Even those who have been following the revelations about child abuse by priests very closely must be confused by the mixed messages coming from the Catholic Church.
Firstly Cardinal Sean Brady, who was present in 1975 when two children were sworn to secrecy about attacks on them by paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth, tried to defend his inaction by |saying he was not the person designated to report the matter to police or social services.
Since then other church figures have given conflicting views on the responsibilities to report incidents of child abuse. Some cling to the old idea that the matter should be dealt with according to canon law rather than civil law, while others, quite rightly, believe allegations of abuse should be reported immediately to the civil authorities.
Yesterday this newspaper carried a report of one case in the Derry diocese where the victim was abused over a long period of time, starting when she was eight. Today after statements from |diocesan spokesmen, the Bishop for the area, Dr Seamus Hegarty, said the girl had been paid £12,000 compensation by her abuser who also offered an apology. The statement said the priest had been removed from parish ministry after the family had notified Bishop Hegarty, but that took 18 months. The only comfort from the Bishop’s statement is the assertion that nowadays the diocese is committed to reporting immediately all allegations of abuse. But even today — after the exposure of hundreds of incidents of child abuse by priests and members of religious orders — the church still gives the impression of floundering on what to do about past crimes. The church is in |turmoil and its surest hope of salvation is to start a full inquiry into abuse in Northern Ireland. It must make full disclosure of all incidents known to it and what action, if any, was taken. Otherwise the drip, drip of allegations will erode its remaining authority and the respect of the faithful.