I have never believed that the Catholic bishops cover up of the sexual abuse of children by priests was something unique to the Catholic Church in Ireland, nor have I believed that such acts of cover up were unknown to the Vatican.
The Murphy Report found that the child sexual abuse by priests was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities. Each of Dublin’s four Archbishops from McQuaid in the 1970s to Connell in the 1990s knew of the abuse, many auxiliary bishops knew and the vast majority of priests who were aware of particular instances of abuse simply chose to turn a blind eye. The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. The medical profession was misled about what the Church knew about abusing priests and even when the Church was advised not to re-assign such priests, the advise was ignored. Catholic Church assurances that paedophile priests were being monitored were completely untrue and other children paid the price.
The Ferns Report found that notwithstanding the extremely unfavourably medical reports provided, priests were appointed to curacies in that Diocese and continued in positions without any effective monitoring or control. Bishop Comiskey agreed with the Ferns Inquiry that the proper response to an allegation of child sexual abuse against a priest was to remove him from active ministry pending the determination of the allegation. Notwithstanding this belief, no priest was stood aside from active ministry during the episcopacy of Bishop Comiskey and no precept was issued preventing any priest from saying Mass and partaking in religious ceremonies. Priests were moved out of the Diocese in some cases but no child protection measures were put in place to ensure that children in the Diocese to which the accused priest was sent were not placed in danger.
The Grand Jury Report into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia found that Cardinals Bevilacqua and Krol were aware that priests in the Diocese were perpetrating massive amounts of child molestations and sexual assaults. In many cases the same priests were reported again and again and Archdiocese leaders employed deliberate strategies to conceal known abuse. The Report says that they chose to protect themselves from scandal and liability rather than protect children, going on to say that Cardinal Bevilacqua was motivated by an intent to keep the record clear of evidence that would implicate him or the Archdiocese. The tactics used to achieve this included conducting non-investigations designed to avoid establishing priests’ guilt, transferring known abusers to other parishes where their reputations were not known, misleading parishioners about the reason for a priest’s transfer, harbouring known abusers from other dioceses (like Archbishop Ratzinger did in Munich in 1980), making concerted efforts to prevent reports of abuse to law enforcement, manipulating medical records to keep abusing priests in ministry, interfering with medical evaluations, inventing limited ministry which they documented but did not enforce and intimidating victims and witnesses in an attempt to silence them.
The Grand Jury Report into the Archdiocese of Boston found that the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse. Again top Archdiocese officials knew the extent of the problem for many years, but their response was to maintain secrecy, fail to report allegations to civil authorities, fail to co-operate with law enforcement when allegations were being investigated, fail to conduct thorough investigations, place children at risk by transferring abusing priests to other parishes, place children at risk by accepting abusing priests from other Dioceses (like Archbishop Ratzinger did in Munich in 1980) and fail to supervise priests known to have sexually abused children. In language almost identical to the Murphy Report the Boston Report concludes that for at least six decades three successive Archbishops, their Bishops and others in positions of authority within the Archdiocese operated with tragically misguided priorities. They chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care.
The Philadelphia Report also noted similar behaviour by Bishops and Cardinals in other Dioceses in the United States and found that this amounted to the Catholic Church having employed well-orchestrated strategies for decades and in all parts of the United States to keep abusing priests in ministry while minimising the risk of scandal or legal liability.
Tonight’s broadcast of the RTE Would You Believe documentary Unspeakable Crimes, shows yet again that Catholic bishops covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests did so with the full knowledge of the Vatican: while this further confirms the Vatican’s involvement in the cover up, it does not absolve Irish Catholic Bishops of responsibility for their own actions and decisions. It does however demonstrate very clearly that the Vatican sending Cardinals to Ireland to conduct an ‘Apostolic Investigation’ is, as I said before, self-serving, window-dressing nonsense.