Cover-ups exposed in Dublin report will shock most

 

RITE AND REASON:The Dublin Archdiocese report will have a profound impact on the Catholic Church’s authority in Ireland, writes PATSY McGARRY

OVER COMING days we are likely to witness something definitive where the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned. Publication of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation report is expected to confirm much, but it will shock even more.

This shock factor is unlikely to be centred on the abuse stories involved, or on their scale.

Following the Ryan report last May, it might be said that the Irish public has become almost inured to such depravity. But it is the scale of the cover-up in Dublin and the moral audacity of senior clergy involved which is likely to shock most of all.

Words such as “immoral” and “amoral” are expected to be on round-the-clock call among descriptions of the activities of the Dublin church authorities.

Indeed, stronger language may be employed as it becomes clear that the Catholic Church in Dublin operated a jurisdiction within a jurisdiction based on one consistent rule: protect the institution at all costs.

Those costs included the exposure, and indeed sacrifice, of vulnerable children, again and again, to predatory abusers.

There has been nothing like this Dublin inquiry, anywhere, before. The Ferns inquiry, which is nearest in character to Dublin, involved 26 priests and two bishops. The Dublin inquiry has involved a sample of 46 priests and 19 bishops, including four archbishops.

From what is known, its findings are damning. Bishops in Dublin moved priest abusers around from parish to parish, again and again, in most instances informing no one in the parishes, even its priests, of the newcomer’s proclivities.

In most such instances, too, they moved the abuser priests into poorer, working-class areas, where people were more trusting and less likely to ask questions and where, as elsewhere, it was the children of the most devout who were taken advantage of.

At one time it is known, for instance, that three such abuser priests were posted to one working-class parish on Dublin’s northside. In another Dublin northside parish, the presbytery was shared by one priest child abuser, a second priest and the latter’s mistress.

Nowhere before has Catholic Church authority been held to account on such a scale by a statutory body, on any issue. The irony that this should happen in Ireland will not be lost on many.

The likely exposure of a moral vacuum at the heart of Catholic Church authority in Ireland’s largest diocese will have a wider resonance. It will make it difficult to accept that this was a feature peculiar to the Catholic Church in Dublin or in Ireland.

The impact of the findings for the Catholic Church’s authority on this island are likely to be profound. The immediate effect of such large-scale betrayal will be renewed and radical focus on the role of bishops as patrons where Catholic primary schools in Ireland are concerned.

But that is not all. Its implications for the future of the clerical church in Ireland are grim.

We saw yesterday that the Bishop of Kerry, Most Rev Bill Murphy, has warned that “it is no exaggeration to say that, in the coming years, the church in Ireland will not survive without a committed and involved laity”.

He continued that it was “very likely” that by late next year some parishes in the Kerry diocese will be without a resident priest. And that is now.

Although there has been a rise in the number of first-year seminarians at Maynooth this year, it is the exception which underlines a rapid fall-off in vocations to the Catholic priesthood. There is no reason to believe that the Dublin report will halt that trend.

We are witnessing an unseemly end to a form of Catholicism which has been dominant in Ireland since shortly after the Famine. The Dublin report is likely to hasten that decline considerably.

That this has been brought about by the church authorities themselves, more than any outside influence, is another lesson in the consequences of abusing power.

It is, too, another powerful illustration of the corruption towards which such unchecked power leads.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent