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Summary of clerical sex abuse scandals in Ireland

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

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The pontiff prayed for victims of clerical abuse (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

The pontiff prayed for victims of clerical abuse (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

The pontiff prayed for victims of clerical abuse (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Pope Francis has confronted the issue of abuse which has rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland over the last two decades.

During the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, the pontiff prayed for victims of clerical abuse.

In a meeting with eight people representing those who were abused in a variety of institutions and by members of the clergy, the Pope expressed his disgust at those who covered it up.

But some of the victims and survivors want him to go further and make a public apology to victims.

Allegations of physical and sexual abuse as well as mistreatment 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.

Even in 2018 more are continuing to emerge with the latest adoption records scandal.

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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

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Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth leaves Limavady Courthouse after being extradited to the Republic of Ireland (Brian Little/PA)

Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth leaves Limavady Courthouse after being extradited to the Republic of Ireland (Brian Little/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Paedophile priest Brendan Smyth leaves Limavady Courthouse after being extradited to the Republic of Ireland (Brian Little/PA)

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.

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 the four archbishops who were serving during that period – John Charles McQuaid, Dermot Ryan, Kevin McNamara, and Desmond Connell – 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 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.

– Magdalene Laundries

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Twin sisters Mairead Manley, left, and Breda Kennedy, survivors of the Goldenbridge Magdalene laundry stand with president Michael D Higgins at a reception at Aras an Uachtarain (Brian Lawless/PA)

Twin sisters Mairead Manley, left, and Breda Kennedy, survivors of the Goldenbridge Magdalene laundry stand with president Michael D Higgins at a reception at Aras an Uachtarain (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Twin sisters Mairead Manley, left, and Breda Kennedy, survivors of the Goldenbridge Magdalene laundry stand with president Michael D Higgins at a reception at Aras an Uachtarain (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tens of thousands of women were effectively incarcerated in laundries run by Catholic orders of nuns.

They operated across Ireland from the 18th century until the final institution on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin closed in 1996.

The laundries were opened for “fallen women”, but many survivors have since revealed that many of those who worked in the laundries had committed no sin.

A number of former inmates have given accounts of suffering sexual, psychological and physical abuse in the laundries where they provided free labour.

In 2001, the Irish Government acknowledged the women in the laundries were victims of abuse.

In 2013 a report following an 18 month inquiry found there had been “significant” state collusion in the admission of thousands of women into the institutions.

Then Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a formal state apology to the women who had been in the laundries, describing the institutions as “the nation’s shame”.

Compensation has been paid out to around 680 Magdalene laundry survivors.

– Illegal Adoptions

In June it emerged that between 1946 and 1969 some placed by the former adoption society, St Patrick’s Guild, had incorrect information registered on their birth certificates.

The names of the people they were placed with were incorrectly recorded as their birth parents.

Children’s charity Barnardos say an investigation is needed into at least 150,000 adoptions, and it believes 10% of cases will be found to be illegal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the revelations as another dark chapter in the country’s history.

An audit is underway.

– 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 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 “no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and its cover up” in the future.

During his visit to Ireland Pope Francis met with eight abuse survivors at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Dublin.

He reportedly referred to those who covered up abuse as “caca”, the Spanish word for excrement.


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