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Summary of clerical sex abuse scandals in Ireland

The Catholic Church has faced several inquiries over its response to historic allegations.


Abusive priest Brendan Smyth leaving court (Brian Little/PA)

Abusive priest Brendan Smyth leaving court (Brian Little/PA)

Abusive priest Brendan Smyth leaving court (Brian Little/PA)

The clerical child sex abuse scandal has rocked the Catholic Church over the last two decades.

Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic institutions and clerics began to emerge from the late 1980s.

However, it was not until the 1990s that revelations of paedophile priests and sex abuse in children’s homes was publicly exposed following pressure from victims and survivors as well as public opinion and media reports.

A number of criminal cases and Irish government inquiries exposed the extent of horrific crimes and uncovered details of how hundreds of priests abused thousands of children over decades.

– Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth

One of the most infamous cases was Belfast-born paedophile Brendan Smyth who abused over 140 children over four decades.

Smyth was arrested in 1994 in Belfast but went on the run to the Republic of Ireland where he spent three years.

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The mishandling of his extradition led to the collapse of the Irish government.

The revelations led to a number of inquiries set up in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

– The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse

Commonly known as the Ryan Report, the inquiry looked into child abuse in institutions run by religious orders.

It was established in May 2000 and went on to detail horrific neglect by religious congregations who were left to look after children.

It documented the rape and sexual assault of children, who were kicked, physically assaulted, and forced to carry out labour.

More than 90% of witnesses reportedly being physically abused.

The report, published in 2009 made a number of recommendations including those to help protect children.

The redress scheme cost more than 1.25 billion euro.

– The Ferns Report

The report, published in October 2005, documented more than 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1962 and 2002 against 21 priests in the Diocese of Ferns.

The report, which addressed how allegations were handled, and stated that between 1960 and 1980 it appeared that Bishop Donal Herlihy treated child sexual abuse by priests of his diocese exclusively as a moral problem.

– The Murphy report

The 2009 Murphy report investigated allegations of child sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin over the period 1975 to 2004.

Released by Judge Yvonne Murphy, the report examined complaints about the alleged sexual abuse of over 320 children.

The report consisted of three volumes and cost a total of 3.6 million euro.

It stated that the four archbishops, John Charles McQuaid, Dermot Ryan, Kevin McNamara, and Desmond Connell, who were serving during that period, handled complaints badly.

One of the priests who admitted abuse stated he did so more than 100 times.

Another did so fortnightly for 25 years.

Along with clergy, the Gardai were accused in the report of covering up the scandal.

– The Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry

The HIA looked into historical allegations of abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.

The largest number of complaints stemmed from four different Catholic-run institutions.

Chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, it found found that priests and lay people sexually abused children.

Last year, Sir Anthony recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.

However, the collapse of the Northern Ireland government has led to a delay in implementing his findings.

– Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was set up following claims of mass burials of hundreds of children at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.

There has also been evidence of illegal adoptions in Church-run institutions.

It is ongoing.

– Pope apology

In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter of apology for all of the abuse that had been carried out by Catholic clergy in Ireland.

In May 2010, Pope Benedict established a formal panel to investigate the sex abuse scandal, saying that it could serve as a healing mechanism for the country and its Catholics.

In August 2018, Pope Francis apologised in an open letter to victims of clerical abuse saying that “no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and its cover up” in the future.

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