Commission's inquiry should be extended to all dioceses

Judge Yvonne Murphy's shattering report on the obsessive secrecy and culture of covering up sex abuse scandals in the Dublin archdiocese was every bit as bad as had been predicted, and sees the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland facing its greatest ever crisis after it was revealed that not only were thousands of children raped and abused by Catholic priests, many of them serial offenders, in the Dublin diocese over a 30-year period, but that the allegations of abuse were completely mishandled by both Church and State authorities. The devastating abuse report accuses the Church of denial, arrogance and cover-ups, adding that there was no regard for child welfare among bishops. The report has been severely critical of the handling and covering up of abuse complaints by some of the most senior hierarchical figures within the archdiocese. The Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation was established in 2006 to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse involving Dublin diocesan priests, as well as priests and members of religious orders who worked in or were attached to the capital's parishes and schools. The inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese also concluded that the State authorities, including An Garda Siochana, facilitated the covering up of abusive clergy by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law be applied equally to all. There are many good members of the clergy who will have questioned their calling in the past week following the revelations, many of whom may be forced to spend the next decade or more trying to rebuild trust and confidence in the Church as a result of the conclusions of the Murphy report. Many members of the faithful are extraordinarily angry at what has gone on behind their backs over several decades, particularly when one considers the high esteem in which the Church has been held in this country over the generations. There is a raw sense of revulsion and anger at the appalling acts committed against children but also a huge sense of injustice at how those children were then dealt with and how often abusers were left free to abuse without being sanctioned. The moral authority of the Church has been almost completely eroded by the latest disclosures following on from the many scandals which have rocked the institution in the years since the 1980s, and questions will inevitably follow on whether it is appropriate in the future for the Church to have control over matters like the education of children in schools. These are matters for another day. However, the anger that is being felt around the country should not, in the words of Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, for one moment deflect us from what needs to be done. Those who committed these dreadful crimes - no matter when they happened - will continue to be pursued and they must know that there will be no hiding place. And there is a clear duty on everyone to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent such abuse happening in the future. The reverberations arising from the Murphy report will continue for some time. But one of the calls from the victims of these crimes - and one that will undoubtedly find wide support everywhere - is that the remit of the commission be extended to all Irish dioceses. What happened in Dublin and Ferns may well have happened elsewhere as the policy at senior levels within the Church in these two dioceses was to cover up and avoid scandal at all costs rather than confront the issues. As abuse survivor Marie Collins said last week, the victims in the remaining Irish dioceses - and there are many of them - also deserve justice and for the diocese in which they lived to be fully investigated as to how it handled abuse allegations which were made. It is a call backed by a local parish priest in Meath who believes such a move is entirely warranted. Fr Martin Mulvaney, PP in Johnstown, said at the weekend that this issue would continue "to keep coming up if we don't deal with it". He said it was unfair to victims if it has to be raised year after year and that a nationwide investigation would "maybe give us the opportunity to start again somehow". The reality is we know little or nothing about what occurred in the 20-odd other dioceses throughout Ireland. However, in those few dioceses which have been looked at, serious failings and similar patterns of wrongdoing have emerged. Quite apart from giving a voice to abuse survivors throughout the country to tell their own stories, it behoves a Church which preaches about truth and justice to be open and transparent in opening its files to investigators everywhere. In one of many devastating findings of the Murphy report, the commission concluded that victims and their families frequently behaved in a much more Christian and charitable way than the Church authorities did. And that is one of the most devastating findings of all.