By Jennifer O’Connell
There is some good news out of the Murphy Report. Since 2008, the Church has been putting prospective seminarians through rigorous psychological testing.
The bad news is that they don’t actually look for signs of paedophilia.
Instead, the testing is focused on what the Vatican coyly calls “areas of immaturity in development” including things like "rigidity of character; lack of loyalty; uncertain sexual identity; deep-seated homosexual tendencies, etc."
The Report quotes a recent judgment of the Congregation for Divine Worship which states that: “The ordination .. of homosexual persons or those with a homosexual tendency is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent and .. very risky.”
On paedophilia, there is not a word. But that’s hardly surprising.
Since the 1920s, paedophilia has been the dirty little secret the Church goes to extraordinary lengths to cover up. The Vatican’s guidance on how to deal with what it referred to as “the worst crime” was first published in 1922, in Latin. It was republished in 1962 - once again, in Latin.
This document is shrouded in the utmost secrecy, issued with strict instructions that it is to be stored in a special archive. So confidential is it, in fact, that Cardinal Desmond Connell claims he has never seen it.
This gives a hint as to why it doesn’t really matter what the Garda investigation, instigated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, into the question of whether a paedophile ring operated within the Catholic Church, eventually finds.
Of course, there is plenty of evidence that, at a mechanical level, some kind of paedophile ring did indeed operate. The Report recounts how “Fr Carney and Fr McCarthy abused children during their visits to children’s homes”; how the same Fr Carney abused children at swimming pools, and was sometimes accompanied on these outings by a convicted paedophile, Fr Patrick Maguire.
Later, the report reveals how, when the priest it identifies as Fr ‘Ioannes’ was being investigated for the abuse of a young boy, Fr Boland - who was not in the diocese - turned up at the young boy’s home offering comfort, and abused the boy himself.
So at the very least, individual priests were giving one another a friendly nudge in the direction of every vulnerable, accessible, already-broken boy or girl.
But far, far more troubling are the ways in which the Church appeared to almost institutionalise paedophilia, which it seems – in stark contrast to its unflinching views on homosexuality - to regard as a weakness that is treatable, and ultimately forgivable.
It would be comforting to think that the decades of inaction on child abuse were a result of the Church’s naivety about all matters sexual. But it would be wrong.
Naivety cannot explain the evidence ignored; the complaints not investigated; the incidents of ‘mental reservation’; the secret payouts; the collusion between the Church leaders, the gardai and the health board to protect the reputations, the livelihoods, and even the access to a fresh supply of children, of the abusers.
In effect, the Catholic Church has been at the centre for many years of what is a large-scale, state-sanctioned, paedophile ring.
This is not simply hyperbole: what is a paedophile ring, if it is not a group of people who co-operate with one another to facilitate the widespread sexual abuse of children?
Because that is exactly what happened. With the collusion of the Vatican, Irish Church leaders, senior gardai and individuals within the health boards, paedophiles were allowed to roam scout halls, hospital corridors, swimming pool changing rooms, institutions, classrooms and even private homes in search of vulnerable young flesh.
When a complaint was made, they were moved on to a new area and a new supply of children. To their new colleagues and parishoners, it was made clear that no questions were to be asked, and none would be answered.
For many years the Church even promulgated the myth perpetuated by all paedophile operations – that child abuse is ‘not unusual’; it is a relatively harmless rite of passage; something you might – as one handwritten Diocesan memo puts it – “have a word .. about at some stage”.
Open any page in the second part of the report, and the extent of the collusion and cover-up comes spilling out.
Take Father James McNamee, the priest who ran his own kind of Turkish bath in two swimming pools at his house in Crumlin, one indoors and one outdoors, which were exclusively for the use of boys.
Confronted in the late 1970s about concerns that had been frolicking naked with boys, Father McNamee announced he wanted to retire, but was urged to stay on for a further six months, to “avoid damage to his reputation.” When he was dispatched down to the Carmelite nuns in Delgany, who were not told by Cardinal Connell or Bishop Murray of the reasons for his transfer, he rediscovered the joys of swimming, regularly taking groups of young boys down to Brittas Bay.
Or take the dangerous recidivist paedophile, Father Maguire, who abused children in Japan, Ireland and England, and was sent by way of damage limitation on “missionary promotion work” in schools around the country, to minimize his opportunity to “establish relationships which might be dangerous”.
Appallingly, it wasn’t just the church authorities who were guilty of such collusion.
In 1960, the gardai were contacted by Scotland Yard about a photographic film that had been sent to England for developing by the then-chaplain of Our Lady’s Hospital, Father ‘Edmondus’. The images on the negatives were of the private parts of girls aged ten or eleven.
The Garda Commissioner immediately decided there wasn’t enough evidence to conduct an investigation – and handed the file back to Archbishop McQuaid. McQuaid interviewed Fr Edmondus, and concluded that they were simply “art photos’’ expressing “wonderment” about the female form, and that to send the priest on retreat would “defame him”.
Edmondus went on to serve a jail term for abusing a 9-year-old girl in Wicklow, and abused countless other children, including Marie Collins.
And on it goes.
Father Patrick Maguire, who was sent home from Japan after abusing a number of children there – incidents which the Society of Saint Columban regarded as “not that unusual”, and his Church-appointed psychiatrist put down to his “loneliness in a foreign country” – and went on to abuse many more than 100 children over the next 20 years. Self-confessed abuser Father ‘Ioannes’, who got a personal recommendation from Cardinal Connell to a parish in San Diego describing him as “an excellent priest in many ways”.
Yet of all the sordid details collated about these disgusting men in this ruined organisation, it is the frequency with which one statement is repeated that nauseates more than anything else. “Yet again, the emphasis was on the avoidance of scandal and the protection of the priest’s reputation rather than the protection of children.”
All week, supporters of the Church have been making the predictable calls to stop looking back and look forward.
But we haven’t even properly begun to look back. This Report only covers the Archdiocese of Dublin. It doesn’t even cover all the abusers in the Archdiocese of Dublin – merely a representative sample of some 46 against whom complaints were made.
This is only the tip of a very large, very ugly and – from the Church’s point of view – very ominous iceberg.
First published in The Sunday Business Post on December 6, 2009