In November 2009 a damning report was published concerning the ‘cover up’ of child abuse in Ireland by the Catholic Church and other Government bodies.
The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, otherwise known as ‘the Murphy report’, investigated allegations of abuse between 1975 and 2004. They looked at complaints made by 320 children against 46 priests, 11 of whom have been convicted of sexual assaults against children.
The Commission found that the Catholic Church had viewed the importance of its own reputation above the protection of children and up until the mid 1990’s the Church’s pre-occupation was the maintenance of secrecy and the preservation of its reputation and assets. It found that instead of reporting allegations of abuse, members of the Church had instead moved accused abusers from parish to parish to avoid a backlash from the public.
Even senior members of the Church were not exempt from criticism. Four archbishops in particular were named as having failed to hand over information about alleged abusers. Since the publication of the Report Bishop Donal Murray has resigned from his post as the Archbishop of Limerick. The Commission found that his failure to investigate suspicions of abuse by a priest was. “inexcusable”.
The Church was not the only institution to be criticised. The Commission found that the Irish police had allowed the Church to operate outside the law and in some cases had even reported abuse to Church authorities rather than carry out their own independent investigation.
The latest report follows the publication of the Ryan Report in May 2009. This report investigated the complaints of 2,000 people who claimed to have suffered physical and sexual abuse while in Catholic run institutions, including beatings, torture, sexual humiliation and tape perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns. The report found that Church leaders knew that abuse in boys’ institutions was ‘endemic’.
The Commission concluded in the Murphy report that it was satisfied that effective structures and procedures are now in operation and all complaints of clerical child sexual abuse are now reported to the police. However, this report should serve as a reminder that systemic child abuse has occurred in the institution of the Church and that abusers have been allowed to operate under a veil of silence, in part because of their position of trust and also because the hierarchy of the Church wanted to protect its public image. The Church must now work with state authorities in making children’s welfare a priority and in breaking the wall of silence where children’s safety is concerned.
Laura Murphy, Solicitor