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Editor's Viewpoint: What secrets lie this side of border?

Published 27/11/2009

Even with the huge amount of evidence available to us, it is still difficult to fully comprehend the gross betrayal perpetrated on thousands of young children by the Catholic Church and state authorities in the Republic over a period of decades.

The very people that the abused children would expect to offer them solace and aid in fact colluded with the abusers to cover up a national scandal. The Ryan Report six months ago, which detailed the endemic abuse of children in Church-run institutions, was shocking. Yesterday's report of an investigation into how Church authorities and police reacted to known instances of abuse in Ireland's largest diocese of Dublin was, if anything, even more disturbing.

It showed that four successive archbishops covered up allegations of abuse to preserve the reputation of the Church and to avoid scandal. The protection of the institution was regarded as more important than the protection of vulnerable children. The Church's hierarchy, knowing full well the crimes committed by paedophile priests, tried to keep them secret and became accessories after the fact.

How impotent and frustrated those abused children and their families must have felt. They had no-one to turn to for justice. The police were as much in thrall to the Church as the ordinary God-fearing Catholic and often declined to interfere, instead leaving it to the Church authorities to handle the issue. Now, at last, those who were abused have had their revenge.

Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, whose department commissioned this latest investigation, has pledged that justice, although shamefully delayed, will not be denied and that those priests guilty of abuse - the investigation only referred to a sample of 46 in the period from 1975 to 2004 - will continue to be pursued. It is imperative that his promises are translated into action if his government is not to become yet another agent of disappointment to the abused.

This latest investigation showed the enormous influence of the Catholic Church in the Republic for generations. Not only was the general population in its grasp, but the apparatus of state was almost subservient to it. That power and privilege was abused and the scandal that the Church had hoped to avoid, has now engulfed it. The very many hard-working and devout priests have been as let down by their superiors as were the abused children. The church can never regain its secular influence - nor should it - and it will struggle vainly to retain any moral authority.

It is now imperative that a similar wide-ranging investigation is held in Northern Ireland. We know that abuse knows no borders. What we don't know is the extent of that abuse, both on children in care and on those living in the community. Our own secrets have awaited discovery too long.

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