DUBLIN, Ireland – Roman Catholic Church leaders in Dublin spent decades sheltering child-abusing priests from the law and most fellow clerics turned a blind eye, an investigation ordered by Ireland’s government concluded Thursday.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who handed over more than 60,000 previously secret church files to the three-year investigation, said he felt deep shame and sorrow for how previous archbishops presided over endemic child abuse.
Martin said his four predecessors in Ireland’s capital, including retired Cardinal Desmond Connell, must have understood that priests’ molestation and rape of boys and girls “was a crime in both civil and canon law. For some reason or another they felt they could deal with all this in little worlds of their own.
“They were wrong, and children were left to suffer.”
Thursday’s 720-page report focused on why church leaders in the Dublin Archdiocese – home to a quarter of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics – did not tell police about a single abuse complaint against a priest until 1995.
By then, the investigators found, successive archbishops and their senior deputies – among them qualified lawyers – already had compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests who had sexually abused children since 1940. Those files had remained locked in the Dublin archbishop’s private vault.
The investigators also dug up a paper trail documenting the church’s long-secret insurance policy, taken out in 1987, to cover potential lawsuits.
Thursday’s report detailed “sample” cases of 46 priests who faced 320 documented complaints, although the investigators said they were confident that the priests had abused many more children than that. They cited testimony from one priest who admitted abusing more than 100 children, and another priest who said he abused a child approximately every two weeks for 25 years.
Just 11 of the 46 ultimately were convicted of abusing children – typically decades after church leaders learned of their crimes – while two others are scheduled to face Dublin criminal court actions within months. Fourteen are dead and most of the rest have been defrocked or barred from parish duties. Just six are still active priests.
The government also apologized for the state’s failure to pursue Dublin priests accused of child abuse until recent years.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who received the Dublin Archdiocese report in July but delayed its publication for legal vetting, vowed that the state would never again treat the Catholic Church with deference.
“A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” he said.