Belfast Telegraph

Time to remove those who turned blind eye to abuse

Catholic Church leaders must pay for failing to act in child sex cases, says John Cooney

The public mood in the Republic is for the prosecution and incarceration of Church leaders who facilitated child clerical abusers by following canon law confidentiality, rather than the due process of civil and criminal law.

This mood has hardened after a week in which Irish Catholics went through, yet again, the horror wringer with the delayed publication of chapter 19 of the Murphy Report about how Church authorities in the Dublin archdiocese failed hundreds of working-class children by allowing 'the most notorious child abuser', Tony Walsh, to rape for at least two decades.

For the past six years, the public has been put through this wringer, with the Ferns Report, the Ryan and Murphy reports - and is bracing itself for the pending report on ex-Bishop John Magee and the diocese of Cloyne. But, so far, not one senior cleric has been brought to book. Last week, too, UTV's Insight programme broadcast the plea of a woman, raped in Cavan in 1993 when she was only 12 by 'the devil Brendan Smyth', for Cardinal Brady to resign as Primate of All Ireland. Her case is based on the fact her life would not have been ruined if 18 years earlier the then Fr Sean Brady had informed gardai about Smyth's criminality rather than swear to secrecy under canon law two of the Norbertine monk's child victims.

The spotlight has now turned on Monsignor Alex Stenson, the former chancellor of the Dublin archdiocese. Mgr Stenson has defended his handling of abuse complaints, which he conducted under a canon law vow of secrecy. The newly-published section of the Murphy Report on Walsh praises the former clerical bureaucrat for his note-taking of the serial paedophile, but is far less admiring of his omitting to tell parents of victims there was a pile of other complaints against the priest.

Mgr Stenson is also criticised for his failure to pass information on Walsh onto gardai and, on one occasion, to have noted how he 'evaded' a garda question regarding other cases against Walsh.

He also needs to ponder the consequences of the commission's finding that the archdiocese should have informed gardai of all of its concerns, but did not do so.

Archbishop Martin, who did everything he personally could to nail the still-in-denial Walsh, has called him a serial paedophile who should have been stopped as far back as the mid-1980s.

In 1985, Mgr Stenson spoke to Walsh who "denied nothing". A clear admission of guilt by Walsh.

But, instead of handing him over to gardai, the archdiocese transferred Walsh from parish to parish.

Significantly, Walsh's victims insist that "the rot" be rooted out of the Church. By rot, they mean the removal from office of those clerics who were involved in the Church's all-powerful administrative echelons. They want an end to the ecclesiastical secrecy which grounds down their demands for justice.

While the commission commended Cardinal Connell for his eventual defrocking of Walsh, it must not be forgotten it took from 1988 to late-1995 before he first reported his knowledge of child sexual abuse to gardai. Even then, he provided only the names of 17 priests with complaints against them - considerably lower than figures later given by his successor, Dr Martin.

Furthermore, Cardinal Connell tried to prevent the commission's examination of almost 6,000 church documents over which he claimed privilege and only dropped his legal challenge in the face of Archbishop Martin's determination to cooperate fully with the commission.

A Christmas card depicting the removal of Church leaders tainted by the cover-up - such as Cardinals Brady and Connell, Bishop John Magee, Dublin auxiliary bishops past and present and Mgr Stenson - would at least have the merit of being closer to the spirit of the stable at Bethlehem.

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