Focus shifts to likelihood of abuse by religious in missions
THE PAST is slowly catching up on Irish missionaries. As the one group within the Catholic Church that had escaped direct condemnation over the child sexual abuse scandals, they now sit uncomfortably in the spotlight.
The first three religious congregations to be investigated by the Irish church’s child protection watchdog all have significant missionary operations. The Spiritans (formerly Holy Ghost Fathers), the Dominican Friars and the Sacred Heart Missionaries were criticised to varying degrees by the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), the latter especially so.
While the board’s terms of reference are limited to investigating congregations’ compliance with child safeguarding standards in Ireland, its work is also helping to shed light on practices overseas.
Taken together with previous inquiries, it points to a serious catalogue of abuse and cover-up in mission countries – but one that has yet to be fully investigated.
One of the worst cases cited in the 2009 Murphy report, which examined abuse by priests in the Dublin diocese, was that of convicted paedophile Fr Patrick Maguire. The Columban Father worked in Japan between 1961 and 1974, where his abusing was first reported to the congregation by a nun. In 1997, Fr Maguire admitted to having abused about 70 boys in a number of countries, 13 of whom were in Japan.
Other convicted abusers with a missionary background include: Fr Gus Griffin, a Spiritan formerly based in Sierra Leone, who was jailed in 1998 for 7½ years; and Fr Thomas Naughton, who was also convicted of abusing boys in Dublin, and had previously served under the Kiltegan Fathers in Nigeria.
A disturbing policy identified in both the Murphy and Ryan reports was that of moving known offenders overseas. The pseudonymous Brother Adrien, for example, was removed from an industrial school in the late 1960s after being labelled by peers as “positively dangerous”, according to the Ryan report.
“He later spent 10 years on missionary work. There is no reference in his personal card to his ever receiving any sanction or warning in relation to his abuse.”
In its report on the Spiritans this week, the NBSC similarly notes: “In some instances, priests/brothers were moved either out of the country or to other ministries, where they continued to abuse children.”
Neither religious congregations nor the Catholic hierarchy has shown any desire to examine the extent of wrongdoing in missionary settings. The fact that abuse victims have not as yet come forward in large numbers appears to have much to do with the taboo attached to the subject in developing countries, allied to the relative difficulty in pursuing complaints.
Ironically, the first time anyone put serious resources into examining the issue was when RTÉ’s Prime Time Investigates commissioned its ill-fated Mission to Prey programme.
Its libelling of Fr Kevin Reynolds removed the issue from the public limelight as quickly as it had placed it there. Yet broader questions for the missionary movement remain.