Irish to unveil new report on Catholic child abuse

July 13, 2011 - 6:29 AM

DUBLIN (AP) — The Irish government is publishing a new report Wednesday into the Catholic Church's concealment of child abuse by priests, a long-running scandal that has ravaged the church's once-exalted position in Ireland.

The report being unveiled by Justice Minister Alan Shatter details how church leaders in the rural County Cork diocese of Cloyne suppressed evidence of complaints against 19 priests from 1996 to 2009.

Cloyne's bishop, former papal aide John Magee, resigned last year without admitting responsibility for the cover-ups. But analysts expect Wednesday's report to show that Magee ignored the Irish church's own child-protection policies introduced in 1996 that instructed bishops to tell police promptly and fully about suspected crimes.

"This report covers the suppression of much more recent crimes than those covered in previous investigations. It will show that the church, at least in some dioceses, has continued to ignore its own child protection policies," said Maeve Lewis, director of a support group for child-abuse victims called One in Four.

Dublin's High Court ordered the Cloyne report to be censored to remove material concerning abuse allegations against one of the 19 priests because he is facing criminal charges of child abuse. The court said the potentially prejudicial material would be published once the priest's case was completed.

This will be the fourth government-ordered report into Catholic abuse cover-ups in a country that has suffered waves of public uproar against the church since 1994. That year, the Irish government collapsed over its failure to extradite one of the priesthood's most rampant pedophiles, Brendan Smyth, to the British territory of Northern Ireland to face multiple child-molestation charges there.

Two fact-finding commissions have forced church authorities in Dublin and southeast Wexford to hand over their secret files on pedophile priests stretching back to the mid-1970s. In all cases, investigators found that church leaders protected their priests at the expense of children.

A third report published in 2009 showed that untold thousands of children suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse in workhouse-style residential schools from the 1930s to 1990s — and not a single church official faced any criminal charges. The government has already paid out compensation payments exceeding euro1 billion ($1.4 billion) to more than 13,000 former school residents and their lawyers.

In all cases, the three previous reports found that church officials refused to tell police or other civil authorities about any suspected crimes until 1995. The policy changed under public pressure after one former altar boy, Andrew Madden, went public with his lawsuit against the church. Madden's example helped open the floodgates for thousands of such claims against the state's most powerful, wealthy private institution.

Catholic leaders responded by introducing child-protection guidelines that went into force in January 1996. These included instructions for bishops to tell police or other civil authorities about all suspected cases.

A 1997 Vatican letter to Irish bishops — obtained this year by The AP — warned Irish bishops that their new child-protection rules undermined the church's internal law, had no legal standing, and were likely to be overturned on appeal to Vatican courts. However, the Irish church since has deepened its child-protection systems and even introduced its own fact-finding commission that has demonstrated its independence.

That body's first report, published by the Irish government in December 2008, exposed Magee's mishandling of the Cloyne abuse cases. The government ordered its investigators who had previously documented Dublin cover-ups to turn their attention to Cloyne, leading to Wednesday's findings.