By Jody Corcoran, Frank Khan and Niamh Hooper from The Sunday Independent Online
CARDINAL Desmond Connell was last night jeered and heckled in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral as he admitted failing to deal effectively with priests who abused children.
At a mass to commemorate the 24th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's papacy, he said, he "did not effectively deal with it. I failed."
Cardinal Connell, who had received many messages of shock and anger from people, said: "I promise I will continue to work to ensure the protection of children."
At times during the 6pm mass in the Pro-Cathdral, heckling and comments such as "it's too late" drowned out the Cardinal's words.
Before he left the altar he asked the congregation to pray for him at this time so that he might do what is right before God, adding: "I want to say as clearly as I can, with sexual abuse we are face to face with evil and incalculable harm has been caused."
The Cardinal has promised to co-operate with Gillian Hussey's inquiry into the Church's handling of abuse.
It has now been unofficially confirmed that the Government is to set up an inquiry to uncover the extent of the Catholic Church's cover-up of child clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. As the revelations of RTE's Prime Time exposť continued to rock the Church yesterday, serious questions over Cardinal Connell's handling of child sex abuse allegations remained unanswered. A statement from him due at 4pm yesterday was not issued.
The move comes amid a public furore over the extent of abuse, which has resulted in 450 legal actions being taken against the archdiocese. The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, is to meet with Health Minister Micheal Martin, this week to discuss the Government's approach to the controversy.
Government sources yesterday signalled that new legislation was likely to be put in place to create a "different form of inquiry" from the tribunal model. Such an inquiry would likely be chaired by an inspector or a commissioner and would have statutory powers similar to those of an authorised office in company law matters.
Cardinal Connell was again singled out yesterday for criticism by John Kelly of the Survivors of Child Abuse Group.
"Like anyone accused of obstructing justice I think he should be lifted by the gardai and taken to Harcourt Square and questioned," he said.
Referring to the latest apology of Cardinal Connell to victims, Mr Kelly added: "The time has gone beyond the point of apologies." What many victims now required were "deeds and actions and not words," he said.
If the Cardinal's apology was to have any meaning for victims, he had to give an unequivocal commitment to "co-operate fully with any police investigation or any Public Judicial Inquiry".
Yesterday the Dublin diocese said there was "absolutely no question" of any of the eight priests featured in the Prime Time programme returning to parish ministry.
However, very little is known as to the whereabouts of those released from jail. Fr Ivan Payne, one of the eight named, is to be freed next week. Fr Noel Reynolds has died but hardly anything is known about the other six.
The Church has set up its own investigations into the whole issue, but another group representing victims has criticised the ability of such an investigation to reach satisfactory conclusions.
"Any idea that the Church would engage in the whole issue of how they've handled these cases with any level of integrity is now blasted to pieces," said Colm O'Gorman from the One in Four group.
Meanwhile, a Sunday Independent poll shows the vast majority of people (76 per cent) believe the Cardinal should resign, with only 24 per cent saying he should remain in office. However, those who think he should stay say he should do so to allow him account to the public.
A spokesman for Cardinal Desmond Connell has confirmed that concern had been expressed about the behaviour of the late Fr Noel Reynolds towards children before his appointment as chaplain to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. However, the spokesman said the priest was sent for assessment and that assessment concluded that there was no evidence of child sexual abuse.
Three years ago, shortly after leaving the hospital, Fr Reynolds admitted abusing more than 100 children in eight parishes in Dublin.
Cardinal Connell's spokesman said that when the diocese received the first complaint of child sexual abuse against Fr Reynolds he was immediately removed from ministry at the hospital. This occurred in May 1998, 11 months after he was appointed chaplain.
Prime Time reported that in 1996, while parish priest of Glendalough, some parents complained to Archbishop's House that they had serious concerns about his behaviour towards their children but that nothing happened.
Some 18 months later, parents threatened to go public unless something was done about him.
Archbishop Connell, as he was then, immediately moved him, assigning him as chaplain to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.