Archdiocese report must be watershed for Church

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 21st October, 2009 5:00pm

Later this week, potentially the most explosive report on clerical sex abuse in this country will be published. It is a report, we are being forewarned, that will shake the Church in Ireland to its core.

The 700-page report of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation comes four years after the Diocese of Ferns report which saw that diocese branded as the "worst in the world". This latest report is expected to be even more devastating than Ferns and will focus on the failure of the Church authorities and the State to curb the activities of predatory priests, serial sex abusers within the Church and the subsequent systematic cover-ups of these activities by those in authority.

There have been grim warnings all week both in the media and, indeed, from church pulpits, that the revelations contained within the Dublin Archdiocese report will make for very uncomfortable reading. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin himself warned several months ago that the report would shock everyone. Just a few months after everyone learned of the sickening depravity visited upon children in reformatories and industrial schools in Ireland in previous decades, the latest revelations are set to make the Catholic Church in Ireland a "far humbler Church", in the words of Archbishop Martin.

The report is not going to be published in its entirety after the High Court ruled that one chapter relating to a particular cleric cannot be published for fear it could prejudice criminal proceedings against the priest. However, the rest of the report will detail how allegations of child sex abuse allegations against a sample of 46 priests were handled by the Church and State authorities between 1975 and 2004.

The reputations of some of Ireland's most revered hierarchical figures of the past century will be in the dock as a litany of systematic cover-ups is set to be uncovered, as well as information on how rapists and serial sex abusers were moved from parish to parish without either congregations nor fellow priests being made aware of their evil pasts. As many as 500 children have been identified within the archdiocese as having been the victims of paedophile priests, it is understood.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has already taken such a battering in recent years that many may well feel compelled to walk away from it after this week. Those who cling to their faith by their fingertips but who want to remain will want to see and hear a contrite acknowledgement from all senior figures in the hierarchy that how the Church in this country conducted itself in the past cannot in any way be condoned or countenanced ever again. Throughout the last decade and more, the Church has been its own worst enemy in failing to come to terms with the utter mismanagement of the past and the wilful obstructions placed in the way of those seeking to uncover the darkest secrets it desperately wanted to keep hidden.

This report into the Dublin Archdiocese must be the Church's last opportunity to attempt to repair its shattered reputation and shredded credibility. The present Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, sent in by the late Pope John Paul II to clean up the mess in Dublin, has, it needs to be acknowledged, taken firm steps to bring to an end this sordid chapter in the Church's history in Ireland by making available files and audits he has conducted on the goings-on in Dublin. Furthermore, he has appeared compassionate, sincere and honest in his dealings with victims.

If only there had been more like him, then perhaps the Church might have faced up to its responsibilities at an earlier stage and this dark chapter might have been dealt with more satisfactorily at an earlier stage, and the victims might not have had to wait so long for the type of vindication and closure they so desperately crave.

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