Fundamental issues raised by review of Murphy report need to be aired
Opinion: ‘Naming and shaming’ of those who dealt with complaints may have violated principles of natural justice, priests’ review argues
Bishop Seamus Hegarty of Derry leaving an extraordinary general meeting to discuss the Murphy report in Maynooth in 2010. Photograph: PA
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) published a review of the Report by Commission of Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin (the Murphy report) and the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 some weeks ago. However, fundamental issues raised by the review have not been debated widely enough.
As Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said, the fact that more than 500 children may have been abused is a source of shame to all Catholics.
It could therefore be argued that disputing any aspect of the Murphy report risks drawing attention away from victims of child abuse. But there is another important argument. If the Act has fundamental problems, as the ACP alleges, this should concern every citizen.
Commissions of investigation have a complex history but in summary their mandate is to investigate system failures without damaging the constitutional rights of individuals. They must be robust but also just and fair.
The ACP review was written by barrister Fergal Sweeney, a judge in Hong Kong for many years. His report states: “In the course of its investigation the Murphy commission . . . went well beyond its mandate in respect of one category of witness by building up and making a ‘case’ (called ‘the commission’s assessment’) against individual clerics who testified before the commission, instead of being ‘concerned only with the institutional response to complaints, suspicions and knowledge of child sexual abuse”.
Our justice system exists for a reason: so that guilt or innocence may be decided within a framework that aims to protect those who have been damaged but also the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is the strong contention of the ACP review that natural justice was not granted to the clerics “named and shamed” in the Murphy report.
It is not, of course, talking about people charged and convicted of sexual abuse but rather about the priests and bishops who had a role in dealing with complaints.
It is very striking that when the Murphy report is critical of State authorities the individuals are named in only one or two cases. When it came to church authorities, in every case the individuals are named. How can this be justified, particularly since the report is highly critical of health boards and says the Garda response was also very flawed in some instances?
At the time there was justified and completely understandable anger about how the church had acted. However, as former attorney general Paul Gallagher stated in 1999: “Fundamental rights are designed, at least in part, to provide protection against the emotions of the majority and against high running feelings amongst the public.”