By Colm O'Gorman, Director of One In Four in The Irish Examiner 19 October 2002
A senior cleric has launched a scathing attack on his superiors for their failure to exclude Priests who sexually abused children. He spoke at length of the damage that this scandal has done to the Church and of the appalling impact on victims.
Cardinal Peter Damian appealed directly to the Pope to take action to deal with the issue of clerical sexual abuse. In response the Pope praised Cardinal Damian’s work and verified his findings. In a now depressing familiar response the Pope however did not follow the Cardinal’s recommendations, instead deciding to only defrock clerics who had abused repeatedly and over a long period of time. The Pope neglected to make mention of the victims of abuse and instead spoke only of the sinfulness of the clerics and their need to repent. Sounds familiar…it should. The Vatican recently responded with similar proposals. The truly shocking fact though is that St. Peter Damian published his work in 1051, almost a millennium ago.
As I sat in the Prime Time studio on Thursday night following the broadcast of the documentary “Cardinal Sins” I found myself struggling to control my sense of rage and despair. I listened to representatives of the Archdiocese of Dublin explain how they like the rest of society had failed to recognise the significance of clerical abuse because, like the rest of society, they were naďve and didn’t understand the complex nature of paedophilia. Rubbish! The Catholic Church has had a unique knowledge and understanding of the reality of clerical sexual abuse. They have for centuries known that Clerics have raped and abused children and failed to respond in any way effectively to it. What is incredible is that 1000 years down the line they can still attempt to roll out the same sad, sorry excuses for their own corruption. Just how stupid do they think we all are? And what will it take before they finally own up and finally admit that this gross failure was the result not of some benign ineptitude but instead a calculated, determined attempt to protect the Church, its institutions and its privilege rather than its children.
What I could not understand is how following the appalling litany of abuse and cover up detailed in the film the Church could even contemplate trying to defend itself against accusations of corrupt failure. How can then Church ignore the testimony of an ever-increasing torrent of victims who have chosen to go public and expose the abuse perpetrated not by the offending clerics but by the Church Hierarchy? Their abject and possibly criminal failure to report known offenders led directly to hundreds of children suffering further rape and abuse. In many cases Priests continued to abuse for years after the Archdiocese had received numerous complaints about them. And still the Church reels out empty apologies to those of us who have suffered at the hands of paedophile priests. What they have so far failed to apologise for is the suffering that they uniquely and directly caused. They have failed to apologise for their prioritising not our protection as children, but the protection of their institution, their privilege and their wealth. They have failed to own their sin: their abuse of our faith, our innocence and our families.
Cardinal Desmond Connell and the six other Bishops named in “Cardinal Sins” now have serious charges to answer. There must be an immediate criminal inquiry into how the Archdiocese handled these cases. The inquiry must determine whether the Cardinal and the Archdiocese did obstruct criminal proceedings and whether or not they failed to disclose vital evidence to criminal investigations. It is a damning indictment of our criminal justice system that their failure to disclose complaints and their complicity in the rape of children may not in itself be a criminal offence but if the Archdiocese and Cardinal Connell did obstruct justice then they must face the full consequences of their actions. The first step in this criminal investigation has to be the immediate seizure of all files held by the Archdiocese relating to all allegations of rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by its Priests. These files contain evidence of serious crimes, they contain the details of specific allegations and most significantly they contain admissions of guilt from a number of offenders. The anonymity of victims need not be a concern in this investigation. Those victims who wish to remain anonymous have that right and their right to anonymity can be and must be protected in law. It is obscene that the Church should continue to use their supposed desire to protect victims as their excuse for not being open and transparent. It is their refusal to act that led directly to our victimisation and they alone bear responsibility for allowing and facilitating our rape and abuse.
What is now beyond any doubt however is that The Catholic Church has shown itself totally unwilling and unable to deal with this issue. The Church hierarchy has demonstrated that it is totally devoid of integrity in this respect. It is clear to anyone who wishes to see that they have no intention or desire to face this issue honestly. Their policies, panels, procedures and apologies are now meaningless. Until the Church Hierarchy demonstrates the humanity and compassion necessary to deal with this issue they can claim no authority to do so. Thursday nights film and the now familiar and jaded response of the Cardinal and the Archdiocese has dealt a death blow to the integrity of any Church sponsored commission. Judge Gillian Hussey’s inquiry now seems dead before it has even begun. The only way forward now is a full criminal inquiry into the Archdiocese of Dublin. Once that inquiry has been undertaken and any resulting criminal proceedings launched there must then be a fuller discussion on how we finally and fully address this issue that has clearly affected every parish and diocese in the country.
It is a tragedy that the institution that we invested so much of our faith in, that we trusted to tell us how to live our lives and that played such a central role in our society now finds itself redundant and impotent at a time of such crisis. For so long we turned to our Church in our times of need, this time it is the actions of the Hierarchy that have caused the crisis. The Church must now accept that it no longer has the moral authority to decide what should happen next, they must accept that they cannot lead any inquiry; they can only subject themselves to it.
One In Four