No victory possible for cardinal

 

Cardinal Connell should know he has taken a wrong turn in trying to prevent clerical child abuse investigators examining church files - even his erstwhile supporters are not backing him, writes Patsy McGarry.

One outcome is already certain where current High Court proceedings initiated by Cardinal Desmond Connell are concerned. That is the further damage it has inflicted on his reputation.

He wants the High Court to decide against allowing the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation access to the approximately 5,000 files he believes are privileged to him but which have already been forwarded to the commission, under order, by his successor as Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.

If the cardinal succeeds it will be assumed widely that he is attempting to hide something and/or to hinder the commission in its work. If he doesn't succeed it will be believed that he tried to do just that.

It is a no-win situation, whether the court finds for him or not and this is something the cardinal himself must know, certainly by now.

It is clear he is in very deep trouble when even his most staunch allies remain so remarkably silent while he is in bother. They have been silent since last Thursday when he secured an interim injunction preventing the commission from accessing those files until the High Court decided on the matter.

It is clear he has gone too far when Senator Ronan Mullen, a barrister and most loyal member of the cardinal's communications staff for almost five years, says: "I just think that there are just so many people, traditional Catholics if you like, who just don't understand and don't see the point of what Cardinal Connell's lawyers have done. They do see it as a kind of cover-up mentality."

Senator Mullen's passing of blame to the lawyers is noticeable. He went further last Sunday on TV3's The Political Party programme. "We have to bear in mind that Cardinal Connell is over 80, he's in very bad health, he would be very dependent on the legal advice that he's been given," he said.

But his sentiments were unequivocal. He also said "there is a legal case there, whether the case should have been brought in the first place. I think I might have a very different view of that."

The cardinal has been consistent in his inconsistency where his handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations have been concerned, and for so long now. Again and again he has protested his determination to disclose all. Again and again he has done otherwise.

For instance at a Maynooth press conference in April 2002, following the BBC's Suing the Pope documentary, which dealt with clerical child sex abuse in Ferns diocese and was responsible for the later Ferns inquiry, he said the clerical child sex abuse issue had "devastated" his period of office as archbishop of Dublin since he assumed that position in January 1988.

He removed two priests from the ministry because of it shortly after becoming archbishop, he said. So he was aware of the issue from very early in his period as archbishop. Yet it was not for seven more years - in 1995 - that he arranged a trawl of diocesan files to see whether there were other such cases there.

He told that same 2002 press conference the trawl covered the previous 50 years - back to 1945 - after which he supplied the names of 17 priests to the Garda and the names of those who made the complaints.

Last May, in the latest update on findings of a new and ongoing trawl he initiated through the same diocesan files, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin disclosed that since 1940 they had found records of abuse allegations (135) and suspicions (12) made against 147 priests in the archdiocese, involving 380 people known or suspected to have been sexually abused.

Does one conclude that those 130 priests absent from the cardinal's 2002 disclosures of his 1995 trawl, had allegations/suspicions levelled at them between 1940 and 1945, and between 1995 and 2007 - that additional 17-year period covered by Archbishop Martin's trawl?

Or must we conclude that the cardinal adopted a narrower definition of what constituted such abuse?

Then there was the Marie Collins case. She was abused as a child by chaplain Fr Paul McGennis in 1960 when she was a patient at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children. He pleaded guilty and served a sentence.

When she came forward in 1995 the Dublin archdiocese refused to confirm to gardaí that McGennis had admitted the assaults. Cardinal Connell told Marie Collins this could not have been done as the priest had not been warned in advance that his admission could be used in evidence against him.

At a meeting in 1996 he told her the archdiocese would not co-operate with gardaí in the investigation into McGennis, despite the Irish bishops' own strict guidelines, published months earlier in January 1996. They recommended that "in all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious, the matter should be reported to the civil authorities".

They continued: "Where the suspicion or knowledge results from the complaint of an adult of abuse during his or her childhood, this should also be reported to the civil authorities."

Marie Collins pointed this out to Cardinal Connell. He said, according to her, that the guidelines had no effect in civil or canon law, that they were only guidelines. For his part, he said he told her the guidelines superseded both canon and civil law.

Whoever recollects correctly, what is obvious is that Cardinal Connell went against the spirit of the bishops' 1996 guidelines in the case.

Then there was Father Ivan Payne. In 1993 he paid Andrew Madden compensation of £30,000 for abuse in 1981.

In May 1995 Cardinal Connell told RTÉ he had paid out no money in compensation to any victims of clerical child sex abuse. In September 1995 it emerged that Payne had secured a £30,000 loan from the archdiocese to pay Andrew Madden.

The cardinal threatened to sue RTÉ for libel when this was revealed. "To say that we paid compensation is completely untrue," he said.

He never sued RTÉ.

Privately a kind, scholarly man, he is himself a victim of the clerical child sex abuse tragedy that has befallen the Catholic Church in Ireland as elsewhere. But, as with other controversies he has been involved in, he has contributed in no small way to that himself.

He must often regret that the man he was in 1988 - a 62-year-old metaphysician looking forward to retirement, to walking his dogs and listening to Mozart - was not allowed go his way rather than receiving that call to assume a role which has become his long Gethsemane.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent