Belfast Telegraph

Catholic Church facing new allegations of cover-up over abuse

By Greg Harkin, Anita Guidera and Colm Kelpie

Pressure is mounting for further judicial inquiries into clerical sex abuse in Catholic dioceses around the country after a series of damning reports suggested that many cases were covered up.

Audits conducted by a church child-protection watchdog found serious delays in reporting allegations to gardai in one diocese, while in another, priests were routinely moved from parish to parish following complaints.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) found that 164 separate allegations had been made against 85 priests, dating back to 1975.

However, fewer than one in 10 of the priests complained of ended up being convicted.

The NBSCCC findings were published yesterday about the six dioceses, including Tuam, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Kilmore and Dromore. But the most serious conclusions were in relation to Raphoe and Londonderry.

The audits found:

  • In the Raphoe diocese, successive bishops made "significant errors of judgment" when allegations were made against priests. A total of 54 claims were made against 14 priests in the diocese.
  • Church personnel responsible for child protection in Raphoe were unaware of reporting guidelines.
  • Priests against whom allegations were made in the Derry diocese were systematically moved from parish to parish where there was "evidence that abusive behaviour continued".
  • No priest in the Derry diocese was convicted of child abuse over the past 36 years, despite dozens of allegations and a number of out-of-court settlements.

The conclusions have increased pressure for further judicial inquiries, similar to the Murphy and Ryan commissions.

The reports firmly put the spotlight on Bishop Seamus Hegarty, who stepped down as Bishop of Derry last week on health grounds.

Before his appointment to Derry in 1994, Bishop Hegarty had served as bishop of the neighbouring Diocese of Raphoe for 12 years. Under his tenure the notorious paedophile Fr Eugene Greene was allowed to serve in seven parishes across Co Donegal.

"I now look back and know that my practice in the past was sometimes poor and I am deeply sorry that anyone was hurt through my management of allegations historically," said Dr Hegarty in a statement last night.

His predecessor in Raphoe, Bishop Anthony McFeely, was also singled out for mishandling complaints dating back to the 1970s.

The current Bishop of Raphoe, Dr Philip Boyce, admitted the diocese probably had the worst record for child sex abuse in Ireland. He apologised to abuse victims, saying these "horrific acts of abuse of children by individual priests should never have happened."

He continued: "We are truly sorry for the terrible deeds that have been inflicted on so many by a small minority of priests.

"We offer our humble apologies once more and seek their forgiveness for the dreadful harm that has been done to them, their families and friends."

However, victims of clerical sex abuse last night demanded that further state inquiries be set up to further probe the findings of the audits.

Martin Gallagher (45), who was abused by Fr Greene, told the Irish Independent: "There was no voice for the victims in any of these audits and nothing short of a full state investigation will get to the truth.

"We are being asked to believe that audits of church-held files by a church-appointed body has uncovered the whole truth of what has happened in this country. I don't know any victim who believes that."

Some 41 of the 85 priests against whom allegations were made remain alive today.

Of these, 14 are retired, while the remaining 27 are no longer in ministry.

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