Ireland report into abuse by Catholic priests finds police coverup

Ireland released a report into 30 years of Catholic priest abuse of children in Dublin that found the police frequently looked the other way to protect accused clerics.

That the Catholic church covered up sexual abuse by priests for years is hardly news anymore. But the highest-profile investigation into abuse allegations yet in Ireland found another breach of public trust: The Garda Síochána, the police force for the republic, failed to investigate reports of priest abusing children and conspired to protect Catholic officials in Dublin for 30 years.

The commission on child abuse by Catholic priests in Dublin led by Judge Yvonne Murphy released its long-awaited report on the matter last week. Justice Murphy's commission investigated how allegations of child sex abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin were dealt with by both state and church authorities from 1975 to 2004. The report slammed the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and, for the first time, reprimanded state agencies, particularly the Garda.

Unlike the Catholic sex abuse scandal uncovered by The Boston Globe in the archdiocese of Boston in 2002 where, instead of reporting the incidents to police, the dioceses directed the offenders to seek psychiatric treatment, in Ireland children, parents, and others reported suspicions of abuse to police but investigations did not follow. Many cases were simply referred back to church authorities instead.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said that the report exposed "misguided or undue deference" shown by the police to religious institutions and said, "That has no place in criminal investigations, it certainly has no place in 2009 under my watch."

"This is not about failings or learning curves. This about the reckless endangerment of children in a calculated, purposeful strategy to protect the institutional Church," said the abuse charity One in Four in a press release.

The Murphy Report, which was redacted by Ireland's Supreme Court as several criminal cases are ongoing, concluded that there was little regard or concern for children who came into contact with clerical abusers, that known clerical abusers were moved to different areas and the recipient dioceses were not informed of their record, and that there was a failure to report allegations to the statutory services.

Garda Commissioner Murphy has apologized for the force's failure to protect victims of clerical child sexual abuse.

Prosecutions to follow

None of the officers named in the report are still working on the force. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has warned that criminal investigations will follow the report, saying, "a collar will protect no criminal."

Mr. Ahern said that no one could expect to be above the law. "This is a Republic – the people are sovereign – and no institution, no agency, no church can be immune from that fact," he said at a press conference.

The state's past deference to the church has been condemned from legal quarters. Sean Corrigan, a barrister in Dublin, said the Dublin experience is in stark contrast to how the US authorities handled similar cases.

"There was too much support for the church within the Garda – these people have been a power unto themselves," he says. "There's more openness in America with regard to everything. We've never even had anyone convicted of white-collar crime in this country."

Irish legal provisions say the wheels of justice are turning, but that the process has been slow. "There are ongoing investigations but the process does seem to have caused a delay in initiating them," says Catherine O'Sullivan, who teaches criminal law at University College Cork. "It's not a case of a coverup, it's more that the investigations have happened in a roundabout way."

The official response from the government and the police has been rejected by some. Artist and writer Gerard Mannix Flynn – who was himself abused by Christian Brothers at St. Joseph's Industrial School in County Galway – says the state's culpability is still being minimized.

"The state's role in all of this is actively being engineered and manufactured to give the public the idea that it is to the forefront in investigating this but the opposite is true," says Mr. Mannix Flynn, now a member of the Dublin City Council. "Dermot Ahern told us a collar wouldn't protect anyone, but it has. He should have said the Garda commissioner wouldn't be protected."

Photographic evidence

Mannix Flynn notes that in 1960 British police contacted then-Garda Commissioner Daniel Costigan with photographic evidence of sexual abuse. Mr. Costigan is singled out in the report for failing to investigate a priest who photographed children in "sexual positions" while working as a chaplain at Crumlin Children's Hospital. The priest sent the images for processing in Britain but the processing laboratory contacted the British police, who in turn contacted Costigan.

Rather than investigating, Costigan handed the case over to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. The priest continued to abuse and was finally convicted and jailed 27 years later in 1997. The report found Costigan breached his duty.

"The apparatus of state was used to protect criminals. The question of organized crime applies here; they aided and abetted the escape of criminals," says Mannix Flynn. "If the [police] Guard has a file of wrongdoing and hands it over to the church instead of investigating it, then that is aiding and abetting a pedophile ring."

Despite its focus on the failure of state agencies, the fallout from the report appears largely to have been in relation to the church. Gerard Casey, professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, says this is because Irish people rarely challenge the state.

"Irish people have always viewed the state as benign, and they still do – even after this," says Dr. Casey. "In fact, one of the things we've seen in relation to both the economic crisis and the child abuse crisis is the state being able to deflect the blame elsewhere."

Casey says this reality is masked by Ireland's cultural expressions: "I myself come from the so-called 'rebel county' [County Cork]. Our self-image is that we're all virtually anarchists but it's a fantasy – we have a highly centralized state and we are totally accepting of it. The almost instinctive reaction to anything is: 'What is the government going to do?'"

According to Casey, this means that Irish police officers are unlikely to suffer as a result of the revelations: "Most Irish people regard the Garda as their pals," he says.

Public disgust at the report has been widespread, with calls for the expulsion of the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza. On Tuesday, Dr. Leanza said he has not responded to the Murphy Report because it covers a period before he took over his post in 2008.

Both Leanza and his predecessor Archbishop Giuseppe Lanzzarotto, failed to respond to inquiries from the Murphy Commission in 2007 and 2008.

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