Dublin and Cloyne: Judge Yvonne Murphy speaks

Bishops Residence Cloyne

Judge Yvonne Murphy who headed the judicial Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the diocese of Cloyne gave the Annual Justice Michael Kirby lecture.

Judge YVONNE MURPHY, the Republic of Ireland

Each year, the Faculty of Law and Justice of Victoria University of Technology in Melbourne sponsors an annual oration. The speaker for 2013 was Judge Yvonne Murphy who headed the judicial Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the diocese of Cloyne. This is a report of her address given on the 7th March 2013 in Melbourne.

The report of the Commission of Investigation, which covered 1974 – 2004, was “a truly historic landmark”. It showed the extent of clerical sexual abuse in the Republic of Ireland and led to “a tsunami of revelations” of sexual and physical abuse. It has also changed Ireland as a Catholic country with priestly ordinations now at an all-time low and Mass attendance at a historic low.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Ireland and “the whole country turned out to see him”. The Irish people well remember Bishop Eamon Casey, who was a social and economic liberal but theologically conservative, warming up the crowd at a huge outdoor Galway Mass. In 1992, Bishop Casey resigned because of his affair with the American divorcee Annie Murphy who had given birth to their son in 1974 – this was deeply shocking to the Irish people and the story dominated the media ‘for weeks’. It ended Ireland’s age of innocence. And at the same time a trickle of clerical sexual abuse cases emerged, inevitably leading to a tsunami of cases. The year 1993 was really when it broke as a public story after a TV program had a story on a Norbertine friar whose offences went back 35 years. But it was the very important case of Brendan Smyth as “the enduring image of the pedophile priest” that cemented the issue in the public mind. His offences occurred between 1948 and 1989, and he subsequently died in prison after being convicted in 1994 of 74 offences. Soon after, cases about teaching brothers were brought into public view.

The Commission found that Archbishop McQuade (1940 – 1972) had dealt with cases in the 1950s and 1960s so it was not really a recent phenomenon. The way that cases were handled by Cardinal O’Connell (1988 – 2004) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (2004 – ) are a study in contrasting strategies. The Commission was designed to see how both the State and the Church had dealt with allegations. Initially it was thought that there were 102 priests that had had charges laid against them but later found that in fact there were 172. The media deserves great praise for bringing into public view the whole phenomenon of clerical sex abuse of minors.

The issue of clerical sexual abuse has a 2,000 year history. In 1962 the Vatican issued an instruction on soliciting in the confessional. Yet throughout our inquiry, no one seemed to have heard of this instruction and there was total confusion about its existence though Bishop Geoffrey Robinson did write to the Vatican asking if it were still in force. The answer was in the affirmative.

However, it is fair to say that much of the implementation of canon law has fallen into disuse, not least after the new Canon Law was introduced in 1983. It would seem that in the 30 year period within the Dublin archdiocese covered by the Commission only two priests had undergone a canonical trial.

In Judge Murphy’s view, the underlying attitude of the Church was, “don’t ask; don’t tell”. For us, “it was instructive that victims were never told that the perpetrator priests had offended against other abuse victims”. The Church during the 2000s argued the ‘learning curve’ hypothesis’ in its defence and that “we were ambushed”, but the Commission was unable to accept this. For example, in the mid-1980s the Church was becoming very aware of the issue and the Archbishop McQuade had flown to the USA to see how they were handling the problem. In 1987 the archdiocese took out specific insurance cover with its company. In 1994 the cover was terminated.

What happened after the publication of the Report? Firstly, four Dublin bishops resigned though two resignations were not accepted by Rome. Secondly, mandatory reporting for all church personnel became law and the Church itself put out two strong policy documents.

Cloyne had been headed by Bishop John Magee (1987 – 2010) who had been the English-speaking secretary to three popes in Rome. The Commission’s finding was that Cloyne had not even followed the Church’s own procedures as outlined in the policy documents.

Judge Murphy summarized, “Generally speaking, we were very disappointed with the attitude of the bishops”.

The 2009 Ryan Report on institutional violence in industrial and reformatory schools went for nine years, costing $120M – it found there were about 800 abusers, both religious and lay. Though the institutions may have been run by the Church and others, the Report argued strongly that the State had a supervisory role, and this was very important on the issue of redress. A redress board was set up, and it has dealt with 16,000 applications of which 14,000 have been dealt with at a cost of $1.2 billion at an average of $80,000 – those not compensated were mainly very young children who could not prove abuse. The religious orders have been asked by the government authorities to contribute to the redress fund, but the ongoing negotiations have reached an impasse.

In answer to questions, the following points were made:

  • Regarding the involvement of Rome in the whole saga, the Congregation of the Clergy wrote to all Irish bishops saying that their policy documents were only “study” documents because they were in conflict with canon law. The Irish Prime Minister was to become very angry with Rome’s attitude. The papal nuncio to Ireland, who subsequently acted in the same capacity in Australia, did not reply to a succession of letters that he was sent.
  • There was always a problem with the police. In the 1970s and 1980s, police had priests on a pedestal, treating them as though above the law. However, because there were so many cases, they did set up a special investigative unit and survivors were generally very happy with the way their cases had been dealt with.
  • No nuns were charged with any offence though there was one case where one nun spent time in prison but she was released because it was found to be a false allegation.
  • Regarding reporting by the clergy, a 2012 Act mandated it. It is of note that Archbishop Martin has set up a mediation service, and so far there have been no complaints.
  • Is a three year time schedule realistic for a Royal Commission? – “it is a matter of resources and the number of complaints”.
  • Regarding the obtaining of documents from Church archives, “we did eventually get all the documents. At one stage, the Cardinal did take out an injunction to prevent the reading of the documents but there was such a public outcry that he withdrew”