal Secrets' documentary was not new, but the projected scale of abuse and the Church's long-standing knowledge of paedophiles in its midst prompted the announcement of a judicial inquiry into the handling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations by the Dublin archdiocese.

The inquiry, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, is expected, upon its conclusion, to provoke an even greater public outcry about the scale of church cover-ups on paedophile priests than happened over the Ferns inquiry.

The Murphy inquiry has now begun its investigations, and central to its remit will not only be the Church's handling of allegations but the operation of the garda inquiry set up in the wake of 'Cardinal Secrets'.

The dedicated NBCI detective unit that has been examining existing and fresh allegations of clerical sexual abuse for four years has so far drawn a blank.

The garda probe has produced little in the manner of new prosecutions. Despite evidence that priests were transferred to other parishes, where they continued to abuse, and public admissions by senior figures, including Dr Connell, that not all relevant information was passed to the civil authorities, no charges will be laid against senior members of the church.

The garda review of files resulted in a handful of fresh complaints that were forwarded to the DPP, but lack of evidence led to the DPP's inability to bring prosecutions. It also led support groups to warn victims not to expect a positive outcome from the garda investigation.

Hampered

The investigation was hampered by access to personnel files held on priests at the Archbishop's residence in Drumcondra, Dublin.

Dr Connell pledged complete access to diocesan files in 2002 following a breakthrough meeting with Ms Collins and Ken Reilly, another victim of a Dublin priest.

But detectives could not remove files from the diocese's chancery division. They could only request files relating to specific complaints.

The diocese only confirmed last night, weeks after the inquiry began its work, that they had held a meeting with Dr Connell.

Last year, the four-year garda investigation ground to a halt as detectives were assigned to other duties. But just as the Government signalled a date for the beginning of the state inquiry, the potential scale of abuse in the diocese was suddenly brought into sharp focus.

This was not as the result of the garda inquiry but through publication of details of an internal church audit ordered by Diarmuid Martin, who succeeded Dr Connell as Dublin's archbishop.

Last spring, Dr Martin, who ordered the audit for inspection by the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archsdocese - also known as the Murphy Inquiry - listed 102 priests accused or suspected of sexually abusing 390 child victims since 1940.

"I find it very strange that Diarmuid Martin was able to determine in a very short space of time that no less than 102 priests in the Dublin diocese had committed abuse," said Ms Collins.

The gulf between the garda and church audits has made victims sceptical of the success of the Murphy inquiry, which is obliged by law to be completed in under two years.

"It is not unreasonable to assume that the garda inquiry has failed to achieve its objective," said Mr Reilly. "Only the state inquiry will ascertain how complaints were handled. Only it is empowered to ensure the full discovery of church files. Only if it is given proper time to investigate complaints can it succeed. Otherwise, what is the point?"

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