Magee took 'little interest' in managing allegations of abuse


SUMMARY:The Cloyne report is not convinced that State laws and guidelines on the protection of children are sufficiently strong and clear

THE RESPONSE of the Cloyne diocese to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse from 1996 to 2009 was “inadequate and inappropriate”, the report by the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne has found.

The response of the Garda was, with a few exceptions, adequate and appropriate, as was the response of the health authorities “given the information available to them and limited powers which they have”.

The commission says the primary responsibility for the protection of children rests with the State and adds that it is not convinced the State’s laws and guidelines are sufficiently strong and clear for this task.

The Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, was ineffective and appeared to take little real interest in the implementation of existing church guidelines on child sexual abuse for 12 years, according to the 341-page report.

It says the man he allowed to exercise the authority of the diocese in this area, Msgr Denis O’Callaghan, was “uncommitted” to the guidelines, he frustrated their implementation and acted in what he perceived were the best interests of the church.

“The commission accepts that he was personally kind in many respects to some complainants but kindness is not enough when dealing with criminal activity or with people who have been abused.”

The report blames Bishop Magee for allowing Msgr O’Callaghan to be in charge of the diocesan policy on child sexual abuse for many years without supervision. “The extent of the inertia of the bishop which made these things possible is remarkable.”

The report describes the handling of “allegations, complaints, suspicions and concerns” about child sexual abuse in respect of 19 clerics. One of these, and the only person who is named, is Bishop Magee.

Although the Cloyne inquiry grew out of an original investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, the report makes its clear that the context differs significantly.

The Cloyne report deals with allegations made from 1996, the year the Catholic Church put in place detailed procedures for handling child sexual abuse allegations. It was also two years after the Fr Brendan Smyth case.

“This meant that the so-called ‘learning curve’ which it was claimed excused very poor handling of complaints in other dioceses in the past could not have had any basis or relevance in Cloyne,” the report states.

The commission received complaints about 32 named clerics and one unnamed cleric in Cloyne and proceeded to investigate 19 of these cases. Eleven of the clerics are dead while a number of others have retired.

IT SAYS ITS main task was to consider whether the diocese responded adequately or appropriately to allegations of child sexual abuse, judged by the high standards of the church’s policy set out in a “framework document” in 1996.

The guidelines in this document were not fully or consistently implemented during the period 1996 to 2009, it finds. The primary responsibility for this failure rests with Bishop Magee.

“It is a remarkable fact that Bishop Magee took little or no active interest in the management of clerical sexual abuse cases until 2009, 12 years after the framework document was adopted,” the report finds.

As a result of this “vacuum”, the handling of cases was carried out by others, principally Msgr O’Callaghan, who did not approve of the procedures set out in the framework document.

Describing the reaction of the Vatican to the framework document as “entirely unhelpful”, the report claims this gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed. It also gave “comfort and support” to those, like Msgr O’Callaghan, who dissented from official church policy.

Bishop Magee told the commission he was shocked to discover in 2009 that the document was not being implemented. However, the report says this response was totally inadequate. “Bishop Magee was the head of the diocese and cannot avoid his responsibility by blaming subordinates whom he wholly failed to supervise.”

Although ultimate responsibility lay with the bishop, in practice the implementation of the framework document was “stymied” by Msgr O’Callaghan, whose compliance was “limited and incomplete”.

The report rejects the contention of the diocese that it did implement the church procedures for dealing with abuse allegations. Its “greatest failure” was to not report complaints to the Garda.

Between 1996 and 2005, 15 complaints were made which should have been reported to the Garda; of these, nine were not reported. Two of the unreported cases involved minors and in another case, Msgr O’Callaghan reported the complainant’s name but not that of the perpetrator.

The diocese also failed to report complaints against deceased priests until 2009, in contravention of the church’s rules.

Between 1996 and 2009, just one complaint was reported to the health authorities. The diocese is also faulted for not appointing separate support people for complainants and for not setting up an advisory panel that was independent.

THE REPORT POINTS out that the diocese was told in 2004 that it was not implementing the framework document properly. An independent expert, Dr Kevin McCoy, examined eight cases and found that reporting obligations were fully complied with in only one case.

Msgr O’Callaghan said he did not see the full McCoy report until 2009 but the commission says it is astonishing that he did not look for a copy. The failure to read and take heed of this report is “quite extraordinary”.

The commission says one of the ironies of Msgr O’Callaghan’s position was that it was clear from the evidence that he believed the complainants. This made his failure to implement his own church’s policy all the more surprising.

The report is also critical of the recording of information about abuse complaints by the diocese, some of which was undated or handwritten and difficult to read, and of its failure to carry out proper canonical investigations.

One priest in the diocese tried to report to Bishop Magee about complaints but was discouraged. Five more failed to pass on the information they had received.

There was no case in which the diocese moved priests against whom allegations had been made; a number of priests were retired.

The commission, while praising most of the gardaí who handled abuse complaints, expresses concern about three cases.

In the first, an investigation was not started. In another case, a statement taken from a young man was put in a drawer and forgotten about, while in the third, the evidence given by a garda differed from the statements he made to earlier Garda investigations.

The commission says it was not its task to establish whether or not child sexual abuse occurred or whether or not there was a basis for the suspicions and concerns expressed.

It says it has done its utmost to preserve the anonymity of complainants and of clerics but regrets that it was not possible to report the case involving concerns about Bishop Magee without identifying him.