The past and the present… November 26, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Social History, Social Policy, Society.
We live in a state where significant elements of its apparatus, including most crucially those elements charged with security and oversight of such matters colluded (with some honorable exceptions) with Church authorities in covering up a range of acts which are difficult to credit both in their scale and severity. The Church itself up to its highest authorities are shown to have known about this abuse across decades and been unwilling to deal with it on any serious level until societal mores changed sufficiently and its power was diminished sufficiently for temporal authorities to take charge.
There’s a telling paragraph in the opening pages of the Report:
The volume of revelations of child sexual abuse by clergy over the past 35 years or so has been described by a Church source as a “tsunami” of sexual abuse.2 He went on to describe the “tsunami” as “an earthquake deep beneath the surface hidden from view”. The clear implication of that statement is that the Church, in common with the general public, was somehow taken by surprise by the volume of the revelations. Officials of the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities have repeatedly claimed to have been, prior to the late 1990s, on „a learning curve‟ in relation to the matter. Having completed its investigation, the Commission does not accept the truth of such claims and assertions.
And it continues:
The Dublin Archdiocese‟s pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.
It also notes that, under the section Knowledge of clerical child sexual abuse:
The authorities in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the religious orders who were dealing with complaints of child sexual abuse were all very well educated people. Many had qualifications in canon law and quite a few also had qualifications in civil law. This makes their claims of ignorance very difficult to accept. Child sexual abuse did not start in the 20th century. Since time immemorial it has been a “delict” under canon law, a sin in ordinary religious terms and a crime in the law of the State. Ignorance of the law is not a defence under the law of the State. It is difficult for the Commission to accept that ignorance of either the canon law or the civil law can be a defence for officials of the Church.
Another consequence of the obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal was the failure of successive Archbishops and bishops to report complaints to the Gardaí prior to 1996. The Archbishops, bishops and other officials cannot claim that they did not know that child sexual abuse was a crime. As citizens of the State, they have the same obligations as all other citizens to uphold the law and report serious crimes to the authorities.
State authorities The Gardaí
1.92 There were a number of inappropriate contacts between the Gardaí and the Archdiocese. Clearly the handing over of the Fr Edmondus* case to Archbishop McQuaid by Commissioner Costigan was totally inappropriate. The relationship between some senior Gardaí and some priests and bishops was also inappropriate – in particular, in the Fr Carney and Fr cases.
1.93 A number of very senior members of the Gardaí, including the Commissioner in 1960, clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit. There are some examples of Gardaí actually reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them. It is fortunate that some junior members of the force did not take the same view.
The health authorities
1.97 As is described in Chapter 6, the health authorities have a very minor role in dealing with child sexual abuse by non family members. The Commission is concerned that the legislation governing the role of the HSE is inadequate even for that limited role. There is a need to clarify exactly what the role of the HSE is in relation to non family abusers and to set out clearly the powers it has to implement that role. The HSE and the health boards have given the impression to Church authorities and the Gardaí that they can do more in the area than they actually have the power to do.
And in terms of recognising that child protection was an issue note that as far back as 1970:
State responsibility for child protection
1.99 The Commission notes that there was an extraordinary delay in introducing child protection legislation. The need for new legislation was clearly recognised in the early 1970s but it was not actually passed until 1991 and not fully implemented until 1996. That new legislation, the Child Care Act 1991, does not sufficiently clarify the powers and duties of the health authorities.
The primary responsibility for child protection must rest with the State. In enforcing child protection rules and practices, organisations such as the Church cannot be equal partners with the state institutions such as the Gardaí and health authorities. The Church can certainly work in co-operation with the State authorities in promoting child welfare and protection as, for example, the sports bodies do, but it must be remembered that it is not an agency with equal standing.
Then there is the issue of communication between Church and State:
1.101 Such communications as took place between the Archdiocese and the Gardaí prior to 1995 were largely inappropriate. Since the implementation of the Framework Document, the Archdiocese and other Church authorities report complaints of clerical child sexual abuse to the Gardaí – this is appropriate communication.
There are some dispiriting points as regards how victims of abuse were perceived, not by those immediately around them but by the authorities:
1.103 The vast majority of those who were abused as children complained when they were adults. In almost all cases they said that they did not complain as children because they did not think they would be believed or because the abuser had told them not to tell anyone. It is striking that, of the relatively small number who complained at the time, the majority were in fact believed. They were believed by their parents and they were believed by the authorities to whom the abuse was reported. This makes the failure by the authorities all the more egregious.
And a set of statistics that makes one wonder at how matters might have transpired had the issue not surfaced when it did, since it appears that the act of rendering it public assisted in bringing evidence of abuse forward:
The controversy and drama surrounding the Fr Brendan Smyth case in 1994 (see Chapter 7) brought clerical child sexual abuse to public attention. It is probable that this was the first time that many members of the public became aware of the possibility of clerical child sexual abuse. The claim that bishops and senior church officials were on „a learning curve‟ about child sexual abuse rings hollow when it is clear that cases were dealt with by Archbishop McQuaid in the 1950s and 1960s and that, although the majority of complaints emerged from 1995 onwards, many of the complaints described
in this report first came to the attention of the Archdiocese in the 1970s and 1980s. The Commission examined complaints in respect of approximately 320 complainants against the 46 priests in the representative sample. Of the complaints examined by the Commission,
three were made in the 1960s;
11 were made in the 1970s and there were two suspicions/concerns;
64 were made in the 1980s and there were 24 suspicions/concerns;
135 were made in the 1990s and there were 23 suspicions/concerns;
112 were made in the 2000s (mainly between January 2000 and 1 May 2004) and there were 10 suspicions/concerns.
I genuinely believe every citizen of this state, and those on this island, should be reading this which is available here. As yet a further catalogue of the failures of the state and more widely the society it is essential if we are not to repeat them and as a means of validating those who at the very point where they needed the trust and security of the state were let down by it.