Vatican fears over redress costs drove Cardinal Sodano indemnity proposal

It had been estimated in 2004 abuse crisis compensation would cost Irish dioceses €50m

The year 2004 was a significant one in the long, tortured annals of the clerical child sex-abuse scandal in Ireland. Particularly significant was the passing of the Commissions of Investigation Act by the Dáil in July of that year.

Presented by then minister for justice Michael McDowell, it was designed to allow for faster and more cost-effective statutory investigations than was the case with the tribunals of inquiry.

More pertinently, in the context, it was also a response to Mary Raftery and Mick Peelo's Cardinal Secrets programme which investigated allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in Dublin's Catholic archdiocese. It was broadcast on RTÉ One television's Prime Time in October 2002.

The Commissions of Investigation Act mandated the government to set up the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation which began its work under Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy in March 2006. Its report, published in November 2009, has come to be known as "the Murphy report".


The Cloyne report, published in July 2011, was conducted under the same Act and the current Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation is also being conducted under the terms of the same Act.

Two inquiries

When Cardinal Angelo Sodano met then minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern at the Vatican in November 2004, there were already two abuse inquiries under way in Ireland.

The Ferns inquiry, under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy, had begun its work in March 2003 and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, established in May 2000, was ongoing under Mr Justice Seán Ryan.

By then it was also clear that redress for the abused was on the cards.

Announcing the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Dáil Éireann the previous year (May 1999) following RTÉ's broadcast of the States of Fear three-part series that investigated abuse in residential institutions for children run by religious congregations, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern said a redress board would also be set up to compensate people who had been in those institutions as children.

Redress board

Over two years later, in October 2001, then minister for education and science Michael Woods announced the setting up of the redress board. Almost immediately the then religious congregations' representative body, the Conference of Religious in Ireland (Cori), announced its willingness "to become involved in principle" with the State redress scheme.

It was acting on behalf of the 18 congregations that had run the orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools concerned.

Lengthy and difficult negotiations concluded in January 2002 with the congregations agreeing to pay the State €128 million (IR£100 million) in return for being indemnified against all future actions by former residents of the institutions for children that they had managed.

However this very controversial deal did not indemnify other church authorities against legal actions by people who had been abused in parishes, or elsewhere, by priests.


A meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference in May 2004 was told that it could cost the church as much as €50 million to cover compensation and help for victims of clerical child sex abuse in parishes over the following decade. The bishops were invited to offer proposals as to how the money might be raised.

It was a State indemnity in such cases that Cardinal Sodano had in mind when meeting Dermot Ahern at the Vatican on November 12th, 2004, according to the former minister for foreign affairs.

Mr Ahern remembers the cardinal had just returned from the US where the church had agreed substantial settlements.

By then the church in the US had already paid out millions of dollars in compensation to abuse survivors.

In 2004, the US Catholic Diocese of Orange (California), settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million. In July 2003, the Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million and that year also the Archdiocese of Boston paid out $85 million with many more actions pending in other US Catholic dioceses.

The trend was clear when Cardinal Sodano met Mr Ahern. By the end of 2007, Associated Press estimated that the US Catholic church had paid out $2 billion in settlements. By 2012 that figure was put at $3 billion, with eight dioceses declared bankrupt.


It was in 2004 also that former archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December 2002 following revelations by the Boston Globe Spotlight team of his systematic cover-up of clerical child sexual abuse there, was appointed to one of the plum clerical posts in Rome.

He became archpriest of one of Rome’s major basilicas, that of St Mary Major. It entitled him to a chauffeur-driven car, a city apartment, an estimated income of €10,000 a month, and the right to say one of the nine daily Masses that follow the death of a pope.

He did so in 2005 when Pope John Paul died, to the deep annoyance of the people of Boston. Cardinal Law held the post until November 2011, when he reached the age of 80. He died last December.

To date in Ireland the 18 religious congregations have yet to fulfil the terms of the 2002 indemnity deal and of later offers they made to the State.

Of that €128 million they agreed to pay in 2002, €4.21 million (3 per cent) is still outstanding.

Redress costs

More significantly, following publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, all 18 congregations were called in by the government of the day and asked to increase their contributions to redress costs.

It followed a recommendation by Mr Justice Ryan in his report that the congregations pay half the costs of redress, with the taxpayer paying the rest.

Combined, the congregations offered a further €352.61 million, of which €103.17 has been paid over (in cash and property), or 29 per cent.

The redress scheme has cost the taxpayer €1.5 billion with 15,579 people, who had been in institutions managed by the congregations as children, receiving awards which averaged €62,250 each.


May 2000: Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Commission) set up.

October 2001: Redress Board established

January 2002: Deal concluded with 18 religious congregations under which they would pay the State €128 million towards redress costs in return for indemnity against any future legal actions.

March 2002: BBC broadcasts Suing the Pope about the abuse of Colm O'Gorman by Fr Seán Fortune in Ferns diocese. Bishop of Ferns Brendan Comiskey resigns.

October 2002: RTÉ broadcasts Cardinal Secrets by Mary Raftery and Mick Peelo which investigated the handling of clerical child sex-abuse cases in Dublin's Catholic archdiocese.

March 2003: Ferns inquiry begins its work under former Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy to investigate the handling of clerical child-sexual abuse allegations in that diocese.

November 2003: Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano met with former president Mary McAleese where, she says, he sought an agreement with Ireland that it would not access church documents relating to clerical sexual abuse.

May 2004: A meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference at Maynooth is told costs to the Church in Ireland of compensating abuse victims could be as high as € 50 million over the following decade.

July 2004: Commissions of Investigation Act passed by Dáil mandating Government to set up Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation into the handling of clerical child-sexual abuse allegations there

November 2004: Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano meets minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern where, Mr Ahern says, an indemnity was sought by the Vatican against any future legal actions.