Failure of Church to stop abuse led to suicides and settlements


BACKGROUND:Mervyn Rundle’s life could have been very different if complaints had been acted on, writes PATSY McGARRYReligious Affairs Correspondent

HAD BISHOP Donal Murray acted on complaints against Fr Thomas Naughton in 1983, Mervyn Rundle and others would have been spared the horrific abuse inflicted on them by the priest in later years.

Yesterday, Mr Rundle, who has great reason to be bitter but insists he is not, wondered “when are the guards going to start proceedings against these guys ”.

It’s just that “these guys” have “done wrong”, he said. He could not understand how they could still be bishops.

Had Bishop Murray acted appropriately when approached by parents in Valleymount with complaints about Naughton, Mervyn Rundle’s life would have been very different, and two other young men might still be alive. All were abused as boys by Naughton in Donnycarney – where he was moved to from Valleymount in 1984. Following further complaints there, Naughton was moved to Ringsend parish in 1986, where he continued to abuse.

The Murphy report is very clear on where responsibility lies for much of this. It said of Bishop Murray: “he did not deal properly with the suspicions and concerns that were expressed to him in relation to Fr Naughton (at Valleymount). When, a short time later, factual evidence of Fr Naughton’s abusing emerged in another parish (Donnycarney) Bishop Murray’s failure to reinvestigate the earlier suspicions (in Valleymount) was inexcusable.”

The report also found that this inaction by Bishop Murray and other authorities in the archdiocese meant “Fr Naughton was allowed to continue his abusive behaviour for several years, thereby damaging more victims”.

Such was the severity of the abuse in Mervyn Rundle’s case that he was awarded what is believed to be the largest ever settlement paid out by the Dublin archdiocese. It was significantly over €300,000, plus costs.

Another man – “Dave” (not his real name) – also settled with the archdiocese. Mervyn Rundle knew Dave. He recalled that two days after Naughton pleaded guilty to abusing Dave in Donnycarney, Dave took his own life. He wasn’t the only one. Mervyn recalled another man, also abused in the parish as a boy by Naughton, who took his own life before charges were brought in his case.

Speaking to this reporter at the Four Courts in Dublin on January 28th, 2003, just after he had reached his record settlement, Mervyn Rundle had a simple ambition. Then 28, he just wanted “to live my life and be normal like everyone else”. It had taken him 18 years to get to that point, he said then. Speaking yesterday, almost seven years later, he appears to have succeeded.

It has been a long haul.

He was nine and an altar boy when the abuse began in 1985. It was shortly after Naughton came to Donnycarney parish. The abuse continued through 1986. In 1998 Naughton received a three-year jail sentence for this abuse of Mervyn Rundle. That was reduced to 2½ years, on appeal.

The conviction followed a Garda investigation which began in 1995 when the Rundle family first reported the abuse to civil authorities. The family had first reported it to church authorities in Dublin in 1985, 10 years earlier.

Speaking at the Four Courts that January day in 2003, Rose Rundle, Mervyn’s mother, remembered how in 1985, “Mervyn came home and said, ‘that priest’s a queer’.” She continued: “I said, ‘what do ya mean?’ He said, ‘look at me’. All his clothes were messed up.” She contacted a family friend.

Her husband Mervyn snr, Mervyn jnr, and the friend went to see Mgr Alex Stenson, then chancellor of the archdiocese. Mgr Stenson asked to speak to Mervyn jnr alone. “He told me I was lying and said I better tell the truth very quickly,” Mervyn jnr recalled. He remembered the monsignor said: “ ‘Stop your lies, stop telling your lies’ . . . It was really fierce, really savage. I was terrified. But I said, ‘I’m not telling lies’. And I wasn’t.”

It emerged later that other Donnycarney parents had also complained to the church authorities about Naughton. They contacted Naughton. He admitted the abuse and was sent for treatment. Four months later he was back in parish work at Ringsend. There he resumed his abuse, targeting two altar boys in particular. After two years, and further complaints, he was removed from active parish work.

Despite all of this, the Rundle family were put through the wringer by Archbishop’s House.

It was why Mervyn Rundle was so happy that day – January 28th, 2003. “That’s what today means. It means that, finally, they have to admit that I was never telling lies, that all I ever told was the truth, just me, a 10-year-old child against all those big priests.

“This took seven years out of my life, and that’s just this one court case. They fought us every inch of the way. They started by telling us they’d give €75,000; take it or leave it.

“But I was determined. I mean, my life was in bits. Would you take €75,000 for that? No way. So we kept on fighting. We knew it was important to get the documents, because of all the meetings my father had had with them back when I was a child. And when my solicitor got them, there it was in black and white – they knew all about the priest, they knew that he was at children before he ever came near Donnycarney and me.

“And even then they still fought us, even though they had known this all along. It’s beyond belief, really, what they’re prepared to do. They made me go though seven years of fighting to get to this point. They could have saved me all that.

“One of the things that really hurts me is what they did to my parents. Both of them were very active in the parish. It was my father’s proudest day when he was made a Minister of the Eucharist. And then all this happened, and when my father went and told them at the archbishop’s palace about me being abused by Naughton, everything changed.

“My parents were shut out in the cold by the priests in the parish. They didn’t want to know my parents anymore; they cut them dead. That was just vicious.”

In 1995, Mervyn Rundle and his parents met Cardinal Connell about the abuse. He was very apologetic. But later, when the Rundles heard Naughton was still saying Mass publicly, they went to the gardaí.

Cardinal Connell did not inform gardaí that Naughton had admitted 10 years previously to abusing Mervyn. Mrs Rundle remembered how Mervyn “just cried and cried” after that meeting with Cardinal Connell. Mervyn, then 19, had become aware that other boys had been abused since he first reported the abuse to church authorities in 1985. “He cried so much because he felt guilty about the abuse of the others.”

After the settlement was announced, Cardinal Connell issued a statement expressing profound regret. He sincerely apologised, acknowledged that the abuse of Mervyn Rundle had occurred, and acknowledged that before he had been abused in 1985 “reasons for concern about the conduct of Fr Naughton had emerged which, had they been more successfully pursued, could have resulted in his withdrawal from parochial duties”.

There were five meetings with the archdiocese before the settlement and apology were agreed. Still, he was delighted. “I am delighted the Catholic Church has at last acknowledged the pain it caused a frightened young boy for so long,” he said.