Collins's determination helped end church cover-up of decades

 

BACKGROUND:McGennis’s activities first came to the attention of the Dublin archdiocese in 1960, writes PATSY McGARRYReligious Affairs Correspondent

THE JAILING of Paul McGennis yesterday was a further landmark in the campaign over many dark years by Marie Collins.

Her determination helped pull down a cover-up by Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese that had gone on for decades. This man had blighted the lives of children.

The Murphy commission concluded “there is no doubt that Collins, in her often lonely campaign to show the archdiocese how it had erred in its handling of child sexual abuse cases, was instrumental in changing the archdiocese’s understanding and handling of these cases . . .”

Referred to as Fr Edmondus, in the Murphy report, it records that McGennis was chaplain at the children’s hospital in Crumlin from 1958 to 1960. In 1976, when he was based in a Wicklow parish, he abused a nine-year-old child. His conviction yesterday concerned his abuse of a young girl between 1980 and 1984.

McGennis’s activities first came to the attention of the Dublin archdiocese in August 1960. Scotland Yard then contacted gardaí when a processing company in the UK reported film taken by McGennis of two young girls aged 10 or 11. Garda commissioner Daniel Costigan brought this to archbishop John Charles McQuaid “because a priest was in question”, as the commission put it. The Garda did not investigate further.

The archbishop “limited his activity to dealing with the priest’s problem”, the commission said.

In 1985 Ms Collins told local curate Fr Eddie Griffin about her abuse and being photographed at the children’s hospital in 1960 when she was 13. He told her not to name her abuser, or he would have to do something. He offered Ms Collins absolution “to do away with her guilt . . .”

It was 10 more years before she could take the matter further. Fr Griffin told gardaí he and other seminarians “had been advised while in college not to seek the name of priests that allegations were being made against”.

In 1993 complaints about McGennis’s contact with young children in Edenmore parish in Dublin were made to church authorities. In October 1995, Ms Collins wrote to archbishop Desmond Connell about her abuse by McGennis. A trawl was done at Archbishop’s House. It uncovered the 1960s complaint. Ms Collins’s letter was passed to then chancellor of the Dublin archdiocese and its child protection delegate, Msgr Alex Stenson. He met Ms Collins.

The commission found it was “very clear that Monsignor Stenson believed Mrs Collins”, but that he did not tell her about the other incidents involving McGennis. He did tell the Garda in November 1995, with the consent of archbishop Connell.

He later said he had no consent to tell Ms Collins until he met her in March 1996, when he told her McGennis admitted abusing her. This he had not told the Garda.

He told her McGennis was no longer in a parish but was receiving treatment. In truth, McGennis was still in Edenmore and was not removed from ministry until January 1997.

In March 1996 there was a complaint against McGennis arising from his time in Wicklow. Gardaí asked to meet Msgr Stenson, and did so in May 1996. They asked to see McGennis’s file. Msgr Stenson refused. Canon law would not allow it, he said. He was asked about his confirmation to Ms Collins about McGennis’s admission that he abused her.

He “expressed dismay” on hearing the letter referred to by gardaí. He would not have written it “had he known that she would be handing over the letter to the gardaí”. He refused to make a statement to gardaí confirming the McGennis admission.

In December 1996 Ms Collins met archbishop Connell. He admitted not confirming to gardaí there was another 1960s case on file about McGennis, as to do so “would undermine people’s confidence in the church . . .”

He told her the church’s 1996 framework document wasn’t binding in either canon or civil law, and that “he could follow what parts of it he wanted to follow”. He told her “he had to protect the good name of the priest who had abused her”.

In June 1997 McGennis pleaded guilty to his abuse of Ms Collins and was sentenced to 18 months.

Days later he received a nine-month concurrent sentence for his abuse in Wicklow. The total sentence was later reduced to nine months on appeal.

In a statement after McGennis’s conviction, archbishop Connell said the diocese had been co-operating with gardaí in the case. The commission noted that Msgr Stenson said “the diocese never claimed it had co-operated fully, with the emphasis on the word ‘fully’, with the gardaí”.