The following letter from Cardinal Connell was read at masses in Dublin on 6th October 2002
My dear people,
You will be all aware of the attention which continues to be given in the media of the problem of child sexual abuse by priests and the manner in which this has been dealt with by the Church.
Such media attention has undoubtedly contributed to the process of coming to terms with the nature and scale of the problem, both in society at large and within the Church, and for this we must all be genuinely appreciative. At the same time, confidence in the Church as an institution and even religious faith itself can be undermined, where matters are presented without adequate context or in a way which fails to take account of the steps taken to deal with the problem. For this reason I thought it would be helpful to communicate with you at this time about the issue and about what has been done in our own diocese in response.
I want to acknowledge as clearly as I can at the start that, in such abuse, we are face to face with unspeakable evil. Incalculable harm has been done to those who were abused. Further scandal has undoubtedly been caused by the fact that, having approached the Church in expection of the best possible care and the most sympathetic response, some people suffered further hurt. We have been slow to understand the depth of their trauma and the nature of their needs. Neither canon law nor Church structures were designed to deal with the scope of the problem we have been facing and, in the past, we have not always responded to the problem as quickly or as appropriately as we should.
Having said that, I am concerned that nothing that is done now in response to the problem should have the effect of reopening wounds. This applies in the first place to those suffered abuse and their families, who must be our chief preoccupation in these circumstances. To them, above all, I want to apologise again from my heart for the terrible betrayal they have suffered. I do so in my own name, with a keen sense of our failures to deal more adequately with the problem, as well as in the name of all of us who in any way represent the Church.
I also want to express my concern for those parish communities where offences have taken place and, indeed, for all those good people every where in the diocese who love and are committed to the Church and who feel so grievously let down by what has happened among us. And there are two other groups I should mention here and who are often forgotten when the problem of sexual abuse of children by priests is discussed. I am thinking of the families of those who have offended and of their fellow priests and those who have served with them in parishes or other works of the diocese.
Since my appointment as archbishop in 1988, I have sought to use the resources at my disposal to protect children from sexual abuse and to deal with priests who have offended. These resources include professional advice, residential care in treatment centres, removal from ministry, and the disciplinary measures prescribed by the Church, including the ultimate penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.
In November 1995, I asked for an examination of our archives for the past 50 years to be carried out. On the basis of that examination we handed the Gardai the names of 17 priests of the diocese against whom allegations had been made. Since that time, in accordance with the guidelines introduced in January 1996, the names of priests know to have abused or suspected of abuse have been given to the Guard, except where the Gardai were known to be already in possession of the information. I urge anyone in the diocese who has been abused to report what happened to the Gardai.
Although the Church is not alone in being poorly equipped to deal with this disturbing issue, we must clearly acknowledge that despite the efforts we made in the past, we failed in significant ways to deal with it appropriately. I deeply regret the mistakes I have made in seeking to come to grips with the problem. In many instances we did not act with the necessary speed and decisiveness, not because of wilful neglect but owing to our very inadequate understanding of the recurrent nature of the problem of paedophilia and the strategies used by perpetrators to hide the truth from themselves and others and to manipulate their all too vulnerable victims. For these failures we ask for forgiveness. I genuinely believe that we are wiser and better informed today and that our guidelines, published in January 1996, represent the greater degree of wisdom we have gained on the painful road we have travelled.
In April 1996, in accordance with the guidelines a Diocesan Advisory Panel was established in this diocese. Chaired by Mr. David Kennedy, this Panel comprises five men and five women, including a psychiatrist, a child care specialist, a social worker, a Counsellor, a solicitor, a canon lawyer and a representative of priests. Several members of the Panel are parents themselves. They have met some 50 times since the Panel was established which represents may hours spent in meetings, quiet apart from all the associated preparatory work involved. As we all now understand, the issue of abuse is much too complex for any one individual to address and the Panel’s function is to make recommendations to me on what action is appropriate in each case. I have accepted their recommendations in every instance. Recently, on their advice, I authorised the setting up of a Child Protection Service within the diocese, further details of which will be publish in due course. In emphasising the work of the Advisory Panel, I am anxious to assure you that procedures have greatly improved and will continue to improve in every way that we can devise. I am grateful for the huge expenditure of time and energy the members of the Panel have given and for their enormous commitment to this important work.
The protection of children is of vital importance for the whole of society and, in a particular way for the Church. The entire issue of dealing with known sex offenders is complex and challenging and the Church, like the rest of society, is now struggling to find an approach that affords the most effective protection for children. The Panel examines every case on an individual basis. Laicisation is among the options which may be considered; however, this may not necessarily be the best solution or the best solution in every case. Even with the advice of the Panel of experts, it is clear to me that there is no easy answer to these problems.
You will be aware that a Commission has now been established under judge Gillian Hussey to examine what was known by bishops and religious superiors about complaints of child sexual abuse by priests and religious in Ireland, including the archdiocese of Dublin, and the response given to these complaints. Although the Commission has been established by the Bishops’ Conference, CORI and the Irish Missionary Union, it will be fully independent. Judge Hussey alone has selected the members of the Commission, and together they are currently finalising the terms of reference. All information in my possession will be made available to the Commission. I will respond fully to any and every question the Commission may wish to put to me and it will have my complete co-operation. Their examination will be thorough and totally objective and their findings will be published. I am confident that whatever requirements of confidentiality may exist will be respected in the process.
While even a single instance of abuse by a priest must be a cause of the deepest grief and shame to all of us, it is right that we see the facts in perspective. We must judge what has happened against the background of the many hundreds of good and faithful priests over all the years who have served their people with complete integrity and unselfishness. Thousands of people attend Mass and receive the sacraments in their parishes weekly and some even daily. There are also thousands who value the Church, not perhaps for regular Mass attendance but at times of first communion and confirmation, marriage, and above all at times of illness, death and bereavement. Our priests continue to do their best to spread the word of the Gospel in parishes, as chaplains in schools, universities, hospitals and prisons, as well as among emigrants and with the defence forces at home and overseas. Every day they meet people in their homes and in all the circumstances of their ordinary lives. All this is part of the ministry in which we are privileged to engage as priests.
One of the most heart-warming aspects of this difficult time is the way in which you have rallied so generously to the support of your local priests. You have understood instinctively how painful the situation has been for them and I know how grateful they are for this support. I take this opportunity to express again my own deep gratitude of what you have done. It is clear sign that you have not lost faith in the Church and it has been wonderful consolation to the priests of the diocese, as well as my fellow-bishops and myself.
I am most anxious to add my own words of encouragement and support to priests. They have felt the strain of so much righteous anger provoked by the scandalous behaviour of some but they remain faithful the work God has ordained them to do. May the Lord who has sent them into the harvest continue to bless their efforts and sustain them in their calling.
I want to end by emphasising two things. As we look to the future, our paramount concern must be the protection of children and the task of ensuring that the Church follows the best possible practice in regard to this vitally important matter. Clearly, we will willingly respond to any recommendations the Hussey Commission may make in that regard, in the same way that we will submit ourselves to its fully informed, properly measured and objective judgement on the matters it has undertaken to examine.
Secondly, despite its sometimes grievous sins and shortcomings, the Church will not be deflected from proclaiming Christ message of forgiveness, love and reconciliation, in a world so deeply in need of such light and hope. It is in that spirit that I have written this letter. The future of the Church is, by God’s providence, in all our hands. Let us work together in Christ towards the coming of his kingdom of justice, truth, love and peace.
Desmond Card. Connell