Cloyne facts expose the pathology of the church

Unless the Catholic hierarchy examines its obsession with power it cannot reform itself

MUCH OF the Cloyne report brought no surprises to the people of Ireland and those of us in other countries who had anticipated its publication. In many ways it was a continuation of the revelations that came with the three commission reports that preceded it.

The report was met with the expected “heartfelt” expressions of regret, apology and even shock by officials of the Catholic Church, followed by promises of reform and the promulgation of yet more procedures, policies and boards. By now the Irish people, however, are beyond suspicion and cynicism. They have broken through another layer of the protective clerical veneer and have named the responses for what they are: a mendacious smokescreen.

It is no consolation to the Irish people but they are certainly not alone. This debacle in the Diocese of Cloyne is reflected in the recent publication of the report of the grand jury in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Five years after a first jury exposed widespread cover-up and shameful treatment of victims, followed by the usual promises to clean up the mess, a second grand jury found that the expressions of regret and promises of reform were a deceptive cover for an intentional lack of commitment to bring justice to victims and protect children.

Cardinal Seán Brady said that “grave errors of judgment were made and serious failures of leadership occurred”. Bishop John Magee admitted that the diocese “did not fully implement the procedures set out in church protocols”. What happened in Cloyne and in Ferns, Dublin, and the institutions cannot be dignified as “grave errors of judgment” or incomplete implementation of church protocols. The systemic sacrifice of the emotional, psychological and spiritual lives of innocent children for the sake of the image and power of the hierarchy was no error.

The commission of investigation into abuse in the Cloyne diocese learned that the destructive response to the reports of sexual abuse was not accidental or isolated but embedded in the fabric of the clerical culture. The members of all four commissions are to be highly commended for their courage in rising above the long-standing tradition of unquestioned deference to the hierarchy to reveal in detail the disgraceful and infuriating systemic disregard of the innocent children.

The three preceding reports were indeed shocking and scandalous. But the report carries the revelations even further in three important ways: naming the Vatican as an integral part of the problem; exposing the cynical use the concept of “pastoral care” as an excuse for obstructing justice; and acknowledging that the church cannot be trusted faithfully to comply with its internal regulations, much less the demands of the civil law.

When the reality of widespread sexual violation of the young by clergy was first exposed in the US in 1985, Pope John Paul II and the Vatican remained mute for six years. When questioned, Vatican spokesmen distanced not only themselves but the rest of the world by asserting it was an “American problem”. In his first public statement on June 11th, 1993, the pope tried to shift the blame to the secular media, whom he accused of “sensationalising” evil. He concluded his letter with: “Yes dear brothers, America needs much prayer lest it lose its soul.”

It was not long before tragic events in Newfoundland, Austria and Ireland clearly dislodged the papal efforts at denial. The recognition of widespread sexual molestation by clerics in several continental European countries, in South America and most recently in the Far East, have confirmed this is a worldwide problem not only of sexual violation by dysfunctional clerics but, even worse, a problem of intentionally self-serving and destructive responses by the bishops.

THE DIRECT ROLE of the Vatican in enabling and even directing the cover-up, stonewalling and obstruction of justice has been suspected for years. The report made a vitally important breakthrough by describing in concrete detail the essential role the Vatican played in the disgrace of the diocese.

The report points to two serious deficiencies in the Vatican response. The first is the papal nuncio’s refusal to co-operate with the commission during the Dublin and Cloyne investigations, as well as his lukewarm response to the horrific contents of the report. The second and far more treacherous aspect is the direct attempt to sabotage the Irish bishops’ 1996 policy document Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response .

The commission found this document contained a “detailed and easy to implement set of procedures”. Yet, before it could adequately be put into practice, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Luciano Storero, sent the Irish bishops a letter passing on the concerns of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. The letter clearly reflected the reactionary attitude of Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who was prefect at the time. He erroneously labelled the policy “merely a study document”.

This most outrageous and at the same time erroneous sentence gave the Irish bishops licence to ignore their own procedures but also the civil law.

The Vatican response has been the defence of the hierarchy and the scandalous lack of concern for the victims. There are the expected expressions of regret, sorrow and promise of prayers which serve only to confuse and even anger the victims and are a very thin cover for the consistent pattern of self-serving support and protection of the bishops.

The clerical culture that cannot comprehend the depth of evil and destruction it has enabled has failed to internalise the reality that in this 21st century sacrificing the welfare of innocent children to maintain the image and power of an ecclesiastical aristocracy is a disgrace that will be the catalyst for an inevitable and profound change in the nature of the institutional church.

The rapid disintegration of the absolute control of the Irish hierarchy over Irish society is the result not of the lack of faith of the Irish people, as some in ecclesiastical leadership would like to believe, but in the lack of fidelity of the leadership to the people whom they have sworn to serve.

Msgr Denis O’Callaghan, Bishop Magee’s point man, openly opposed the framework document because it did not provide an adequate pastoral response. This masks a fundamental misunderstanding and misapplication of an authentic expression of pastoral care which is not an excuse for minimising the fact sexual violation of a minor is a serious crime in both canon and civil law.

WORSE STILL WAS the use of pastoral care as a justification for protecting the accused priests at the expense of justice for the victims. The report saw the misuse of the pastoral concept as a “scheme whereby counselling was provided to the complainant in a manner which was hoped would not attract any legal liability to the diocese”.

There is no evidence of effective pastoral care in the past or even today, only crisis management. There is no evidence from any of the four reports that the overriding concern of the hierarchy and clergy has been the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of the victims. What would true pastoral care have looked like? Upon receipt of a report of the sexual molestation of a child or adult, the bishop’s first (and often only) concern would not be the maintenance of secrecy and protection of the priest. Rather, he would immediately seek out the victim and the victim’s family to make clear to them that in their hour of pain, confusion and humiliation at the hands of a cleric, they and not the cleric are the most important people in the diocese and indeed in the church.

The third breakthrough is the realisation that any structures or policies created by the church depend on the commitment of the bishops and the support of the priests. In Cloyne and elsewhere the bishops made promises, created policies and appointed boards and then proceeded systematically to subvert their rules and those of society.

Marie Collins, in her recent interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time , spoke the truth when she said that the promises and policies that have streamed from the bishops mean nothing. The report clearly reflects this sad reality: “It seems to the Commission that continuing external scrutiny is required.” Outside monitoring with serious consequences for neglect, and mandatory reporting by all clergy with possible jail time as a consequence for failure, are necessary responses.

The commission has probed deeply into the dysfunctional clerical culture of the Cloyne diocese. With this report, the threshold to a new level of awareness has been reached. The findings and conclusions, as probing and shocking as they may be, are not enough. What we have seen exposed in all four reports but most shockingly in the Cloyne document is the toxic nature of the clerical culture at the heart of the institutional church.

We must demand answers to even more radical questions. What is it about this culture that justifies living in an alternate reality that places image and clerical security far above the welfare of innocent children? Why does the “people of God”, as Vatican II described the church, need to function like a monarchy with an attendant clerical aristocracy?

Why the narcissistic obsession with power, secrecy and control? Until the bishops and priests look deeply into this culture and acknowledge its pathology, the outrageous behaviour exposed in the report will be part of a shameful history.

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Clergy doing right thing is about timing not morality

Primate Sean Brady insists the long-awaited report into the mishandling of child sex abuse allegations by the diocese of Cloyne is “another dark day” in the history of the Irish Church. In this, as in so much else, he is entirely wrong. Any day on which light is cast on the obscure, murky workings of the Church is a day of illumination rather than darkness. That what it reveals is so utterly vile and contemptible is another matter altogether.

A previous such occasion, of course, was when Sean Brady’s own involvement in the cover-up of priestly perversion was revealed in 2009, when the faithful discovered how he had, 30 years earlier as part of an internal investigation into allegations against notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth, made children sign oaths not to tell anyone that they had been abused.

Smyth, one of the most repulsive characters ever to wear priestly garb, went on to abuse dozens more innocents before being finally arrested; but even then, Primate Brady refused to take full responsibility by resigning, claiming that he was, in effect, only following orders, and that this was how things were back then. He also claimed that the current climate was a “totally different one to that of the past”.

It was a line echoed by Ian Elliott, CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, who also said in 2009 that the progress towards better procedure had been “truly remarkable” and that there were now “champions for children” in place who wouldn’t let the same mistakes be made. “Remarkable” was bad enough, as if now allowing children not to be abused was some massive achievement, rather than the absolute minimum anyone could expect from those entrusted with their care; but it now turns out that these lauded champions weren’t up to the job either.

The report by Judge Yvonne Murphy shows conclusively that, as late as 2009, the diocese of Cloyne was still not following proper procedures on the reporting of sex abuse which the Church was supposed to have adopted 12 years earlier. In fact, they went further and deliberately misled the State about what they were doing. Despite the fact an internal church report in 2003 had found that Cloyne was putting children in danger by not following up allegations thoroughly, Bishop John Magee still told the late Brian Lenihan, then minister for children, that they were fully compliant, when they weren’t even bothering to make private enquiries as to whether accused priests had targeted other children.

And what is the response to all this? John Magee has vanished into the mist, maybe America, no one seems to know — which is to say that the Vatican surely knows, but they’re not saying either — and all that’s come from him is a statement, issued through a PR company in Dublin, Young Communications, containing the usual blether about how sad it all is. The Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, for his part, merely said it would be “helpful” if Magee came forward to answer allegations fully.

It makes a slap on the wrist look like the Spanish Inquisition in comparison, not to mention a mockery of the Vatican’s promise last year that “civil law concerning the reporting of crimes … should always be followed.”

Those at the head of an organisation set its moral tone. They are the ones to whom those beneath look for guidance on how to behave. Practically the entire hierarchy of the Church in Ireland is made up of people who, in one form or another, have made excuses for not doing the right thing. The context changes, but the excuses remain the same. If they can keep wriggling off the hook, why shouldn’t Bishop John Magee, or any of the others? The only reason why they should act differently now seems to be because people further up the chain are telling them that they should. But why should they listen to people who themselves have ignored the suffering of children when it would have been too difficult for them to do what was right? It’s like the IRA lecturing the dissidents on why they should stop blowing up policemen. Take away the political waffle and what it amounts to is: You shouldn’t do it anymore, even though we did when we were in your place, because it’s inconvenient now. It’s about timing, not morality.

Priests and bishops ought to listen, it could be said, because they’re bound by obedience to do whatever the Church tells them to do. They don’t have the right to refuse because to resist is to defy God. That only makes it all the more revealing that, 12 years after the Church apparently told them to comply with the law of the land, they were still prepared to ignore their own guidelines. It suggests they didn’t believe the hierarchy really meant it; that they were still detecting ambivalence; they were still getting a nod and a wink that what they were up to was not that serious. Indeed that’s what the report into the cesspit that was the diocese of Cloyne under Bishop Magee finds to be the case. Silence was officially sanctioned by the Vatican at the time when they were insisting publicly that all had changed, changed utterly, that a nice new Church had taken the place of the old one. Nor has anything said last week exactly reassured the sceptics, even now, that the Church quite “gets” what all the fuss is about. Instead, they’re still arguing the toss about whether abuse revealed in the confessional should be covered by the requirement to report crimes to the police. The Government has been bracingly unwavering about this; but that the hierarchy is still prepared to engage in theological point-scoring about sacredotal privilege, and to warn that the Government risks “antagonising relationships” if they insist that priests have the same obligation as every other Irish citizen to come forward when they know that children are being abused, is not only disappointing, but frightening. It seems to suggest that it’s not a National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church that we need, but a National Board for Safeguarding Children from the Catholic Church.

They’ve had ample opportunities to set their own house in order. Too many, perhaps. They failed the test every time, preferring always to run away and hide behind lawyers and PR companies and each other, issuing one sophistical press release after another about the difficulties of doing the right thing, and meanwhile pumping out Lord Haw Haw-style propaganda suggesting that the institutions under attack are nowhere near as black as they’re painted. Well, that part’s true enough. They’re far blacker.

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The fantastic wealth of Irish Catholic religious orders revealed

When the Irish Government negotiated a settlement of the compensation due to the tens of thousands of people abused and traumatised in institutions run by the Catholic Church, the total came to €1.36 billion.

The Government wanted the Church to pay half of this, but during negotiations in 2002, the Church managed to wangle its way into contributing only €120 million (£107m) – a pitifully small fraction of what was needed.

This deal was struck on the hypothesis that there would be 2,000 claimants, something the Church was uniquely qualified to know would not be the case.

In the event there were 14,000.

Only after a great deal of public pressure, the amount the Church will pay is now to be renegotiated, with the Government having carried out a review of the assets of the religious orders that abused, over many years, those in their care.

The review has revealed the staggering wealth of these religious orders. It showed between 1999 and 2009, the orders made €667 million in property deals.

Almost all of these sales were made while the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was investigating the years of suffering endured by children in their care.

The properties included land banks, houses, farmyards, a swimming pool, a warehouse, sports grounds and convents.

A quarter of all these trades involved the 2,088-member Sisters of Mercy.

Its four provinces sold 195 properties, including a €32m deal for 16 acres in Killarney.

The order still retained over €1 billion in land assets after these deals.

The 250-member Christian Brothers made €79m in the decade under review and the smaller Oblates of Mary Immaculate featured prominently because of the €105m it made by selling its Belcamp campus in north Dublin.

The top 13 trades by the orders brought in a combined €409m, while the remaining 313 units were sold for €81m.

The €667m total contributed to the revenue of 17 of the 18 orders which, in 2009, agreed to renegotiate the controversial 2002 indemnity deal.

The subsequent sales returns consisted of over 395 properties in the Republic, the North, Britain and America.

The details were released to an Irish newspaper with the orders’ agreement.

Some properties were transferred to community, public and diocesan bodies for nominal fees. Others were bought at peak prices by speculators and developers.

The asset review took place after a public backlash following the Ryan Report two years ago.

The report’s contents forced the Government and the orders to revisit the deal which capped the liability of the orders at €128m.

On the basis of the review, the orders raised their offer to €476m.

This was to go towards compensating victims, building the new National Children’s Hospital and erecting a memorial.

However, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn says he is disappointed by the offer from the various orders – they are still several hundred million short of what is needed.

He is now seeking further property transfers and says he will use bailiffs to seize more property if necessary to make up the shortfall.

But, as Dearbhail McDonald, the legal editor of the Irish Independent, pointed out, much of the money is tied up in charitable trusts for a specific purpose.

He maintains it will be difficult — even impossible — for the Government to access it.

“The chances of the Government sending in the bailiffs to the religious orders is about as likely as the sisters and brothers footing their half of an estimated €1.36bn abuse bill: negligible.”

Ruairi Quinn wants the orders’ overall contribution to be raised to €680m.

He says that if the Church does not pay its fair share of the settlement it will mean further cuts in public spending in a country already suffering mightily in the recession.

The Government is to re-open discussions with the clergy shortly.

“I’m going to enter into these negotiations with an open mind,” said Minister Quinn, although he told reporters that he is “not confident” that the Church will stump up its share.

“This is about recouping for the distressed Irish taxpayer a vast amount of money, the alternative which is that we have to reduce further expenditure and introduce saving in areas that we would otherwise not want to do.”

Despite the sales, the various religious orders retained a bank of property assets worth €3.07bn and financial assets of €704m.

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Catholic Church Denies Legal Responsibility For Abuse

A hearing into whether the church has the same legal obligations towards priests as employers towards employees, could have massive ramifications.

The Roman Catholic Church is taking the unprecedented step of arguing in court that is is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.

There have been thousands of accusations around the world of abuse by priests but the majority of legal cases have been settled out of court or withdrawn.

This is thought to be the first time that the Church has gone to court to defend itself against accusations specificially relating to liability.

The three day hearing, started last Tuesday, is part of a wider civil action being brought by a woman known only as Miss JGE.

She claims to have been sexually abused while living in a children’s home run an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity.

She alleges that she was sexually abused by a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, Father Baldwin, who died in 2006.

The claim in that case, due to start in December, will be that the nuns were negligent and in breach of duty, and that the diocese was vicariously liable for the abuse because Father Baldwin was a Catholic priest engaged within the work of the Portsmouth diocese.

However the hearing this week will not deal with the allegations of abuse at all, but will centre on the ‘corporate responsibility’ of the church in abuse cases.

If the claim is upheld, the church will be found legally responsible for the sexual abuse committed by their priests.

The solicitor representing Miss JGE, Tracey Emmott, said: “The most astonishing point to me to emerge from this tragic and sordid case is that the Catholic church is claiming that it isn’t legally responsible for the behaviour of its own priest.

“We need to show that while Father Baldwin wasn’t strictly an employee of the church, he was acting on the bishop’s behalf and that the bishop clearly had a degree of control over his activities.”

Ms Emmott said that the consequences of the Catholic Church winning the point was that they would be able to avoid compensating all victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The Catholic Church and the Portsmouth Diocese said they would not comment until the end of the hearing.

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