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.

Accused of being gay, Spanish priest challenges Church to measure his anus

WITH no apparent evidence other than a photograph of Spanish priest Andrés García Torres hugging a young Cuban seminarian, the Catholic bishop of Getafe has leapt to the outrageous conclusion that there is something gay about two topless men in a warm embrace.

According to this report, the bishop now wants the priest to abandon his parish in the Madrid dormitory town of Fuenlabrada, undergo a psychiatric cure, and take an HIV test.

Torres responded by saying he intends going to Rome to show that he is being expelled from his parish unfairly.

The priest, who insists that her and the 28-year-old with whom he was photographed on a trip to Fátima are just good friends, and threw down this challenge:

Let them measure my anus and see if it is dilated.

He said his mum hadn’t stopped crying over what has happened.

Locals say that the priest is a very humane person, dedicated to helping others. More than 1,000 signatures have been gathered in his support.

Vatican reform policies ‘public relation ploys’

ACTIVISTS in the US documenting clerical sex abuse cases within the Catholic Church expressed dismay yesterday at the findings of the Cloyne report.

They also voiced scepticism that the Vatican or church authorities in Ireland will ever allow the extent of abuse to be fully revealed.

“The Cloyne Report is disheartening confirmation that even today, despite the Church’s knowledge of the profound anguish of thousands of victims, its reform policies are public relations ploys, not true child protection programs,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, the Boston-based director of, an online database documenting the Catholic sex-abuse crisis worldwide.

Barbara Blaine, president of a US-based pressure group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the report’s conclusion that the Vatican encouraged the Cloyne cover-ups “should surprise no one”.

“A key reason bishops ignore, minimise and hide child sex crimes,” she said, “is because Vatican officials have largely urged, and sometimes insisted, that they do so.”

Report gets muted reaction from international press

THERE was a somewhat low-key reaction among the international press to the publication of the Cloyne report into child sex abuse.

Many British newspapers chose not to cover the story, although The Guardian labelled the report “devastating”.

Citing former Bishop of Cloyne John Magee as being a “confidante of three popes” and an extremely powerful man in the church in Ireland and in Rome, it outlined how he was centrally involved in “deliberately misleading authorities in the republic about the church’s internal inquiries into children’s claims that priests were abusing them”.

Much of the more prominent coverage was visible in the US, with many of the papers focusing on how the Vatican chose to handle the reports of abuse in the diocese.

The New York Times pointed out how the Catholic Church here was covering up the abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, long after it issued guidelines meant to protect those children while the Vatican in Rome “tacitly encouraged the cover-up by ignoring the guidelines”.

The Washington Post went with the headline: “New report on Catholic Church cover-ups of child abuse in Ireland blames bishop, Vatican.”

The report went on to label the Cloyne Report as exposing the “chronic cover-up of child abuse” in the diocese and stressed how the Government warned that “parishes across Ireland could pose a continuing danger to children’s welfare today given Cloyne’s claims to be following church child-protection policy while actually ignoring it”.

The Boston Globe also took up the story again pointing out how the Cloyne diocese “ignored rules on reporting abuse”.

The newspaper reported how the developments from the report showed “the tensions between civil and ecclesiastical justice in a crisis that has shaken the church’s moral authority worldwide”.

It also pointed out how the report exposed “a complex tug of war between the Irish church and the Vatican over how to handle abuse, with a fine line between confusion and obstruction”.

Vatican shelters Magee as abuse report fury grows

THE Vatican is today protecting disgraced Bishop John Magee.

Magee is now believed to be hiding out in Rome following the latest scandal to hit the Church. Insiders believe he is being protected by the Vatican and Pope Benedict amid the furore of the damning Cloyne Report.

The Vatican has so far refused to comment on the report which accuses Magee of lying to the state about the protection of children.

Pressure is now growing on the Church to call the Bishop to account.

The report shows that the Catholic Church was ignoring its own guidelines of child protection as recently as 2009.

It also says that Bishop Magee kissed and touched a teenage boy in a manner described by investigators as “inappropriate behaviour”.

Bishop Magee’s exact whereabouts remained a mystery today as pressure was growing on the Catholic Church to call the bishop to account.

He has not commented on the report or made himself available to answer questions from the media.

A visibly shaken Archbishop Dermot Clifford said he would have been “very happy” if Bishop Magee was in front of the press responding to questions about the Cloyne report instead of him.

“I’d be very happy if he was sitting here in this seat and it’s a pity that he isn’t,” he told a press conference in Cork after the publication of the report.

The diocese’s caretaker bishop, who is also the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, described himself as “having distanced himself from John Magee” in recent years and had not any contact with him recently.

He said he believed that the former Bishop of Cloyne was out of the country.

Bishop Magee has been accused of lying to the State over child protection procedures in the Cloyne Diocese where he and a senior assistant failed a succession of victims of clerical sex abuse.

The report also reveals that Bishop Magee was the subject of a complaint over an alleged inappropriate incident with a teenage boy. His actions were deemed to be “inappropriate behaviour” rather than abuse.

It took diocesan authorities three months to report on the matter to gardai once they were made aware of the allegations.

A file was later sent to the DPP who recommended no charges be brought against the bishop.

The complaint centred on an incident where Dr Magee “tightly” embraced a 17-year-old boy, referred to in the report as “Joseph” and allegedly kissed him on the forehead.

Joseph, who had been contemplating entering the priesthood, had a number of further meetings with the bishop, some when he was under 18 and some when he was over 18.

Dr Magee later denied kissing Joseph on the forehead but said he had made the sign of the cross on his forehead.

He acknowledged telling Joseph he loved him but later explained his intention “was to comfort the young man who was upset by family problems”.

Dr Magee was referred to a “boundary counsellor” who outlined what “constituted good practice in the area of touch in the context of pastoral relationship.”

The commission found that the case was dealt with appropriately.