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Ireland moving to compel church to report sexual abuse

A new report that found a Catholic diocese failed to disclose allegations of sexual abuse of children to the police has many in Ireland pushing for new laws to punish priests to disclose information about alleged pedophiles.

By Correspondent / July 14, 2011


A report into clerical child abuse in Ireland has scandalized the nation, prompting the government to promise tough new laws to compel the Catholic church to report abusers and a senior politician to call for the expulsion of the Vatican's ambassador to the country.

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The Irish Catholic church, with the support of the Vatican, continued to conceal evidence of child abuse even after it created new internal rules in 1996 that promised to inform state authorities of suspected child abuse by priests, the Cloyne Report found. The report also found that two-thirds of abuse complaints made to the church between 1996 and 2009 were not passed on to the police.

New laws, set to be voted-on in the fall, will see clerics and others imprisoned for up to five years if they withhold information about suspected pedophiles.

“This is not a catalogue of failure from a different era. This is not about an Ireland of 50 years ago. This is about Ireland now,” said Frances Fitzgerald the Irish government’s minister for children, speaking at a news conference Wednesday.

The report report found that the then-serving bishop of the diocese of Cloyne in Cork county, John Magee, misled Ireland’s health service executive. It also found that the Vatican had interfered by describing Irish Catholic church procedures on reporting abuse to police as a “study document.” Mr. Magee’s present whereabouts are not known and he is thought to be abroad.

Meanwhile Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the papal nuncio (the Vatican's ambassador), was called to meet Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs today.

After leaving the meeting Mr. Leanza said he was “distressed” by the report’s findings and said he would “bring it to the immediate attention of the Holy See.”

Leanza refused to answer reporters’ questions.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Gilmore said: “I told him [Leanza] the government considered it unacceptable that Vatican intervention may have led priests to believe they could, in conscience, evade their responsibilities under Irish laws, which could have protected innocent children from sexual abuse.” Gilmore also said a response was required from the Vatican.

Demanding police cooperation

Charlie Flanagan, chairman of Fine Gael, the lead party in Ireland’s government, has called for the nuncio to be expelled from the country, echoing a campaign by outraged citizens in 2009.

Rumors are circulating in Rome that Leanza will be reassigned to Prague in the Czech Republic, in an attempt to halt the embarrassment that would result from his expulsion.

Ireland’s justice minister, Alan Shatter announced the publication of new laws Wednesday following the release of the findings of investigating judge Yvonne Murphy.

The laws will center on a mandatory reporting requirement of any case of sexual abuse and are expected to prove controversial with not only the clergy but also medics and lawyers, who are generally obliged to keep conversations confidential.

Any person who refuses to pass on to the authorities information on a case of child abuse will face up to five years imprisonment under the new legal regime.

Mr. Shatter, who said that the findings of the 400-page report “could not be starker or more disturbing,” said there would be no “legal grey area” on reporting allegations – breaking the Catholic church’s “seal of confession.”


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