Lessons from Ireland for our sex abuse inquiries


Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, pictured during a press conference in Sydney. (AFP/Roslan Rahman)

by Joan Evatt

May 28, 2013

I don’t buy magazines. Like many others the only time I get to read magazines is when I’m sitting in a waiting room.

It is interesting to note the class system in magazines. Waiting at a dentist’s, or doctor’s surgery I catch up with what Brad and Angelina or something called a Kadashian, a breed of peahen apparently, and, of course, what the royals did twelve months ago. Hairdressers have a more up-market collection of magazines from which to choose, with Vogue, Madison,Vanity Fair (which actually does have some written featured articles in it) to tempt you while you are having your hair ‘done’.

So what do I read while waiting in judicial chambers which have very little to offer in the way of casual reading matter? Why, the Judicial Officers’ Bulletin (May 2013, Vol 25, No 4) published by the Judicial Commission of NSW of course. What else?!

In this month’s edition there is a gobsmackingly fascinating piece on ‘Institutional child sexual abuse: the Irish experience’ by Her Honour Judge Yvonne Murphy.

Judge Murphy was responsible for presiding over two of Ireland’s Commissions of Inquiry held between 2006-2011 examining clerical abuse and sexual abuse of children in Ireland’s Dioceses of Dublin and, later, Cloyne.

Ireland has had four, and is now conducting its fifth, inquiries into child abuse. The first and longest running inquiry is now just known as the Ryan Commission named after its presiding judge. It commenced in 2000 and brought down its report in 2009.

The Ryan Commission was to inquire into mainly church-run institutions and reformatory schools. According to Murphy it was originally thought that the inquiry would run for “two years and would cost in the region of $AUD3 million.” In fact it lasted nine years and the cost overrun was more than $AUD100 million.

Judge Ryan found that rape and sexual molestation were “endemic” in Irish Catholic church-run schools and orphanages.

“The nine-year investigation found that Catholic priests and nuns for decades terrorised thousands of boys and girls in the Irish Republic, while government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rape and humiliation.” (The Guardian. 21/05/09)

“There was evidence that such men took up teaching positions sometimes within days of receiving dispensations because of serious allegations or admissions of sexual abuse. … The safety of children in general was not a consideration. … At best, the abusers were moved but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely…”
(The Ryan Commission Report, May 2009)

In 2006, while the Ryan Commission into institutional abuse was still taking place, a further commission of inquiry commenced. Presided over by Judge Yvonne Murphy it was asked to investigate the clerical child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese. It became known as the Murphy Inquiry and went on to include the Diocese of Cloyne. The Murphy Report was handed down in 2011.

The Commission’s funding was limited so they appointed a statistician to help with ‘representative sample’ of the number of cases reported. They found there were “102 priests against whom complaints of sexual abuse had been made” [in the Dublin Diocese] “increasing to 172 priests” as the inquiry continued. The statistically arrived at ‘random sample’ of 46 priests was decided upon by statisticians driven by a Government’s budget ceiling. It seems an odd way to investigate and initiate justice, almost unacceptable, but according to Judge Murphy it proved “sufficiently robust”.

Of course the number of children involved was considerably higher with “one priest freely admitting to having abused, by his own count, over 100 children, and another claiming to have abused children fortnightly over a 25 year period.”

An interesting statistical result was that boys outnumbered girls almost 3 to 1 among the victims.

Murphy is highly critical of the church’s canon law requiring oaths of secrecy from legally unrepresented minors ”inhibiting complaints to civil authorities.”

Whatever previous internal canonical procedures existing within the Catholic Church appeared to the inquiry to have collapsed “following the Vatican Council in the 1960s. … Only two cases of child sexual abuse by clerics ever proceeded to a penal canonical trial over the 30-year period…” said Murphy.

Murphy likens the Catholic Church leadership’s over-all attitude on allegations of child sexual abuse to the American ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

Judge Murphy was extremely critical of the Church authorities. She and her fellow Commissioners were unable to accept the Church line being presented as Church Authorities were “overcome by a suddenly arising problem of which, previously, they had known little or nothing.”

Evidence had been given that the Archbishops of Dublin had acquired insurance cover during the 1980s for any civil awards of compensation for clerical sexual abuse.
Murphy said that the Commission had evidence that during the 1980s “the Dublin Archdiocese had knowledge of 20 priests against whom there were allegations, or about whom there were suspicions and concerns.”

The evidence concerning legal advice and insurance coverage of potential clerical sexual abuse civil actions for compensation she said, “demonstrated an awareness for civil claims, posited on the Archdioceses’ vicarious liability for the actions of delinquent priests, going back to the early or mid-1980s.”

In my view this is as close as a Judge ever gets to saying ‘they told a whopper.’

Murphy’s Dublin Report concluded:
“The Commission has no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church Authorities over much of the period covered by the Commission’s remit. The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover up. The State Authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond their reach of the normal law enforcement processes. The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members – the priests.” (The Dublin Report 1.113)

The repercussions following the Ryan Report, The Murphy Reports (Dublin and Cloyne) and another into the Archdiocese of Fern by Justice Murphy (not the same Murphy) have resulted in fundamental change happening in the Republic.

$AUD1.2 billion in compensation has been awarded so far to over 14,000 applicants via the Redress Board set up by the Government.

The Bishops of Dublin, Cloyne and Fern resigned. A number of criminal prosecutions were started. Legislation was introduced making it an offence to withhold information on certain serious offences including most sexual offences.

Of course the Catholic Church got their nickers in a complete knot. As an institution its actions haven’t been questioned, nor has it been held accountable for any of its decisions or actions for 2,000 years and the Church leadership isn’t handling well these demands for transparency, accountability, progress and modernity. You only had to see Cardinal George Pell’s performance at a earlier press conference, or his performance yesterday giving evidence before the Victorian Inquiry into clerical and institutional child sexual abuse to see his discomfiture and displeasure. (I know – I’m overlooking the Reformation and the growth of the Protestant movement but that is a doctrinal civil war).

In Ireland these Commissions of Inquiry have signaled a clarion call for the separation of the church and state – the first time in 90 years since Ireland became a Republic.

No longer has Ireland an Ambassador in residence at the Holy See since December 2011. The reason given by the Government for this decision was one of their austerity measures imposed on Ireland by the EU. Economic rationalization may have some legitimacy in their decision, but it could only have been made in a climate where there was community anger at the Church. Of course, the Irish community’s antipathy to the Church had been enhanced by the Vatican’s refusal to participate in the inquiries in Ireland despite repeated requests by the Irish Commissions.

The Wikileaks documents exposing the Vatican’s reaction to the Murphy Commission’s request for assistance in their inquiries as having “offended” them, and viewing such approaches as “an affront to Vatican sovereignty” certainly assisted in further discrediting the Church in the eyes of their parishioners.

The Irish Government is currently introducing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 allowing for abortion in the case of a threat to the life of a pregnant woman. This really is amazing. Only a few years ago Irish women had to hop a ferry to go to Wales to get their contraceptive devices implanted.

Social attitudes have so radically changed that acceptance of contraception, divorce and homosexuality is increasing. Catholic Church attendances are at an all-time low and financially the Catholic Church in Ireland is cash-strapped.

Australia is at the beginning of this journey. Ireland has been on it since 2000 and is still continuing along its path. Lessons are there to be learnt from the Irish experience for all: Governments, legal authorities, victims and their families, welfare agencies and, of course, the Church itself.

There are some interesting articles you may wish to peruse:
ABC LAW REPORT with Damian Carrick. An Interview with Judge Yvonne Murphy broadcast on 19.03.2013.

THE AGE OF OUR CRAVEN DEFERENCE IS FINALLY OVER’ Ronan Fanning, Professor Emeritus of Modern History at UCD.

Wikileaks documents exposing the Vatican refusal to participate in Irish Inquiries into clerical child sexual abuse.

Nancy Cato’s hopes for the Royal Commission into Institutional sexual abuse of children

This blog has a number of related articles. Some are good, others not so good, but it’s worthwhile trawling.

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  1. Lessons from Ireland for our sex abuse inquiries http://t.co/0DmVUel19x by @boeufblogginon

  2. J.Fraser says

    My calculator tells me $1.2 billion (AUD) divided by 14,000 = $85,714 (AUD).

    Now Pell stays with the line that the $75,000 figure (cap ?) that the catholic church is paying Australian abused children is in line with Australian government compensation for victims and in line with other countries (except the U.S., due, according to Pell, their litigious society) ………. no indication if Irish catholic church abused children had to pay their own legal fees as their Australian counterparts had to.

    The perception is that at least 2 countries have catholic abused children valued above Australian catholic abused children
    Duh … I wonder if Ireland is a $ richer country than Australia.
    I wonder if the Australian catholic church has assets far in excess of the Irish catholic church.

    Bankrupting a few Australian catholic diocese appears to be the only way to get the attention of the catholic church.

    Interesting photo of Pell …. reminds me of “Slick’ Abbott and the comic books he keeps holding up.

    Once again a high standard article by Joan Evatt.

    • Joan Evatt says

      $85,714.00 doesn’t seem much does it? How the Redress Board works and the criteria it has in place is another story in itself. Basically if you spent any time in a Catholic boarding school or orphanage during this period you are compensated with a basic amount. The amounts vary depending on the abuse experienced while there. I haven’t been able to find out what the cap is. There’s bound to be one.

      • J.Fraser says

        Rape is rape, and although I don’t profess to know how much it would take to heal the pain I would suggest that in all cases the absolute maximum that could be extracted from the catholic church would assist in healing that pain.

        And I know full well that victims are not there just for the money.

        But make the b*strds pay.

        For the record I am not just aiming up at the catholic church, in fact I am so angry because a very good friends grandchild, with 2 young daughters, overdosed from heroin, an addiction he gained after being abused at an anglican school (years of lawyers and the church procrastinating)…… as far as I am concerned that is another death directly attributable to the abuse, so what/where is the “compensation” to those children who no longer have a father.

        And Pell sat there the other day and mentioned victims children getting help with their children’s education and he spoke of it as a businessman …. not a skerrick of compassion as an after thought.

  3. Lessons from Ireland for our sex abuse inquiries http://t.co/PX9t7tk1Oc – by @NoFibs legal writer @boeufblogginon