Belfast Telegraph

Archbishop accused of church sex abuse cover-up dies

Cardinal Desmond Connell, the former Archbishop of Dublin criticised for his role in a Catholic church cover-up of child sex abuse, has died aged 90.

He had been ill for some time and passed away peacefully overnight in his sleep, the Dublin Archdiocese said in a statement on Tuesday.

Born in the capital in 1926, Cardinal Connell was appointed Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland in 1988 - making him the most powerful church figure in the Irish Republic.

A noted Catholic theologian and academic for much of his career, his appointment surprised many and some thought he was not suited to the high-ranking public role.

But three years later, he was elevated again on being made the first Dublin-based Cardinal in 120 years by Pope John Paul II.

He remained Archbishop until 2004, by which time he was coming under growing pressure to resign over revelations about paedophile priests operating with impunity in the archdiocese.

Although he claimed he was appalled at the scale of abuse when he took office, he appeared slow to address the issue, opting for secret internal church tribunals to defrock abusive priests rather than potentially explosive public prosecutions.

In 2008, Cardinal Connell caused outrage and narrowly avoided a damaging public row with his successor when he mounted a High Court challenge to try to block a judge-led inquiry into church sex abuse having access to 5,500 files on priests and abuse allegations.

He claimed legal privilege and secured a temporary injunction before withdrawing the legal action two weeks later.

The following year, the inquiry - known as the Murphy report - criticised his handling on child sex abuse allegations.

But he was credited with handing over the names of 17 suspected abusers to gardai.

His successor Archbishop Diarmuid Martin identified hundreds of complaints.

Cardinal Connell later asked for forgiveness from child sex abuse victims who suffered at the hands of paedophile priests under his control.

The senior cleric said at the time he was distressed and bewildered that those in such a sacred position could be responsible for the heinous crimes.

Professor Moore McDowell, an economist who worked with Cardinal Connell during his time as an academic, said he was not the right person to lead the church in the Republic.

"He was reserved and kind and had fixed opinions," he told RTE radio.

"He was pre-Vatican II in his approach to theology and he was very shy.

"I'm sorry he has died. He had a long life and he lived it according to his own lights.

"He was not the right person for the job but he did his best."

But John Kelly, of the Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), said Cardinal Connell will be remembered with anger by many victims.

"He died leaving many, many unanswered questions and the truth hasn't come out," he said.

"From the victims' perspective, they will be saying this guy died without facing justice and I think they will be quite angry.

"Some will say good riddance but I think more will regret that he didn't face justice.

"Why do we keep talking about sins? These were crimes that these priests committed and it was a crime to cover it up."

Enda Kenny said the late cardinal will be remembered for his humility and gentleness.

"Cardinal Connell had a long and distinguished academic career and while his time as Archbishop was controversial, those who knew him recognised his desire for holiness and his gentleness and humility of character," the Taoiseach said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Cardinal Connell was a strong advocate for social justice and had highlighted the difficulties facing communities in inner-city Dublin.

"Throughout his life he dedicated great passion and commitment to the people of his diocese," he said.

"Dr Connell led the Dublin diocese at a very difficult time and recognised the need to allow younger generations to take-up leadership roles in the church."

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph