October 27, 2002
Gardai seek church files on sex abuse

By Maeve Sheehan and Dearbhail McDonald in The Sunday Times

THE Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, will be asked to release all church files on paedophile priests in his diocese to gardai within weeks.
A special unit set up last week by Pat Byrne, the garda commissioner, will seek records of complaints against suspect priests, of internal church tribunals, and actions taken against offenders.

Detectives have contacted the archdiocesan office to discuss the issue of church files, but have no imminent plans to meet the cardinal.

The unit is investigating clerical sex abuse cases after an RTE Prime Time programme chronicled how priests were given access to children even after the church authorities had received complaints from parents. A senior garda officer said initial investigations would focus on claims from victims that church authorities withheld such information from the force. It is initially focusing on Connell’s Dublin archdiocese.

A city-wide audit of garda investigations into paedophile priests has already begun. All garda divisions in the capital have been asked to pass details of local clerical sex abuse inquiries to the central unit. As part of the audit, the cardinal will be asked to release his files on clerical abusers.

Connell said last week that, since 1995, the names of all priests against whom complaints had been made have been passed to gardai. The garda investigation is likely to bring to a head a battle between church and state. The cardinal has said he is forbidden from releasing certain files under canon law, but Michael McDowell, the justice minister, insists that state law will prevail. He is considering setting up a state inquiry into the church’s handling of sexual abuse.

It is not clear whether the cardinal will release the files sought by detectives. On Friday, he told RTE that he would follow his conscience when asked if he would bow to state law or insist on adhering to canon law. Connell indicated last week that he would submit to an investigation by “an appropriate authority”.

The bishops have set up their own independent inquiry, chaired by Gillian Hussey, a former judge, to conduct a nationwide audit of clerical sex abuse. The inquiry has not yet got off the ground because bishops are still debating what files may or may not be released to it under canon law. Connell has made it clear he believes the internal inquiry is the appropriate authority to investigate the church’s handling of sex abuse.

Last week, the cardinal said that the commission would have his complete co-operation, but added that there was genuine concern over confidentiality, and that an arbiter was required to decide whether “certain matters should remain confidential”. “It is our absolute determination that Judge Hussey, having where necessary heard expert advice, will be the arbiter in this matter.”

The Catholic church is facing a flood of civil actions over clerical sex abusers and a potentially huge compensation bill. Prime Time estimated that there were 450 legal actions against priests and members of religious orders in the Dublin archdiocese alone. With lawyers estimating compensation payouts to average at €34,900, the church could face a bill of at least €15.7m.

It has already paid out about €550,000 to 13 victims of abuse, including eight victims of Father Ivan Payne, who settled out of court for about €42,800 each.

Posted by paul at October 27, 2002 11:27 PM
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