Clerical sex abuse scandal has led to few convictions

Questions raised as victims feel justice is being denied

The clerical child sexual abuse scandal has led to a low conviction level of alleged perpetrators in the courts. Photograph posed by model: iStock

The clerical child sexual abuse scandal has led to a low conviction level of alleged perpetrators in the courts. Photograph posed by model: iStock


One of the more remarkable features of the clerical child sexual abuse scandal has been the low conviction level of alleged perpetrators in the courts.

Last September the National Board for Safeguarding Children, the Catholic Church watchdog in Ireland, published a report looking at 325 allegations made against 141 members of six religious congregations.

Of those, the report found, only eight led to convictions.

Whatever the explanation, there is no doubt a sense of justice denied can compound the distress of abuse victims.

One such person is Jim. He is in his 30s, and his life “has been destroyed by the negative effects of sexual abuse”. So said his psychiatrist in a 2011 report seen by this newspaper.

It added that Jim was now on “very significant doses of antidepressant medication”.

Jim’s psychotherapist, who had treated him “regularly” over the previous four months, said he “was groomed for abuse from his first meeting with Fr Z”.

The priest “took advantage of ‘the collar’ and the trusting religious nature” of Jim’s family.

The psychiatrist and psychotherapist agreed that “for many years” Jim “coped by blocking out the reality of the abuse”.

The psychiatrist’s report gives some insight into the cost to Jim of the abuse. While it occurred many years before he met his wife, it damaged their relationship.

“The couple have had no sex life since Jim confided in her,” the psychiatric report said.

“On one occasion, the report said, a stranger came up to [Jim’s] wife and asked, ‘Is your husband gay’?”

Jim has since moved out of the home, away from his wife and their children.


It said Jim’s wife “finds it difficult to support him”. Depression comes over him “in waves”.

“He feels sullied and unclean. He feels guilty and distressed for upsetting his wife.”

The psychiatrist, who has “extensive experience in dealing with victims of sexual abuse,” believed “two events broke his [Jim’s] denial and allowed him confront the abuse”.

Complaints had been made against Fr Z “by others”, and the priest asked Jim “to act as a witness for him in connection with an allegation and to lie on his behalf”.

Secondly, “getting married was also a turning point – forcing [Jim] to confront his past”.

The others who made complaints against Fr Z are referred to in 2009 letter from the priest’s bishop. Also seen by The Irish Times, it was a decree by the bishop removing Fr Z as a parish priest.

The bishop said he was doing so because of the priest’s “inappropriate behaviour with young males” and listed four examples. Jim was included. His alleged abuse occurred in 1999 and 2000.

The bishop also quoted an assessment by a treatment centre abroad for Fr Z, who had been sent there by the bishop.

It said Fr Z posed a “moderate risk to become over involved with individuals who are emotionally vulnerable and approach him in a state of heightened dependence”.

The psychiatrist said Jim was not in a position to make a statement to gardaí about his experiences before 2011.

“Realisation of sexual abuse often occurs as a gradual dawning. Abusers are usually older and well-practised. They identify vulnerable boys and worm themselves into their victim’s confidence.

“By the time sexual contact occurs the victim feels complicit and trapped. It becomes extremely difficult to admit abuse without losing face.”

The psychiatrist’s report said Jim had “a long way to go in counselling. He still feels guilty and projects his anger onto himself.

“His marriage has been damaged by his friendship with [Fr Z]. He wants to repair this damage and move on with his life.”

Significantly, at this point the psychiatrist clearly expects criminal charges to be brought against Fr Z, and adds: “I am prepared to give evidence in this case if required.” It was not required.

Gardaí took lengthy statements from Jim, his wife, his mother and father. Fr Z was arrested, a statement was taken and he was released. A file was sent to the DPP, but no charges were brought against Fr Z.

In a response to a query from The Irish Times about the prosecution, a spokesperson for the DPP said “this office does not comment on individual cases”.

No charges

The only sanction against him was his removal from ministry by the church, which has him under ongoing supervision.

A professional familiar with the case told this reporter he knows that Fr Z “has committed numerous sexual assaults of minors over the past 30 years”.

He added: “I’ve nothing to suggest that this man isn’t still preying upon and abusing vulnerable people.”

He claimed “the gardaí have been aware of complaints against this priest going back to the 1980s”.

He said he hoped that “if this could somehow be publicised, it might encourage victims past or present to come forward to the authorities.

“The problem is that each victim obviously knows what happened to them as individuals, but have no idea that they weren’t the only person that [Fr Z] has preyed upon.”

The figures raise questions in this regard. The Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children found that in the diocese where Fr Z ministered, the number of priests accused of child sexual abuse was in the double digits.

None of these priests has been convicted.