The Rape of Irish Children

The publication on November 26th of the report by Judge Yvonne Murphy into how the Irish State handled allegations of child sex abuse by priests in the Dublin diocese prompted widespread calls for action against both bishops and State officials. But so far, no sign.

The report found that hundreds of allegations against scores of priests over a 30-year period had been covered up by successive archbishops of Dublin and ignored – even when evidence was handed to them – by the gardai (police). The report found that senior gardai routinely referred complaints to the Church and allowed the Church to conduct investigations or not, and to take action or not. Not was the Church’s consistent preference.
The allegations ranged from “touching up” to “ordinary” rape to stuffing a crucifix into a child’s vagina.

The report detailed: one priest admitting sexually abusing more than 100 children; another confessing that he had abused on average once a fortnight during a 25-year stint; one complaint made against a priest which had been ignored, allowing the abuser to violate at least six other children; one case in which gardai took 20 years to decide on a prosecution.

Murphy reported regular “inappropriate contacts” between the civil authorities and the Archdiocese. “A number of very senior members of the gardaí, including the Commissioner (Patrick Costigan) [the State’s top policeman in the early 1960s] clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit.”

The report concludes: “The welfare of the children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered.”

Whether the report will lead to change even in the long term may be doubted. Even now, the Vatican will likely be pondering the latest dispatches from the Irish battle-front and pursing its lips with satisfaction that it hasn’t taken a serious hit.

Hard pounding, Your Holiness, but we’re coming through in good shape.

This confidence of the outcome has been most clearly expressed in the continuance of the cover-up even after the report’s publication. More brazen than ever, the conspirators are hiding in clear sight.

There’s scarcely a bishop in the 26 Irish dioceses who hasn’t issued a statement in the past fortnight explaining how dismayed/distressed/shocked/bewildered he’s been to discover the extent of the depravity perpetrated by priests and the failure of some of his fellow bishops to alert the civil authorities. Some of the more plausible performers have been wheeled out to widen their eyes for the cameras in displays of wonderment….“I cannot begin to understand the mentality…” They still take the people for fools.

Complaints of clerical abuse of children in Ireland have been in the public arena for at least 25 years. Occasionally, flurries of allegations have resulted in spates of publicity. But these tended to be short-lived. The local bishop might even apologise in the local paper. The response of the Northern as well as the Southern Irish State ranged from the inadequate to the inert. But you could bet the Lenten Collection that the Church itself was paying attention throughout, tracking every complaint, monitoring reaction, clucking with satisfaction that the faith of the people remained strong and resistant to any radical conclusion.

Now they ask the people to believe that they didn’t have an inkling of the full extent of the criminality until very recently. They never discreetly enquired of one another during prayer breaks at their conclaves at Maynooth or All Hallows, How’s that business with Fr. So-and-so going? Any more word about that wee girl from such-and-such? Is the mother in that other case still on-side?

Pull the other one, your Lordships, it’s got church-bells on.

The Church’s enmeshment with the State helps explain this confidence. On December 1st, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowan claimed in parliament that the Vatican had “acted in good faith” in refusing to cooperate with Judge Murphy. The authorities in Rome and their representative in Ireland, the Papal Nuncio, had refused even to answer letters from Murphy asking for access to their files on abuse allegations.

A State which had genuine concern for its children would have responded to the report by taking decisive action to remove the Catholic bishops as patrons of primary schools. Three thousand of 3,200 primaries in the Republic have bishops as patrons – with the power to hire and fire and complete control over the school’s “ethos”. No less appropriate category of men could be imagined to have such power over the moral formation of children. But not a single member of parliament – not one! – has urged the Government to take this obvious action.

Control of education is at the heart of the matter. A ferocious determination to secure the right to train the consciousness of the next generation dictated the Catholic hierarchy’s attitude to the emerging Irish State in the early years of the last century. Give us your children and we’ll give you our backing against the British and help shore up your State. The State was born in the embrace of the Church and hasn’t fully recovered from its origins

In the North, the Church did its dirty deal with the anti-Catholic Unionists. Control of the education of the children of Catholic parents in return for a commitment to keep the Catholics as docile as possible. The arrangement lasted at least into the 1980s, when the Northern bishops told the British government that if it proceeded with a plan to integrate teacher training the Church would be unable to restrain the anger of the faithful. That is, Lay a finger on our control of teacher training and we’ll stop condemning the IRA from the pulpit. And it worked.

Not that the IRA – now transmogrified into Sinn Fein – has proven any more useful that the other useless parties to the raped children of Ireland.

Consider a case from the North: A priest is transferred from the South into a Derry parish. The night before he arrives, the priests in the parochial house are visited by an emissary from the bishop who tells them to “keep an eye” on their new colleague, and specifically to ensure that he is not left alone with children. Over the next few months, despite two curates taking turns to follow him around, he rapes two little girls. The family of one of the girls informs the bishop. He ignores them. They then write to the Cardinal, the most senior Churchman on the island, describing the assault on their daughter in heart-rending terms and the shattering effect both on her and the family. The Cardinal acknowledges the letter, expresses sympathy – and assures the family that he will remember them in his prayers. The rapist is moved out of the parish and hidden in a monastery in the South. When he is traced there and exposed, the bishop lies in public that the Church had earlier informed the civil authorities of the allegations. The priest is eventually jailed.

The bishop concerned has been among those seen on television in the past fortnight explaining that the situation in his diocese regarding the handling of allegations of child sex abuse has always been tickedy-boo.


EAMONN McCANN can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com


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Eamonn McCann is an Irish journalist and political activist. He can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com

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