Sunday, November 28, 2004

Irish Probe of Church Finds No Wrongdoing

November 28, 2004
Church sex abuse probe draws blank
Dearbhail McDonald

A TWO-YEAR garda inquiry into allegations that the Catholic church covered
up child sex abuse has so far failed to produce incriminating evidence
against senior church figures.
It had been hoped by clerical sex abuse victims that the “God squad” — a
20-strong specialist detective unit — would confirm claims that the church
concealed the activities of abusive priests in Dublin, Ireland’s largest
archdiocese. But an internal review of the inquiry last week concluded that
no damning evidence had been unearthed.
Gardai privately say their investigation has been hampered by the church’s
unwillingness to give full access to its files, which cannot be removed from
Archbishop’s House.
“The investigation is still ongoing, but to date there is nothing in the
church’s own files to indicate a cover-up. There’s no conspiracy there,”
said a source close to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The garda investigation was launched after claims were made in an RTE
television documentary that priests were given access to children even after
the church had received complaints of abuse from parents.
The probe, now entering its third year, has centred on allegations by
victims and their parents that church authorities concealed the activities
of abusive priests from civil authorities and transferred abusers to new
parishes where they continued to abuse children.
The investigation is expected to be completed before the start of a €3m
state inquiry into abuse in the Dublin diocese next year.
Diocesan files released to gardai have confirmed the transfer of known and
suspected abusers to new parishes. But the documents, which are released
under the supervision of diocesan authorities and cannot be removed from
church property, do not contain any evidence that senior figures, including
Cardinal Desmond Connell, the retired archbishop of Dublin, concealed the
activities of paedophile priests.
Despite Connell’s promise that gardai would be given unlimited access to
diocesan files, victims fear incriminating documents have been withheld.
“Access to files won’t be a problem for the statutory inquiry,” said Andrew
Madden, a campaigner for victims of sex abuse.
“Only a state inquiry into the Dublin diocese will ascertain how well
Connell and other senior clerics handled complaints. It will have the powers
to ensure discovery of church files. We have heard absolutely nothing from
the garda inquiry in 2Å years, so you have to ask whether it really achieved
its objective.”
Last year, the Dublin diocese paid almost €400,000 to a victim of Thomas
Naughton, a priest who was jailed for abusing four boys. The unprecedented
settlement was agreed between the church and Mervyn Rundle, who won a High
Court application to access all documents on the abusing priest.
“The gardai can have access to my files any time if they are in any doubt
about a cover-up,” said Rundle. “This is why we need a state inquiry more
than ever, so we can compel the church authorities to testify.”
Connell’s pledge for complete access to diocesan files was made last
December after a breakthrough meeting with Marie Collins and Ken Reilly,
campaigners for victims of sex abuse.
There are an estimated 450 legal actions against priests and members of
religious orders in the Dublin archdiocese alone.
The screening of Cardinal Secrets in 2002, and a series of disclosures of
abuse, led to unprecedented calls for Connell’s resignation in the wake of
“unspeakable abuse” and his handling of complaints.
Diarmuid Martin, Dublin’s new archbishop, has defended his predecessor. “The
person who took the clearest stance on the issue is Cardinal Connell,” he
said last year. “It is sometimes not seen that he was the one who suspended
and reduced priests to a lay state very quickly after he came in, in very
many of these cases.”
Earlier this year, nine Catholic bishops, including Connell and Eamon Casey,
the disgraced former bishop of Galway, were cleared of claims that they had
failed to act on complaints of sexual impropriety against the head of St
Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
The bishops commissioned an independent report, which has yet to be
published, after a priest accused them of ignoring complaints that Monsignor
Michael Ledwith, the former president of the college, was harassing
seminarians. The bishops denied any knowledge of the complaints.