Church and abuse: Previous reports




Background: In March 2002, the screening of the BBC broadcast documentary Suing the Pope included the testimony of Colm O'Gorman, who was abused as a teenager by Fr Seán Fortune in the diocese of Ferns, and three other men. The following April Mr O'Gorman met the then minister for health Micheál Martin, after which time an inquiry was established to investigate how allegations of clerical child sex abuse were handled by both church and State authorities in the Ferns diocese between 1962 and 2002.

Findings:The report investigated complaints made by 100 individuals against 21 priests, among them Seán Fortune, who was involved in a number of rapes and sexual assaults around the country over a period of two decades. It strongly criticised the way the Catholic Church handled allegations of child sexual abuse over a period of 40 years. From the 1960s until 1980, the report found Bishop Donal Herlihy regarded priests who sexually abused children "as guilty of moral misconduct" but said he did not seem to recognise "the wrongdoing was a serious criminal offence". His successor, Dr Brendan Comiskey, "failed to recognise the paramount need to protect children, as a matter of urgency, from potential abusers" and the report accused him of providing erroneous information to one Garda inquiry and failing to co-operate fully with another. Although gardaí properly investigated most cases of abuse, prior to 1990 there appeared to be "reluctance on the part of individual gardaí" to properly investigate allegations of abuse involving priests.




Background: The 2002 RTÉ series Cardinal Secrets, produced by Mary Raftery, investigated the handling of child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese. Then minister for justice Michael McDowell labelled the programme "deeply disturbing" and in November 2002 a government pledge to establish a full independent judicial inquiry resulted in the Commission of Investigation Act 2004. In 2006, an investigation was established into the handling of allegations of clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese by church and State authorities from January 1st, 1975, until April 30th, 2004.

Findings:The report detailed cases involving 46 priests, involving more than 320 children, most of them boys. It found four successive archbishops of the Dublin archdiocese had handled allegations of child sexual abuse with "denial, arrogance and cover-up" and did not report the abuse to gardaí. Many auxiliary bishops were also aware of complaints of child sex abuse yet assignments of priests to parishes were often made without any reference to these issues. It found the structures of the church facilitated the cover- up of abuse. Senior gardaí regarded the actions of priests as being outside their remit and some gardaí reported complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them.


MAY 2009

Background:In 1999, RTÉ broadcast States of Fear, a series written, produced and directed by journalist Mary Raftery which exposed sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect of children in institutions run by religious orders on behalf of the State. It led to an apology in May 1999 by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern on behalf of the State to those abused in these institutions. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was set up in 2000 to investigate industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities and day schools from 1914 onwards.

Findings:The report found that thousands of children suffered physical and sexual abuse over several decades in 216 residential institutions run by religious orders, implicating more than 800 priests, brothers, nuns and lay people. The commission heard from more than 500 witnesses who said they had been sexually abused, while over 90 per cent of witnesses reported physical abuse.

The report criticised the Department of Education for failing to carry out its “statutory duty of inspection” out of deference towards the religious congregation. It found religious congregations were not prepared to accept responsibility for the sexual abuse carried out by their members and did not listen to or believe people who complained of sexual abuse.


JULY 2011

Background:In 2008, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church published a report which criticised how the diocese of Cloyne handled complaints from five people against two priests.The then minister for children, Barry Andrews, instructed that an inquiry by the Commission of Investigation into the Archdiocese of Dublin also included the diocese of Cloyne.

Findings:The report investigated allegations and complaints of clerical child sexual abuse between 1996 and early 2009 concerning 19 clerics. It deemed the response of the Cloyne diocese inadequate and inappropriate. It found that, in nine cases, complaints which should have been reported to gardaí were not while none of the complaints between 1996 and 2008 were reported to the HSE.

It accused the Vatican of giving comfort to dissenters within the church to the Irish bishops’ procedures for handling child sexual abuse and revealed that, in a secret letter to the bishops, the Vatican described the 1996 rules as “merely a study document”.