DUBLIN, Ireland — Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin covered up decades of child abuse by priests in order to protect the church’s reputation, an expert commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation.
Abuse victims welcomed the commission’s report on the Dublin Archdiocese’s mishandling of child abuse cases — one of several government investigations into chronic child rape, beatings and other cruelty in Catholic-run schools, children’s workhouses and orphanages in 1975-2004.
The government said the investigation “shows clearly that a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in the archdiocese.”
“The perpetrators must continue to be brought to justice, and the people of Ireland must know that this can never happen again,” the government said, also apologizing for the state’s failure to hold church authorities accountable to the law.
This is the second major government-ordered report this year exploring how and why Irish authorities permitted widespread abuse of boys and girls at the hands of the Catholic Church throughout most of the 20th century, the gravest scandal in the history of independent Ireland.
The 720-page report — delivered to the government in July but released Thursday — analyzes the cases of 46 priests against whom 320 complaints were filed.
The 46 were selected from more than 150 Dublin priests implicated in molesting or raping boys and girls since 1940.
Eleven priests convicted of child abuse are named in the report, but 33 are referred to by aliases and two have their names blacked out because they have yet to face justice.
The report rejected past bishops’ key claim that they were ignorant of both the scale and criminality of priests’ abuse of children, showing that the Dublin Archdiocese negotiated a 1987 insurance policy for future legal costs of defending lawsuits and compensation claims.
At the time, bishops knew of at least 17 priests linked to abuse cases, the report said, and “the taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the archdiocese.”
Investigators spent three years poring over 60,000 previously secret Dublin church files.
They were handed over by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat appointed to Dublin in 2004 with a brief to confront the scandal.
Among the files were more than 5,500 that Martin’s predecessor, retired Cardinal Desmond Connell, had tried to keep locked in the archbishop’s private vault.
The investigators, led by a judge and two lawyers, said that while it was not their job to confirm the scale of abuse cases, they had no doubt the 46 priests abused many more than 320 children.
“One priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another accepted that he had abused on a fortnightly basis during the currency of his ministry which lasted for over 25 years,” they wrote.
Three Dublin archbishops — John Charles McQuaid (1940-72), Dermot Ryan (1972-84) and Kevin McNamara (1985-87) — did not tell police about clerical abuse cases, instead opting to avoid public scandals by shuttling offenders from parish to parish, the commission found.
It was not until 1995 that then-Archbishop Connell allowed police to see church files on 17 clerical abuse cases kept in a secret, locked vault, though at the time Connell had records of complaints against at least 29 priests, the report says.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the state would renew efforts to prosecute more of the 46 priests in the report, as well as police officers that the investigation found colluded with church authorities to suppress complaints.
Ahern said, however, that the coverups reflected “a different era where there was deference by state agencies to the church. I don’t think that would happen today.”
The investigators lauded a handful of priests and mostly low-ranking police who pursued complaints and prosecutions, almost always unsuccessfully, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Senior police officers “clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit,” handing “complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them.”
“A few (priests) were courageous and brought complaints to the attention of their superiors. The vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye,” the report said.
In May, the government published a report on decades of child abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages. More than 12,000 victims of rape, beatings and metal abuse have received compensation payments from a government panel exceeding C800 million ($1.2 billion).
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