30 July 2011

The Cloyne Report: Tackling Prevailing Myths

Part Seven in an Occasional Series
I've found the Irish Times' coverage of the Cloyne Report fascinating, not least because despite the editorial line lauding the Taoiseach's speech to a near-empty Dáil, the paper in general hasn't skimped on articles taking issue with the Government's reaction.

The political correspondent Deaglán de Bréadún has noted that the Government's blustering has been very useful in distracting the people and the papers from its own shortcomings, a view that's shared by an otherwise unemployed columnist; Ian Elliott has pointed out that it was the Church and not the State that uncovered the problems with Magee and O'Callaghan in Cloyne; Breda O'Brien has observed that the State's own child safety failures are even now a cause for serious concern, and has wondered whether we as a nation are genuinely interested in protecting our children; social workers have been reported as arguing that mandatory reporting of abuse could do more harm than good; Gerry Whyte has argued that the seal of the Confessional is already protected under Irish law, and may well be protected under the Constitution; Paddy Agnew has explained that it's wrong to think of the Vatican as a single-minded entity bent on protecting itself no matter what; Vincent Twomey has taken issue with the Taoiseach having defamed the Pope and the Vatican and has, along with Breda O'Brien and John Waters, contested Enda's false claims about the Vatican having supposedly intervened in Irish affairs and attempted to obstruct the Murphy Commission's investigation into Cloyne.

That's not to say that any of these dispute in any respect the findings of the Commission, or that they don't deplore how Magee and O'Callaghan mishandled affairs in Cloyne. Nor is it to say in any way that they deny the horrific reality of such abuse of children as happened in Cloyne or the devastating effects of that abuse. It's merely to say that these people have a grasp on the facts and appear to have actually read the Report for themselves, rather than relying on what other people have said about it. It's well worth reading the Report, because it is being misrepresented. Here's a letter, for instance, from Wednesday's Irish Times, which I think may be the best of the week:
'As a practising Catholic and member of the Fine Gael party, I was inspired by Mr Kenny’s Dáil speech to read the Cloyne report for myself. It soon became embarrassingly clear that Mr Kenny had not done so, and I fear he will come to regret some of his vitriol.

It is my earnest hope that, when the Vatican issues its response to the Government, Mr Kenny takes some time to study it and to respond in a manner befitting An Taoiseach.

The hour requires a statesman, not an opportunist demagogue.'
And indeed, while the papers' letters in the immediate aftermath of the Taoiseach's rant were overwhelmingly in favour of his posturing, day by day it's become clear that people are starting to realise that while we have serious problems with child abuse in Ireland, Enda's opportunistic grandstanding isn't part of the solution. I wonder if this is why Fintan O'Toole, the most gifted, intelligent, and perceptive of the Church's opponents at home has been keeping his mouth shut on this; he's probably smart enough and honest enough to realise that Enda's witterings are neither honest nor helpful.

But I wanted to talk about a piece in Thursday's Irish Times entitled 'Why is Vatican so miffed at reaction to Cloyne report?' which sneers at the Vatican's astonished reaction to how the Irish establishment has responded to the Cloyne Report. This piece seems to have gone down a storm on Twitter, even among people I respect, and indeed there are letters raving about it in today's Irish Times. One correspondent goes so far as to say that a copy of the article should be posted on every fridge in Ireland lest we forget the fine detail. As ever, though, the piece is almost complete fiction. The Questions and Answers format I used for talking about Cloyne the other day seems to have been helpful, so I'll try it again here.

1. Is Rome 'miffed' at 'excessive reactions' to the Murphy Report?

It seems to be. On Monday the vice-director of the Vatican's Press Office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said, among other things, that 'The recalling of the Nuncio, a measure rarely used by the Holy See, denotes the seriousness of the situation, and the desire of the Holy See to deal with it objectivity and with determination, as well as a certain note of surprise and regret regarding some excessive reactions.'

2. What reactions does the Vatican think were excessive?
Well, in the immediate aftermath of the Report, certain prominent Irish politicians talked of rendering illegal in Irish law the Catholic seal of Confession, and in his speech to the Dail last week, the Taoiseach attacked the Vatican for what happened in Cloyne.

3. Wasn't he right to do so?
No, we've been through this. If anything, the problem at Cloyne seems not to have been a slavish obedience to Rome so much as it was an arrogant determination to ignore the opinions of anybody outside County Cork.

4. So how does Patsy McGarry, the author of this article, respond to the 'surprise and regret' the Vatican had expressed?
Well, by an impressively unrelated series of non-sequiturs, in the main, starting with the claim that the Irish State has had to spend €133.8 million over the last few years unearthing what he said was available to Rome all along.

5. And has it?
No. For starters, almost all of that money -- more than €126 million -- was spent on the Ryan Report into abuse in Ireland's industrial schools. These schools, though run by religious orders, were supervised by the Irish State, not by Rome, such that the Report is utterly scathing about the religious orders themselves and the State's historical failure to supervise and inspect schools and institutions for which it was responsible. It in no way even hints that Rome is in any way to blame.

Indeed, as far as I can see through searching through all five volumes of the Ryan Report, the word 'Vatican' is only used seven times, almost invariably in connection with changes necessitated by the Second Vatican Council.  The Report doesn't record that it even bothered to ask the Vatican if it had any information on the subject, as it was obvious that the Vatican lacked this information.

6. I see. So there's no truth in this?
Not if we're using 'Rome' as a synonym for 'Vatican', no. It is true that the Christian Brothers' and the Rosminians' head offices are in Rome, and that there were lots of files there, but aside from these files not being comprehensive, there's no suggestion in the Report that these files were ever handled by the Vatican, despite such religious orders being notionally answerable to the Secretariat of State for the Religious. Look at the Report's conclusions -- it doesn't even vaguely criticise the Vatican, whereas it's pretty damning of the State.

Shall I go on?

7. Please do. What about the Ferns, Murphy, and Cloyne Reports? Did Rome have all the information on them, information that the State had to pay maybe €8 million to rustle up?
I very much doubt it. After all, we know from the Cloyne report that despite there being concerns raised or complaints made about eighteen priests in Cloyne between 1996 and 2009, the Diocese only ever contacted Rome about four of these, in three cases not doing so until 2009. Of the forty-six cases the Murphy Commission considered in Dublin between 1975 and 2004, the Report describes only four as having ever been passed on to Rome. In short, two offical reports based on all the documentation clearly show that Rome did not have all the information on these matters.

8. Right, so the two opening paragraphs are almost wholly fictitious. What of the third one, where he says files on five Ferns priests mysteriously turned up in 2005, when the draft Ferns report was already complete?
This certainly happened, as it seems that the solicitors who'd been hired to find all the files for the Ferns Commission had missed out on a few files that might have been of relevance. In connection with this, the Ferns Commission accepted in an Appendix to the Ferns Report 'that the omission of the documents identified in the course of this further investigation was due to a regrettable error on the part of the Diocese and did not constitute the withholding of cooperation on its part. The Inquiry is satisfied that the cases cited below do not impact on the work done by the Inquiry or on the conclusions or recommendations reached by it.'

9. So, although this did happen, the Commission accepted that this was a genuine error and that it didn't hamper the investigation in any way. Right. So why the sneering at the Pope having declined Bishop Eamon Walsh's 2009 resignation as an auxiliary bishop of Dublin?
I have no idea. The implication is that the Ferns Commission shouldn't have accepted that the belated production of some documents was a genuine error, and was wrong to say that the delayed documents wouldn't have made any difference whatsoever to the Report's findings, something that itself implies that the Diocese hadn't any particular reason to have withheld those documents as compared to the far larger number that were disclosed early on.

10. What about the Christian Brothers? Did they really deny claims about them just days before the Ryan Report issued its findings, and did they later admit how inadequate and hurtful their responses to complaints had been?
I believe so. This rings a few bells. Still, do you have any reason to believe that a letter from an Irish religious order to the Irish State had anything whatsoever to do with the Vatican? The Ryan Report didn't link the Brothers with Rome...

11. Fair point. It does seem wildly off-topic. What about the claim that Cardinal Desmond Connell, erstwhile Archbishop of Dublin, had gone to the High Court to prevent his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, from releasing documents to the Murphy Commission?
Yeah, he did that in February 2008, believing that these documents were and should remain legally privileged. It was reported at the time that none of his former colleagues in the Hierarchy nor his former aides in Dublin supported this, something that the article omits. It was only a week later that he withdrew the action, apparently following pressure from the Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, something that the article also fails to mention. In any case, though, do you see any reason to assume that Connell -- and Connell alone -- was somehow acting on behalf of the Vatican to subvert the Murphy Commission?

12. It is hard to see why anyone would think that justifies an attack on Rome. What about the claim that John Magee and Denis O'Callaghan lied to the Church's watchdog about abuse in Cloyne?
They certainly did, though how this could ever be construed as justifying an attack on Rome I do not know. Magee and O'Callaghan lied, but they didn't lie to an agency of the State; they lied to one belonging to the Church. Ian Elliott, the Presbyterian head of the Church's child-protection agency was far from happy about this, and indeed, it was in connection with the Elliott Report that Archbishop Leanza, the outgoing Nuncio, in January 2009 had a private meeting with John Magee in which he appears to have 'suggested' that Magee step down; a few days later Magee requested that the Pope appoint an apostolic administrator. Rome did just that, stripping Magee of his authority and ignoring the candidates he'd suggested as suitable to replace him.

13. Is there any basis for his argument? I see the article says that these senior clergy acted as they did as they understood it as being what Rome wanted from them...
Yes, he's referring specifically to Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos who headed the Congregation for the Clergy between 1996 and 2006. His attitude towards priests was deeply clericalist, and in connection with a letter proving Castrillón Hoyos' excessively protective attitude, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office publicly criticised him last April, saying that 'This document is proof of the timeliness of the unification of the treatment of cases of the sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competency of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to guarantee rigorous and coherent action, as effectively occurred with the documents approved by the Pope in 2001.'

14. Why does McGarry think Castrillón Hoyos influenced high-ranking members of the Irish clergy to obstruct the State?
You mean, leaving aside the fact that he seems to think the examples he cites support his case, when in fact they're wholly irrelevant to it? He has two reasons, the first of which is the January 1997 letter to the Irish bishops and the second of which is something Castrillón Hoyos is alleged to have said to the bishops when they visited Rome two years later.

15. Tell me about the 1997 letter. That was from the Nuncio of the day, passing on the thoughts of the Congregation for Clergy on the Irish bishops' 1996 Framework Document for dealing with child abuse allegations. Is it true that the Congregation for Clergy dismissed it as 'merely a study document'?
'Dismissed' is a bit strong, but Castrillón Hoyos certainly seems to have understood it that way, largely because it was sent to him, not by the Bishops' Conference, but by an Advisory Committee for that Conference, and was prefaced by a statement that the document was far from being the last word on the subject. I'd like to see that covering letter, but as it stands I think it's understandable that he thought this was a study document, even if the Irish bishops didn't think of it as one.

16. Presumably the Irish bishops, on seeing this response, felt obliged to point out that it had been an official document, not a study document?
Er... no. They basically just ignored it and went ahead with their own agreed policy anyway. Well, in practice Magee didn't, but as far as we know the others did.

17. Okay. You've already talked about what the letter said about the need to follow canon law meticulously, of course. Isn't Castrillón Hoyos the same guy who at Rosses Point in 1998 told the Irish bishops that they should never in any way put an obstacle in the path of civil justice?
That's him. And I'd say that failure to report crimes would constitute just that. You'll note that the article leaves that out, inconvenient as it is to its thesis. In my job, that's called 'cherry-picking the evidence'.

18. Well, what about this mysterious Vatican official who seemingly told the Irish bishops in 1999 that they were 'bishops first, not policemen' when it came to reporting clerical child sex abuse -- who's he?
McGarry doesn't say, for some reason, which may well be that it could be libellous, but it seems to have been Castrillón Hoyos again. Seemingly, on an Irish television documentary called Unspeakable Crimes, shown on 17 January 2011, it was reported that when Irish bishops visited Rome in 1999, a meeting ended in uproar with Castrillon Hoyos telling the bishops that they were called to be 'fathers to your priests, not policemen'.

19. That seems to be slightly different from the quote in the article, but anyway, did the bishops do what he said?
No. I've told you -- they basically ignored the Congregation for Clergy and did their own thing. I don't think they had a good relationship with Castrillón Hoyos. McGarry himself has reported that the previous year Archbishop Connell had resorted to banging his fist with fury on the table in an attempt to get Castrillón Hoyos to understand. Whether or not that's true -- and it does rather undermine the thesis that Connell's legal attempt to obstruct Martin was due to his following Castrillón Hoyos' line --  it's clear that the bishops implemented their own guidelines irrespective of what Castrillón Hoyos thought.

Well, except Magee, who seems to have been a law unto himself anyway.

20. Right, so the article goes on to talk about the 2001 decision to have abuse cases dealt with by Rome. What's that about?
Well, it became very clear through the 1990s that the various dioceses around the world had been mishandling child abuse allegations, and that the Congregation for Clergy, under Castrillón Hoyos, hadn't been helping the situation. As such, on 30 April 2001 John Paul II issued a document called Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela which meant that henceforth all child sexual abuse cases were to go through the then Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Part I, article 4 of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela said:
'§ 1.Reservation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also extended to a delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years.
§ 2. One who has perpetrated the delict mentioned in § 1 is to be punished according to the gravity of the offense, not excluding dismissal or deposition.
Note that this document specifically extended the CDF's authority. The CDF had hitherto had only ever dealt with such issues insofar as they were sometimes connected with an abuse of the sacrament of Confession, and in practice it received very few complaints.

21. But Patsy McGarry said this new policy didn't change much in reality?
Yeah, I don't know why he says that. Having received hardly any cases in previous years, the CDF received something like 3,000 cases between 2001 and 2010, most of these from America and detailing offences stretching back to fifty years earlier. I think they get about 250 cases a year now. Monsignor Dolan, the Chancellor of the Dublin Archdiocese, told the Murphy Commission that it had sent nineteen cases to the CDF since 2001.

22. Only nineteen?
Yes, because the policy had to be somewhat modified as Rome wasn't capable of dealing with the avalanche of American complaints in 2003 and 2004. Cases that had already been dealt with before 2001, for instance, weren't revisited by the CDF. In terms of contemporary complaints, however, it has remained the case that all complaints which even reached the threshold of plausibility are to be passed on to Rome so that the CDF could decide whether they'd be best dealt with locally or centrally. And, of course, matters were clarified further by Rome last year, another detail the article neglects to mention.

23. So why does the article say that 'The Cloyne report continues: "The position now, he [Msgr Dolan] said, is that all cases brought to the attention of the archdiocese before April 2001 and which were outside prescription . . . were not going to be dealt with by the CDF. It was up to the bishop to apply disciplinary measures to the management of those priests." In effect, the Irish bishops were back where they were before 2001.'?
I don't know, but it's not true. And for what it's worth, the passage he quotes from section 4:29 of the Murphy Report, and is not in the Cloyne Report at all. That's just sloppiness.

24. McGarry says that Rome didn't grant the Irish bishops permission to make binding either the 1996 Framework Document or the 2005 document Our Children, Our Church, in stark contrast to the approval it gave to the American bishops in 2002 and 2006. Is this true, and if so, why was this?
It is true, and I don't know why. The Murphy Report speculates that the unanimous support of the Irish bishops for the Irish guidelines may have militated against Rome granting them a canonically binding status, but I really don't know. Maybe the American guidelines integrated better into canon law. I don't know.

None of this, however, would have barred any Irish bishop from applying said guidelines within his own diocese. As the Ferns Report recognises, bishops are not delegates of the national bishops' conferences or of the Pope, such that all local decisions rest with them and they are not bound by advice they receive.

25. So when McGarry says that Rome tied the hands of those bishops who wanted to address the abuse issue, this isn't true either?
Exactly. It couldn't have been true. And indeed, we know this, because it seems that almost all Irish bishops ignored the Congregation for Clergy's reservations about the 1996 Framework Document and applied their own policies anyway.

26. What about the letters that were sent to Rome and the last Nuncio that didn't get a response? Did that really happen?
Yes, it did. I think that was extraordinarily bad manners. I really do think an official apology is -- or was -- in order on that.

27. Did it make a difference?
Given that Rome didn't have access to any information on these matters that the Diocese didn't already have, no, it didn't matter in the least. It was rude, that's all.

28. Yes, but what about the fact that the current -- and outgoing -- Nuncio seems to have basically told John Magee to jump from his position rather than be pushed? Surely he wouldn't have done that without access to secret information...
If you'd like to believe that, I have a book about Templars you might want to borrow. The Murphy Report doesn't suggest even for a moment that Leanza had access to any hidden information, and recognises that the Church handed over everything, including all its privileged communications. It's pretty clear that Leanza's prompting of Magee was based on the Elliott Report, which you can read in the Murphy Report.

29. Don't you get tired of correcting these misconceptions?
You have no idea. But as long as our 'newspaper of record' keeps publishing such claptrap, it falls to the rest of us to point out where it's wrong. Child abuse is a horrendous thing that has blighted my country for too long, but political posturing and media misrepresentations aren't part of the solution. It was bad enough when people focused on the Irish Church as a haven of paedophiles while ignoring the far higher number of Irish paedophiles who weren't clergy, such that for every victim of clerical abuse there were fifty-nine victims of non-clerical abuse. But now we're not even looking within, and are trying to point outside ourselves as though the problem is with people far far away. If we want to fix this problem we need to find the real culprits, and if we want to find them, the whole country needs to start looking in the mirror.

30. Do you not think people might accuse you of splitting hairs?
Being Jesuitical, you mean? They might. Others get accused of this. I don't think that anybody hurling those kind of accusations, though, can possibly have immersed themselves in the four Irish state reports and the SAVI study as I have, as well as reading American research and trying to get a serious handle on how the Vatican really works. Too often it's like being in a bizarre University tutorial where you're the only person who's read any of the original sources, but where everybody else has a passionate view on the stuff they've never read. Still, if people shout at you for being honest and informed, that's the way it goes. We have a duty towards the Truth, after all.


Anonymous said...

Way to go. I look forward to the book. - AS

Carole said...

You are a hidden weapon in the Lord's quiver. Thank you for the time you took to research, cite, and write. Blessings.

Gavan said...

Great, succinct piece of writing. Keep it up (and write that book!).

Anonymous said...

I have no time for the organs of the RC church but I think this cheap demagoguery by Enda Kenny will eventually be seen for what it is.

He simply decided, in a cynical way, to ride the zeitgeist. It feels, in a way I suppose, like a symbolic act of casting away the chains and weight the church's influence seems to have represented to many. Much of what it contained was overdue and years coming- unfortunately much of it was tawdry verbal trickery and dishonest attack.

You've done the country a service putting this article together- you should pitch it at a newspaper imo.

GOR said...

Excellent, TG!

Clear and unequivocal. Might you consider teaching a class in journalism? I can think of a few columnists and newspapers that could benefit from it...

Kilbarry1 said...

I published the following summary of Garda investigations into Cloyne on a number of websites:

I am wondering what precisely all the fuss is about? For several years now the Gardai have been investigating claims of child abuse in the Cloyne Diocese and the following is the result:

An allegation of reckless endangerment against former Bishop Magee was dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions in October 2010.

In May 2011 Father Dan Duane a 73-year-old retired priest from Mallow, who was on trial charged with indecently assaulting a woman 30 years ago when she was a teenager, was found not guilty by direction of the trial judge in Cork Circuit Criminal Court (or in colloquial language the judge threw the case out of court without letting it go to the jury).

HOWEVER in November 2010 Fr Brendan Wrixon was given an 18 month suspended sentence for gross indecency – which consisted of mutual masturbation of a 16 year old youth in 1983.

And those to date are the results of several years of Garda inquiries. (There is another trial coming up in next November I think, and that may be the very last.) Since investigating child abuse is a specialist function, the Gardai who spent years investigating decades-old claims against priests, would otherwise have been involved in the prevention of child abuse today. THAT should be the real scandal!”

I have now referred to your excellent article on my own website at

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Thank you for that; it's very kind of you.

I've had a look at your site, and think you may well be onto something in your belief that serious false accusations made about Magee in the 1990s could have prejudiced him against dealing seriously with allegations against his priests; certainly I've yet to come across any other explanations for his demonstrable lack of interest in child protection in the diocese. Even allowing that the vague 1994 allegation was outside the terms of the investigation, the 1999 one would surely have been within the investigation's remit, assuming it had a sexual element, which I haven't been able to ascertain online. It is difficult to see why Murphy didn't consider this angle in her report, and I cannot help but wonder whether Magee did not volunteer such information himself.

As for the other allegations, you're right, of course, but I'd tread very warily on that. It is incredibly difficult to prove the truth of abuse allegations, such that police are reluctant to go to court without a cast-iron case, that being almost impossible to establish in connection with historical abuse. I'd be curious to know how many abuse cases in general have only led to convictions because the accused has pleaded guilty, rather than having been proven so.

It's worth thinking about the SAVI study again, as the results of that poll were private and drawn from people who had no vested interests in lying to their surveyors. Leaving aside the fact that there's probably a margin of error of almost +/- 2% in the large poll sample, we have to face the fact that roughly 1.7% of all adult survivors of child abuse in Ireland had been abused by priests. Given a total Irish abuse survivor figure of 784,000, this means we should expect to find that about 13,000 of these had been abused by clergy.

I realise that seems an absurdly -- indeed a monstrously -- high figure, but given the 770,000 or so survivors of sexual abuse by people who weren't priests I'd be loath to dismiss it. I suspect that the publicity around the scandals from the mid-1990s on may well have encouraged victims of clerical abuse -- rather than, say, familial abuse -- to come forward, such that priests probably are disproportionately represented among the ranks of the accused, albeit not to the extent the media would have you believe. With about 13,000 clerical sex abuse survivors out there, I don't think their stories should be dismissed in any way.

This doesn't mean treating priests as though they are guilty till proven innocent and it doesn't mean throwing money at the problem, but it does mean stories must be heard with sympathy, help must be offered, and allegations must be investigated by all the proper authorities, both civil and ecclesial.

It also means, given the need to protect children in the here and now, that if accused priests are still in ministry then they must be removed from it while investigations go on. This would be for the priests' protection too, but it would require that investigations be carried out as swiftly as practicable, not least with a view to preserving the good name of the accused, and indeed their mental wellbeing. Murphy at some point in the Cloyne Report criticises Magee and O'Callaghan for the glacial pace of one of their investigations, saying that it was actually unfair to the priest.

Kilbarry1 said...

I will comment elsewhere about the SAVI study but I think it is clear that the vast majority of the allegations of child abuse are false.

As I pointed out on my website www.irishsalem.com leading members of FOUR "Victims" groups have made allegations that the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy deliberately killed children in their care (and we are NOT talking about negligence here). ALL of these claims have now been discredited. This is not surprising because some relate to periods when no child died of any cause! (Accordingly I coined the phrases "Murder of the Undead" and "Victimless Murders" - try Googling these.) For the claims against the Christian Brothers see
For a similar claim against the Sisters of Mercy see

The people who made these allegations are still running the "Victims" groups - with the exception of one man who was ousted for reasons unrelated to his child-killing allegations. Obviously the members of these groups have no objection to leaders who make obviously false claims that are the equivalent of Blood Libels against Jews. The reason they don't object is - presumably - because their own claims are equally bogus.

Apart from the above, there have also been a string of false sex allegations against SEVEN Irish bishops. All are now deceased or retired but two allegations were directed against John Magee while he was Bishop of Cloyne. The UK Guardian were forced to apologise to him in 1994 and TV3 in 1999. Thus, as you suggest, Bishop Magee had every reason NOT to take allegations against his priests at face value. See

I wrote to Judge Yvonne Murphy in January 2009 giving details of the two allegations but she ignored them in her Report. (I also indicated that I knew the identity of the man who was the source of the Guardian libel but she wasn't interested.) Magee himself may not have been anxious to have these lies publicised again, but the fact that Judge Murphy ignored them can have nothing to do with HIS sensibilities - given the general tone of the Report. Omitting them reflects on HER modus operandi!

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I see your point, but I think I'd have to disagree with you.

I believe the SAVI figures, more or less. Priests had an all-too-easily abused prestige then, and an astonishing degree of access to children, and it's very clear that many unsuitable people had been pushed into the priesthood.

To be honest, given the opportunities and the prevalance of abuse in wider Irish society, I think we should be relieved that clerical abuse wasn't more prevalent. I also think that the claims of abuse made to the SAVI researchers shouldn't be dismissed. Interviewees had nothing to gain by falsely claiming they'd been abused, and lest we think false memories are in play, I'd be inclined to note that given the extent to which the 'paedophile priest' had become a popular bogeyman it's remarkable that so few people claimed to have been abused by clergy.

I take your points about the industrial schools, but without seeing the raw data I hope you'll forgive my agnosticism. Some of the corrections you advance sound conclusive, whereas others sound less so; again, I'd need to see the raw data from both positions. It's my training, I'm afraid: I check things. I appreciate too that such cases as the Kathy O'Beirne story show that personal stories, no matter how compelling, simply cannot be taken at face value; this is a shortcoming of the Ryan Report.

That aside, though, I really do think the religious order and industrial schools are a distinct phenomenon, separate from clerical abuse. The two issues are related, but they're not the same, and we're not helping any cause if we bundle them together.

Regarding Magee, I'm increasingly dubious that media allegations may have jaundiced him against dealing properly with abuse allegations, such that Murphy's omission of such issues might be construed as being a failing on her part. You mention two subsequently retracted reports, one by the Guardian in 1994 claiming an Irish bishop had been involved in a paedophile ring, and one by TV3 in 1999. Given that neither report concerned an actual complaint of abuse -- the Guardian thing was gossip and the TV3 one was misreporting -- I'm not convinced that either could have had such an effect on Magee that Murphy would have felt obliged to mention it.

As for her, I'm not sure. I certainly think neither of her reports are perfect; as I've said, the Dublin report repeatedly represents a former curate in my parish at home as having been parish priest, when he did not become a parish priest until he went to an inner city parish, and I detailed three obvious Cloyne Report inconsistencies in my first post on the topic. It's one thing to accuse the reports of sloppiness; I'm not so comfortable in casting aspersions on their integrity.

What I'd really like to see, though, in connection with all of this, are numbers.

How many people in Ireland have faced charges over child sex offences, and of these how many have been found or pleaded guilty? How many of those in each category have been clergy or members of religious orders?

So much of the debate to date has been conducted on an anecdotal basis. I'd really like to see someone trying to bring some serious statistics to the table.

One small question, by the way. In point 8 of your May 2006 letter to the Sunday Tribune, you cite a 2003 RCSI study into clerical abuse. I've never heard of any such study, but I recognise the data you refer to: it's from Michael Breen's article on media reporting of abuse in the winter 2000 issue of the Irish Jesuits' journal Studies. Is it possible that you're thinking of the 2002 SAVI study, which refers to this article and which was largely conducted by the RCSI?

Kilbarry1 said...

Yes the statistics about the Irish Times use of "paedophile priests" probably came from the SAVI Report. However it is one of the few things I would accept about SAVI (more later on this).

It is my opinion that the vast majority of child abuse allegations against clergy and religious are false. I pointed out that the leaders of FOUR "Victims" groups made demonstrably false allegations about child killing - and their members did not object. Apart from that, there have been numerous other false claims by leading members of the abuse lobby. Among them were

(A) The Religious Affairs correspondent of the Irish Times who publicised the child-killing claims.

(B) The Religious Affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent, whose allegations of paedophilia against Archbishop McQuaid were universally rejected - even by historians who praised the rest of his book!

(C) The former Crime Editor of The Sunday World who libeled Nora Wall in 1999. (Incidentally he was headhunted by The News of The World last year and recently lost his job!)

(D) A leading politician and current cabinet minister who brought down the government of Albert Reynolds in 1994 by falsely suggesting that Cardinal Cahal Daly was in cahoots with the then Attorney General to protect Fr Brendan Smyth.

(E) Two well-known documentary makers for RTE and TV3 who broadcast child-killing and other manifestly false allegations against the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.
http://www.irishsalem.com/individuals/writers-and-journalists/mary-raftery/index.php AND

(F) Another well-known RTE broadcaster who libelled Bishop Brendan Comiskey.

(G) Finally both the UK Guardian and TV3 were forced to publish/broadcast apologies to Bishop John Magee.

There are other examples that I can't recollect at present - the witch-hunt is just too vast.

I once asked a historically-minded friend of mine if he could come up with any other instance in human history where
(i) A certain group in society were accused of vile crimes,
(ii) The leaders of the group accusing them were liars and scoundrels BUT
(iii) The allegations were nevertheless true.

In response he suggested the case of Nazi and Communist propagandists when they denounced each others crimes i.e. they were dishonest scoundrels but were nevertheless telling the truth about their enemies. HOWEVER the point is that they were telling the truth. They did not NEED to invent atrocity stories about each other. The fact that the leaders of the child abuse industry need to invent lies about the Church, suggests to me that we are in the middle of a witch-hunt in which a small number of genuine cases are being used to demonise the Church.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I take all your points, Rory, but without studying the evidence myself, I'm staying agnostic.

I don't think ad hominem attacks on prominent self-appointed spokespeople for abuse survivors says anything, really, about the reality of abuse as a phenomenon. It really looks as though it's endemic in Irish society.

I do believe the SAVI figures, because a sample of more than 3,000 is a very large and representative sample. It's particularly striking how few of the SAVI respondents claimed they'd been abused by clergy; given how this was such a prominent media phenomenon, one might expect a higher number of respondents to have made such a claim. The low number really gives credence to this.

Do I believe there are those who are out to hit the Church and are determined to believe the worst of it? Yes. Do I believe that clerical abuse is disproportionately overeported? Yes. Do I believe that most allegations of clerical abuse are false? No. Do I believe that abuse is or has been endemic in Irish society? Yes.

For what it's worth, as I've already explained once in this series of posts and once in a comment directed towards you, the statistics on the Irish Times use of the term 'paedophile priests' derive, not from SAVI or the RCSI, but from an article by the then Father Michael Breen in the Winter 2000 issue of the Jesuit journal Studies.

Kilbarry1 said...

We are never going to agree on this. No Irish historian has done a serious study on false allegations of child abuse but UK cultural historian Richard Webster (who died recently) has done so. Most of his work was naturally concentrated on the UK but he included a section on Ireland in his 2005 book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt".

After his recent death I copied a selection of his writings that are relevant to Ireland onto my website and also a summary article "In Memory of Richard Webster".

Webster went from believing that there were a substantial number of true allegations (surrounded by a growing number of false ones) to estimating that up to 90% or perhaps more are false. In an article dated April 2008 he wrote:
In Ireland, as in North Wales and Kincora, there can be no doubt that some children were physically or sexually abused in children’s homes. But in all these cases what has happened is that a small nucleus of reality has had woven around it a vast tissue of fantasy and fabrication. Both in Ireland and in North Wales, as in similar scandals in Cheshire, Merseyside, Northumbria (and indeed in Nova Scotia), the evidence indicates that overwhelming majority of allegations associated with such scandals are false.

I think that Richard Webster has NO Irish counterparts even though it is clear that some allegations must be false (e.g. all Garda investigation into child-killing claims have ceased). Irish historians seem to regard the subject as too hot to handle. Maybe you could check out my summary and his website www.richardwebster.net

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I've already read the very small part of Webster's work relating to Ireland -- just a few pages in a huge tome that looks fantastic but that's all well beyond my budget. His points are good, but in terms of Ireland they don't really reveal anything at all about the broad problem.

You might be right on Irish historians, but it seems to me that as yet the data's still too fresh to do a proper analysis. We're almost at a point when we can start pulling it together, but aren't really there yet.

Regarding SAVI, one very important point is that most of the respondents had never made any formal complaints ever of abuse. More than nineteen out of twenty of those who -- in complete privacy and with complete confidentiality -- said they had been abused had never gone to the authorities.

I'd also stress that I draw a sharp distinction between clerical abuse and whatever went on in institutions. Irrespective of the numbers I see these as different phenomena. Webster's work may have relevance to the latter case, but it has none, so far as I can see, to the former.

I fear you're right, though. We're not going to agree on this, unless you can put forward credible reasons for why I should think an anonymous survey of more than 3,000 people, with just 12 claiming to have been abused by clergy, is unreliable.

Kilbarry1 said...

I find it incredible that 27 percent of Irish adults in 2001 had been the vicims of child sexual abuse - especially in view of the fact that 48 per cent said they had never told anybody before and only 5 percent had reported the abuse to the Gardai. You pointed out previously that according to the 2002 census there were 2,904,172 adults in Ireland the year after the SAVI Study was conducted. This means that over 780,000 people are supposed to have been abused and as you also stated "based on the 2002 census figures, this means that ten years or so ago, there must have been about 530,000 adult survivors of CONTACT sexual abuse in Ireland, with about 38,500 of them being men who'd been raped in childhood, and about 83,000 of them being women who'd been raped in childhood." There must also have been tens of thousands of abusers. (You quote Vincent Browne as claiming there are "literally hundreds of thousands of paedophiles at loose" in Ireland and describe that as an overstatement. I think fantasy would be a better word.)

If these figures were in any way real I would expect a huge political debate in this country on the following lines:

Party A says "We must arrange for counselling etc services for hundreds of thousands of people and we need to bring to trial and jail tens of thousands".

Party B replies: "We cannot afford this now. Even at the height of the Celtic Tiger, we could not pay for anything of the sort."

Party A: "How can you say that? Defending our children against abuse is the most important priority etc etc"

No debate of this kind has ever taken place and the SAVI Study is now a decade old. Nobody - gardai, social workers, prison officers - are behaving in a way that suggests the Study is real. Even the victims group "One In Four" which takes its name from the idea that a quarter of us have been abused, is not behaving IN PRACTICE as if it is true.

In her book "The Morning After" subtitled "Sex, Fear and Feminism" Katie Roiphe wrote concerning similar claims in the USA:

"One in four college women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. One in four. I remember standing outside the dining hall in college, looking at the purple poster with this statistic written in bold letters. It didn't seem right. If sexual assault was really so pervasive, it seemed strange that the intricate gossip networks hadn't picked up more than one or two shadowy instances of rape. If I was really standing in the middle of an "epidemic," a "crisis"- if 25 percent of my women friends were really being raped- wouldn't I know it?"

She points out that there were a lot of things wrong with the two American studies that are behind the one-in-four statistice - among them:
73 per cent of the women categorised as rape victims did not define their experience as "rape". (It was the researcher Dr. Mary Koss who did.)
42 per cent of the women identified as rape victims later had sex with the man who supposedly raped them AFTER the supposed rape.
(page 52/53 of "The Morning After" quoting Neil Gilbert, professor of social welfare at the University of California at Berkeley)

Roiphe comments: "As Gilbert delves further into the numbers, he does not necessarily disprove the one-in-four statistic, but he does help clarify what it means. He reveals that the so-called "rape epidemic" on campuses is more of a way of interpreting, a way of seeing, than a physical phenomenon. It is more about a change in sexual politics than a change in sexual behavior".

I suspect that there are similar problems with the SAVI Study. The involvement of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre does not increase my confidence in it.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Okay, so in short, you don't believe it. Fair enough. I expect that's what many of our politicians did at the time the Study was published. Sometimes it's easier to ignore reality than to face it. For what it's worth, I don't see that your American figures are in any way comparable to the SAVI ones, not least because they represent a retroactive taxonomic interpretation of data; the SAVI figures are derived rather more explicitly and objectively from the questions asked.

To my knowledge the SAVI figures have never been contested, other than by people like you saying that you find them incredible. For example, the following publications all cite SAVI:

Andrews, 'Review of Time for Action: A report to CTBI', Studies (2003)
Breen, 'Through the Looking Glass: How the mass media represent, reflect and refract sexual crime in Ireland', Irish Communications Review (2004)
Breen, 'Depraved Paedos and Other Beasts: The Media Portrayal of Child Sexual Abusers in Ireland and the UK', in Yoder and Kreuter, eds, Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Evil (2004)
Breen, et al, '"Suing the Pope" and Scandalising the People:Irish Attitudes to Sexual Abuse by Clergy, Pre- and Post-Screening of a Critical Documentary', Irish Communications Review (2009)
Connolly, 'Priest and Bishop: Implications of the Abuse Crisis', The Furrow (2006)
Conroy, 'Trafficking in Unaccompanied Minors in the European Union Member States - Ireland', Research Report prepared for The International Organization of Migration (2003)
Gibbons, 'Managing Sex Offenders: Is there a role for psychiatry?', Irish Journal of Psychiatric Medicine (2003)
Goode, et al, Time to Listen, Confronting Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Ireland (2003)
Itzin, et al, 'The Effects of Domestic Sexual Abuse on Mental Health', The Psychiatrist (2008)
Lalor and McElvaney, 'Overview of the Nature and Extent of Child Sex Abuse in Europe' in Council of Europe, Protecting Children from Sexual Violence, (2010)
Lalor and McElvaney, 'Child Sexual Abuse, Links to Later Sexual Exploitation/High-Risk Sexual Behavior, and Prevention/Treatment Programs', Trauma, Violence and Abuse (2010)
Lang and Schopf, 'Prevalence study of abuse and violence against old women', Research Institute of the Red Cross, Austria (2009)
Layte, et al, The Irish Study of Sexual Relationships - Main Report (2006)
McElvaney, 'Child Sexual Abuse: How Young People Tell', Conference proceedings, Irish Association of Suicidology (2006)
McGee, et al, SAVI and SAVI Revisited (2005)
McGee, et al, 'Secular Trends in Child and Adult Sexual Violence - one decreasing and the other increasing: a population survey in Ireland' (2009)
McKay, 'Ireland and Rape Crises', Irish Review (2007)
Mezey, et al, 'Domestic violence, lifetime trauma and psychological health of childbearing women', BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2005)
Mezey, 'Improving the Mental Health of Offenders in Primary Care', British Medical Journal (10 February 2007)
Mossige, et al, The Baltic Sea Regional Study on Adolescents' Sexuality (2007)
Rape Crisis Network Ireland, 'What does the research and data tell us about the male victims of rape in an Irish context?' (2010)

There'll be more publications, of course, but I have yet to find even one that disputes the SAVI findings. For me they ring true: I know at least six people, all adults now, who claim to have been abused when they were children. I say 'at least' because I have no idea who among friends, family, and acquaintances will have confided in people other than me. As SAVI says, half of abuse survivors never tell anyone, and those who do disclose their experiences do so to very few people.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I agree that it is odd that there seems to have been no debate in the Dail on the matter, especially given how the Study's findings were officially launched by President McAleese in Dublin Castle, but think this is probably because the problem is too big, such that it's beyond the State's powers to resolve. Perhaps the simplest thing for you to do, though, would be to write to the Minister for Children and to her opposite number in Fianna Fail, with a view to asking whether or not they accept the SAVI figures, and whether they intend to provide support for all abuse victims on a level commensurate to that offered for those abused by clergy.

That the victims' group 'One in Four' doesn't behave as though a quarter of us have been abused is, I think, a genuine scandal. Its loudest cries seem to me to have been about clerical abuse, which may reflect Colm O'Gorman's personal agenda; it is striking that shortly after his departure, his successor announced that they'd be taking a greater interest in familial abuse. Whether or not they've done so, I can't say, but it hasn't seemed that way to me.

Do you know whether 'One if Four' takes its name from the popularly-cited figure for rape in America? Certainly, it can't have taken it from the SAVI Study, as it was established in the UK in 1999, three years before the SAVI findings were issued. It seems unlikely to be derived from British figures either, given that the best UK figures suggest a British abuse rate below half that in Ireland.

Kilbarry1 said...

I suppose that "One in Four" takes its name from the American figure. It was first set up in the UK in 1999 - after the Taoiseach's apology to "survivors" in May of that year. There are about a dozen such groups and not a single one dates from before the time it became clear that large amounts of State funding were going to be on the table.

I have a section on my website about Colm O'Gorman
I agree that he appears to be entirely focused on clerical sex abuse. This is despite that the fact that - by his own account - he was abused by two men when he was 5 and by a teenager when he was 7 or 8. Fr Sean Fortune only came on the scene when O'Gorman was 14 or 15 and would have been the FOURTH person to abuse him. This makes his focus on the Catholic Church very strange indeed.

O’Gorman has been Executive Director of Amnesty in Ireland since 2008. Writing in the Irish Times on 29 March 2006, he made some remarkable statements in an article headed “ “Interests of Children Must Remain Paramount in Sex-Abuse Inquiries” Mr O’Gorman stated: “In the past few months a number of commentators have suggested that grave injustice is being done to priests falsely accused of child sexual abuse. Such suggestions rightly concern fair minded people, but remarkably, no evidence of any kind has been presented to suggest that false allegations are being made or that the rights of those accused are being abused.”

Mr. O'Gorman wrote this 3 months AFTER former nun Nora Wall had received a Certificate of Miscarriage of Justice from the Court of Criminal Appeal following her wrongful conviction for child rape. There had also been a long series of child murder allegations against the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, ALL of which had been discredited at the time O’Gorman wrote his article. This did not prevent Amnesty Ireland from appointing him their Executive Director in February 2008.

I should say that One in Four is NOT one of the groups that sponsored the child killing allegations. OTOH it only opened its Dublin office in 2003, when THAT particular witch-hunt was winding down.

I note your point that no-one seems to have questioned the statistics in the SAVI study. However a number of historians have published histories of 20th Century Ireland that have detailed the allegations against the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy but managed to ignore the blood libels against same. The same historians have produced hostile accounts of the episcopate of John Charles McQuaid while managing to overlook John Cooney's depiction of him as a paedophile - as if that was irrelevant to their portraits of the decline of the Catholic Church. The problem is that these historians realise that the allegations are false but it is not Politically Correct to say so. I suspect that people have a similar problem with the SAVI statistics. Nobody is acting IN PRACTISE as if they are true but to question them would bring the wrath of the feminist establishment down on the heretic's head!

AS to the question of HOW the SAVI researchers could have got their statistics, I can only offer some anecdotal evidence. I am aware of 2 cases where men went to counsellors (female of course) about personal issues and were asked if they had been abused in childhood! They were both annoyed but if they had been the "victim" type they might have jumped at the idea that someone else was to blame for their problems. Also a guy told a friend of mine that he was beginning to recall having been abused as a child. The reply he received was "You're never too old to be a victim of child abuse". (We are living in a victim
culture and Cynicism is the flip-side of Hysteria!) TO BE CONTINUED

Kilbarry1 said...

CONTINUED I have no idea just how common this type of thing is in Ireland since no-one is funding studies about false allegations of rape or child abuse. However Katie Roiphe has a lot to say about the issue in the USA. For example:
She quotes Naomi Wolf writing in "The Beauty Myth" - "Cultural representation of glamorised degradation has created a situation among the young in which boys rape and girls get raped as a normal course of events. [Wolf's italics]
She also quotes Susan Brownmiller's "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape" - "from prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."[Brownmiller's italics]

Wolf and Brownmiller are mainstream feminist authors, not isolated lunatics, and they are programming women to interpret ordinary sexual relationships as rape. That probably explains the American idea that one in four women are raped. I don't know how much of this applies to Ireland, but I prefer to believe that something like it is behind the SAVI statistics, rather than that we have hundreds of thousands of rape victims and tens of thousands of rapists.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...


Well, regarding your reluctance to accept the SAVI figures, I sympathise with your refusal to countenance the possibility that hundreds of thousands of Irish people had been sexually abused or even raped as children. It's a horrible scenario to contemplate, but I think it's almost certainly true. As it happens,

Lalor and McElvaney's piece on written for the Council of Europe, 'Overview of the Nature and Extent of Child Sex Abuse in Europe' is very useful in this regard, as it helps put the Irish figures into some kind of context. It's hard to make comparisons, given different methodologies etc, but it really looks as though the Irish figures are very plausible.

I think you should given serious consideration to the fact that the vast majority of abuse cases go unreported; SAVI described how almost half the abuse survivors they interviewed said they had never told anybody of what they'd experienced before they were approached for the study. They had nothing whatsoever to gain from lying. Nothing at all.

And if you know two people who were asked whether they'd been abused, and who were annoyed to have been asked, well, I know six people who were abused, only one of whom, to my knowledge, took the matter to court -- leading to a guilty verdict.

It seems that your default reaction to hearing of abuse is to dismiss the possibility that it had happened, such that I can't imagine anyone ever confiding in you about any terrible childhood experiences they might have had. This, I think, may be causing a vicious circle, such that your disbelief reinforces itself.

I do appreciate your concerns about Colm O'Gorman; you'll note that where I've singled out people for their bravery in coming forward about what happened to them, I've not made any mention of him. I've long being sceptical of his focus on clerical abuse, have believed that he's misquoted and misrepresented Church documents, and also felt he's taken advantage of his position in Amnesty International to comment on domestic matters.

Out of curiosity, who are the historians who wrote hostile accounts of McQuaid's episcopate without addressing Cooney's allegations?

Kilbarry1 said...

I have looked at several different histories of the "Ireland in the Twentieth Century" type and can't find a single reference to John Cooney's claim that Archbishop McQuaid was a paedophile e.g. histories by Diarmaid Ferriter, Dermot Keogh, Tim Pat Coogan and others.It was Diarmaid Feriter I was thinking of re his "The Transformation of Ireland: 1900-2000" (published 2004). He also wrote "Occasions of Sin - Sex and Society in Modern Ireland" (2009) which I recently got from the library.

I have reread the relevant parts of the former book and looked at the latter for the first time. I was both right and wrong about Ferriter and I have just begun a section about him on my website (more to follow):

First of all what he writes about the Archbishop is reasonably fair and he gently chides John Cooney for giving a one-sided approach in his 1999 biography. In "Occasions of Sin" he quotes one of Cooney's rants about Archbishop McQuaid being "totally obsessed with sex", "almost like Ceausescu", "bring Ireland under a kind of spiritual terrorism" and "people like Frank Duff of the Legion of Mary are effectively his spies". (In fact Frank Duff had a difficult relationship with the Archbishop.) Ferriter then contrasts this with the the attitude of Deirdre McMahon who "in a perceptive overview of McQuaid's time as archbishop, published in 2000, warned against the 'crude caricatures of hidebound Catholic reaction with which McQuaid has become identified since his death in 1973'. As McMahon points out many benefited from his public and private charity ...."[pages 338-9]

What I was ACTUALLY thinking of was the fact that Ferriter is the only Irish historian to have endorsed claims that boys were murdered by the Christian Brothers. The following is from page 393-4 of the 2005 (paperback) edition of his book "The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000". It appears in Chapter 5 which covers the years 1932-1945.

"In the 1990s, it was discovered that the most glaring omissions from the archive files of the industrial-school system related to information concerning the deaths of children - it is highly unlikely that those missing or unaccounted for wandered innocently outside the gates of industrial schools and became lost and untraceable. [104]. It is more probable, though difficult to prove conclusively, that a small number of Irish children were beaten to death in state-financed, religious-run institutions."
Note 104: Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan "Suffer The Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools", (Dublin, 1999), page 233-4 and 271-274"

I have dealt with Ferriter's allegation on my website at

The fact that Diarmaid Ferriter can get away with the above says a lot about the state of Irish society today in relation to allegations of child sex abuse. It might partly explain why lots of Irish people claim they were abused as children. It's a handy way of blaming other people for your problems!

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