Church's solicitor guarded every angle


A NAME that crops up with conspicuous frequency in the Cloyne report, when it comes to “restraint” on the part of Catholic Church authorities in co-operating with State inquiries into child sex-abuse allegations, is that of solicitor Diarmuid Ó Catháin.

This is the same Ó Catháin who advised Cardinal Desmond Connell when in 2008 he initiated High Court action against his successor as Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. That was an attempt to restrain Archbishop Martin from handing over documents to the Murphy commission which the cardinal deemed confidential to himself personally. Cardinal Connell later dropped the action and the documents were handed over.

This is the same Ó Catháin who attended a controversial meeting in Limerick on March 30th, 2006, as a member of the interdiocesan case management advisory committee of Cloyne and Limerick dioceses. Set up in 2005, this committee advised then bishop of Cloyne John Magee and then bishop of Limerick Donal Murray on handling allegations of clerical child-sex abuse.

At that meeting Ó Catháin and two priests representing Limerick diocese met 37-year-old Peter McCloskey, who alleged that in 1980 and 1981 he was repeatedly raped by a priest in Limerick. Bishop Murray later issued a statement saying he “completely accepts the truth” of McCloskey’s allegations.

Deirdre Fitzpatrick, then of the One in Four group, accompanied McCloskey at the meeting and recalled he was “very distressed and disappointed” afterwards.

She was critical of Ó Catháin for suggesting the diocese could sue McCloskey for costs should he proceed with court action. Three days later, on April 1st, 2006, McCloskey died by suicide.

Ó Catháin was solicitor for Cloyne diocese. Msgr Denis O’Callaghan was child protection delegate there. Both were on the interdiocesan case management advisory committee of Cloyne and Limerick dioceses, set up in 2005. This, the report said, “was not appropriately constituted” as Msgr O’Callaghan and Ó Catháin’s other roles “made it virtually impossible for them to give the sort of independent advice which the bishops needed”.

A member of this committee said the meetings were dominated by Msgr O’Callaghan, Ó Catháin and the priest delegate from Limerick. “It was not permissible to express a contrary opinion,” he told the commission.

The Cloyne priest delegate from 2008 to June 2010, Fr Bill Bermingham, told the commission Ó Catháin “did not agree with the procedures and policies underlying the [Bishops’ 1996 Framework] document”, as the report put it.

Ó Catháin told the commission he had reservations about the mandatory reporting element of the document the bishops had adopted “despite his expressed views to the contrary”. He said he saw no conflict in his being a member of the case management advisory committee while acting as solicitor for the diocese in clerical child sex-abuse cases.

An indication of Ó Catháin’s approach can be gleaned from the case of Fr Drust. An allegation was made in 2002 by “Ula” that she had been sexually abused by the priest between 1967 and 1971. In 2003 gardaí sought a statement from Bishop Magee. Ó Catháin told the commission he explained to a Garda sergeant investigating the case that “if a matter was discussed in confidence with a bishop, the bishop could not disclose the confidence without first getting, obtaining, the consent of the person who had reposed the confidence”. He told the sergeant, as he recalled it for the commission, he believed “it was in the interests of the common good that Magee should not be asked to make a statement”.

When, later, the sergeant met Bishop Magee, he was assured of total co-operation. It was not to be the case. Through a solicitor, Bishop Magee declined to make a statement or to supply a copy of Ula’s handwritten account. His solicitor said the document was “a church document and hence confidential”. Bishop Magee would not make a statement “in consideration for the public good and the maintenance of the confidentiality of the church”.

In the case of Fr Brendan Wrixon, accused of abuse by “Patrick”, Bishop Magee gave two accounts of a meeting he had with the priest on September 22nd, 2005. An accurate account, where the priest admitted guilt, was sent to Rome and a fictional one, where he denied the allegations, was for diocesan records. When asked by the commission why he prepared two accounts, Bishop Magee said he had inquired from Msgr O’Callaghan and Ó Catháin about his correspondence to the Vatican and “was assured it was a privileged relationship and. . . would not be discoverable. . . ” He found out later this was not so. According to the report Ó Catháin told the commission he had “no recollection of Bishop Magee consulting him directly about this issue. . . ”

In the summer of 2008, the case management committee reacted vigorously to draft findings of the church’s child protection watchdog – its National Board for Safeguarding Children – that child protection practices in Cloyne were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”. On July 9th, 2008, it sent a forcefully-worded letter to the board saying: “If you issue this report in its present form or include its distortions in your forthcoming annual report, we shall have no choice but to seek remedies in either ecclesiastical or secular courts or both.” Among the signatories were Msgr O’Callaghan and Ó Catháin.

Fintan O’Toole is on leave