Catholic hierarchy was granted police immunity in sex abuse cases, report finds

Paedophile priests got away with decades of horrific child sex abuse because the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland was granted police immunity, a devastating report has revealed.

Four archbishops, obsessed with secrecy and avoiding scandal, protected abusers and reputations at all costs and in some cases with the blessing of senior law enforcers.

Hundreds of crimes against defenceless children from the 1960s to the 1990s were not reported while police treated clergy as though they were above the law, it was revealed.

Details of a three-year investigation uncovered a sickening and devious policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the Dublin Archdiocese at the time.

It stunned the Republic and led to immediate and angry demands for negligent authorities and senior clerics to be prosecuted, including Cardinal Desmond Connell.

Maeve Lewis, of leading support group One In Four, hit out: “People, like Archbishop Connell, are as guilty as the priest who actually sexually abused the children.”

Andrew Madden, the first abuse survivor to publicly rip apart the Church’s veil of secrecy, said: “Those who turn a blind eye to these offences are as much a part of the problem as those who actually commit them.”

The Commission inquiry, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, uncovered a cosy relationship between the Church and authorities with senior gardai singled out for turning a blind eye and treating priests as untouchables.

Several senior gardai, including Commissioner Daniel Costigan in 1960, also felt priests were outside their remit, the report said.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern vowed to bring paedophile priests to justice, branding their reign of terror a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust.

“The persons who committed these dreadful crimes – no matter when they happened – will continue to be pursued,” Mr Ahern said.

“They must come to know that there is no hiding place. That justice – even where it may have been delayed – will not be denied.”

Cardinal Connell, aged 83, accepted failures and apologised.

“I wish to express without reservation my bitter regret that failures on my part contributed to the suffering of victims in any form,” the Cardinal said.

It is the second time this year that the Irish Government and the Catholic Church has been rocked by the unimaginable extent of child abuse and a sanctioned clerical cover-up ultimately supported by state institutions.

In May, the Ryan Report detailed decades of abuse of thousands of children in schools, borstals and reformatories run by religious orders.

The Commission’s damning conclusion said: “The Dublin Archdiocese’s pre-occupation in dealing with cases of child sex abuse, at least until 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.

“The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.”

The primary loyalty of bishops and archbishops, who moved abusive priests from parish to parish, was to the Church, the report said.

Four archbishops – John Charles McQuaid who died in 1973, Dermot Ryan who died in 1984, Kevin McNamara who died in 1987 and retired Cardinal Connell – did not hand over information on abusers over the years.

The first files were only revealed by the Cardinal in 1995, but even then he had records of complaints against at least 28 priests.

Bishop James Kavanagh, who is dead, retired Bishop Dermot O’Mahony, retired Bishop Laurence Forristal, Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray and disgraced Bishop Brendan Comiskey, a reformed alcoholic who failed to control paedophile priests when in charge of the Ferns Diocese, also all knew about child abuse for many years.

Current Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who opened the once secret Church files to investigators, said: “Excuses, denials and minimisations were taken from priest abusers who were at the least in denial, at worst devious in multiple ways, and decisions were taken which resulted in more children being abused.”

Elsewhere the Commission’s findings suggest some gardai effectively consented to priests’ crimes.

A part censored section sets out shocking levels of garda connivance after officers stifled one complaint, failed to investigate another and allowed an unnamed priest to leave Ireland.

It notes a memo detailing the Director of Public Prosecution’s stance and the Commission states: “The office commented on the incomplete nature of the investigation, for example, the failure to take statements from other children and the parents but the ultimate conclusion was: ‘Even if one could, I wouldn’t bother extraditing him’.”

Commissioner Costigan was singled out for not investigating a priest, Father Edmondus, when he simply passed on allegations to Archbishop McQuaid.

However there was no evidence of a paedophile ring, the Murphy inquiry found, but it uncovered what it called worrying connections such as links between two priests who abused the same boys.

The inquiry looked at accusations against a sample 46 priests.

It detailed an insurance scheme for victims set up by the Archdiocese in 1987 and Church files show at the time Archbishops McNamara, Ryan and McQuaid had, between them, information on complaints against at least 17 priests.

Cardinal Connell was credited for instigating two secret canon law trials which took place over the 30-year period and led to two priests being defrocked.

Monsignor Gerard Sheehy, a powerful figure in the Archdiocese fought to prevent the internal prosecutions.