16 July 2011

On Wading Through The Cloyne Report

It's very difficult to talk about the Cloyne Report. It's difficult because to read the Report is painful, and because there's a huge amount in it, and because it's being misreported, and because it inevitably -- and rightly -- spurs strong feelings. For some it's a fiery indignation, for others a resigned depression; I cannot imagine anyone reading it in a spirit of hope.

I've read the Report a couple of times now, as I did with the Murphy Report, and I've skimmed it a few times, using the index and electronic searching in order to put some kind of order on it. It seems to me that the one and only thing that the Report makes absolutely clear is that even if you have the best policies and procedures in the world, it won't mean squat unless people are willing to follow them. Sadly, it's all too clear that neither Bishop Magee nor Monsignor O'Callaghan had any such intention.

The Report, after all, recognises that the Church's child-protection policies are far better than those of the State. It says the State's policies are less precise and more difficult to follow than those of the Church (Cloyne 1.15), and reiterates the Murphy Report's observation that while the monitoring of sex abusers is very difficult, there is greater monitoring of clerical child sex abusers than any other child sex abusers (C1.62, Murphy 1.81-6), these being, in effect, free to do whatever they like (M1.83).

But, of course, all this doesn't mean squat if the people who have a job of implementing these policies aren't interested in doing so. This, of course, is exactly what the Murphy Report observed of Dublin -- that Dublin's child-protection structures work well, but that their doing so is heavily dependent on the demonstrated commitment and effectiveness of the Archbishop and the Director of the Child Protection Service (M1.16).

Unwillingness to Follow Guidelines
Why weren't Magee or O'Callaghan interested in following the Irish Church's agreed guidelines? Granted, as the Murphy Report points out, the Framework Document wasn't binding on the bishops who agreed it (M3.42), but still, given that Magee had signed up to and published it within his diocese, one would have expected him to have made a serious effort to implement it. I'm afraid Magee's motives seem far from clear in this whole affair, but O'Callaghan seems to have been driven by a peculiar mixture of kindness, clericalism, a respect for what he believed to be due process, and an arrogant conviction that he knew best. In 2002, for instance, he wrote that he felt it was not for the Church to pass on allegations of abuse to the State, as he felt that so doing compromised the Church's position (C4.77):
'On the issue of reporting to civil authorities I have always been of your mind and endorse everything you say. I am convinced that reporting should have been left to the complainants. Our role in the whole process has been compromised by taking on direct reporting as part of our remit. Why should we take it on ourselves to report when the complainant does not want it done? This commitment on our part also seriously compromises our relationship with the priest against whom allegations have been made.'
Some years later he looked back on 1996, when the bishops had been working on guidelines for dealing with abuse allegations, saying that he was deeply disappointed with the bishops, feeling that (C1.43):
'They were walking away from the strong positive tradition of Christian Pastoral Care as inspired by the words and actions of Jesus himself. They would surrender all pastoral discretion and would hand over to secular agencies overall responsibility for alleged offending priests who had abused their position of trust and given serious scandal. The Bishops rolled over under pressure from the media. And they expected Rome to endorse the new policy!'
This, as it happens, tallies with one of the running themes in the Murphy Report: that the Church's authorities had no desire to implement the Church's own rules. The problem isn't Canon Law, despite the claims of far too many commentators over the last year or two; rather the problem was that Canon Law wasn't followed (M1.15, 1.17, 1.18, 1.25-6, 1.62, 4.3, 4.11ff.). The Murphy Report records Monsignor Dolan, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Dublin, as having said that Canon Law (M4.12):
'... had been judged by many, rightly or wrongly to have had a significantly negative impact on the mission of the Church, this attitude could perhaps best be summed up by the following: that many placed more faith in the code than in the Gospel.'
It seems that Monsignor O'Callaghan shared this view and evidently regarded the Framework Document as even worse. The Framework Document was both more clear and more strict than Canon Law, demanding the reporting of abuse allegations to the State; Canon Law merely required the Civil Law be followed with regard to reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities, and given that the State does not require that abuse allegations be passed on (M1.16), the Framework Document went further than both Canon Law and the law of the land. O'Callaghan regarded this as putting the Church in an impossible position and being wholly contrary to a spirit of Christian forgiveness. I see his point, but it is blatantly obvious that in most cases, as Murphy points out of how matters used to be handled in Dublin, in practice this attitude extended only to clergy, not being extended to the laity and in particular 'it did not extend to lay complainants of child sexual abuse' (M4.15).

Ambiguity and Unsupported Inferences in the Report
The report, it should be pointed out, is not without flaws. It's hard to make such a point without seeming like a craven apologist, but I think it has to be said. I'd felt uneasy reading the Murphy Report where there's a section about an abuser having once operated in my home parish and much is said of the Parish Priest's involvement in matters, in terms of his mishandling of concerns. However, the priest repeatedly identified as parish priest was never more than a curate in the parish. This may seem a minor point, but it has some significance to the case study, and in any case, if I could spot such an egregious error in connection with the only parish dealt with in that report that I know intimately, I could not help but wonder what errors there are in connection with other cases described. I know, Murphy & Co had tens of thousands of documents to wade through, but even so, this bothered me...

Unfortunately, the Cloyne Report doesn't put me at ease in this regard, as I feel it's problematic in at least three key respects.

The first is that it's unsystematic; granted, this may in some respects be a function of the diocesan files having been haphazardly maintained, but even so, some of the cases described are described in absurdly vague terms. Chapter 13, for instance, describes how a lady claimed that she and her brother had been abused by a 'Father Moray' who had died six years earlier: there's no indication of when this alleged abuse took place, or how old the siblings had been at the time. This may seem trivial, but there are three instances where the details simply don't add up.
  • 'Father Drust' is alleged to have engaged in abuse of one girl between 1967 and 1971 (C15.4), but the Report states that he began abusing her a few months after meeting her in 1964 or 1965 when she was seven or eight (C15.10), and stopped abusing her when she was eleven in 1968 or 1969 (C15.15); clearly these dates do not match. 
  • 'Father Tarin' is said to have abused one girl -- the Report calls this 'a vicious sexual assault' -- in the early 1950s either when she was about six (C16.4) or around the time of her First Communion when she was eight (C16.8). 
  • Chapter 26 details how Magee himself is said to have inappropriately hugged a young adult male, but the Report gives no indication of when this happened. More importantly, it is unclear on the youth's age (C26.4), despite the fact of the Report stating that although he had been accepted for a place in seminary when he was approximately 17½ years old he had to wait until he was 18 before starting his studies (C26.3), and that the youth was first hugged by the bishop at a meeting just before the start of the seminary year when he was due to begin his studies (C26.4). At least on the basis of the Report, he must have been eighteen at the time, but the Report seems unnecessarily vague on the matter. 
I'm not disputing the truth of any of the allegations, just observing that the Report hasn't done a good job of recording them, seeming unaware even of its internal contradictions.

The second point of concern for me is that I don't see that the Magee episode as described in Chapter 26 has any place in the Report at all. I don't dispute for a moment that it's troubling, but what's clear from it is that it concerns the bishop having allegedly hugged an admittedly young adult male, and having kissed him on the forehead. Everybody who considered this matter -- the diocesan delegate Father Bermingham, Ian Elliott of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, Archbishop Clifford, and the Gardaí -- all took the same view, which was that though Magee's behaviour was inappropriate, given the actual details revealed and Joseph’s age at the time, the behaviour described did not constitute an allegation of child sexual abuse. Given that the remit of the Report was to report on the handling of allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse received by the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009, I really don't see why this is in the report at all. I'm not saying it's good; it's nothing of the sort. I'm just saying it's not in the remit of the Report.

The final major issue for me in this regard concerns what the Report says about the Vatican's involvement, something the Government seems to have latched on to, and something that journalists appear to be distorting by the hour in a weird version of Chinese whispers. The Report does not at any point say that the Vatican ever set out to undermine the Irish bishops, let alone the Irish state. The Report describes how the Irish bishops' 1996 Framework Document was sent to Rome in the hope of it getting Rome's approval, such that it should be regarded as canonically binding, and how a year later the Papal Nuncio passed on the response of the Congregation for Clergy (C1.18, 1.76, 4.21). The Congregation for Clergy clearly thought of the Framework Document as a study document -- and there's no suggestion that anybody ever corrected this understanding -- and expressed serious reservations about it in two regards. Firstly, there was a concern that it might conflict with Canon Law, which had primacy, such that an abusive priest found guilty under the procedures of the Framework Document would inevitably an undesirably could well have an appeal to Rome upheld on procedural grounds alone. Secondly, it expressed unspecified moral and canonical concerns about the Framework Document requiring the mandatory reporting of all allegations and concerns to the State. For all that, it insisted that Canon Law had to be followed in these matters -- Canon Law, it should be stressed, mandated that the State's laws in these matters should be followed (C4.26), and the State did not then and does not even now require mandatory reporting of such matters (M1.16).

While the Report does not in any way claim that it was the intention of the Vatican to undermine the Irish Church -- let alone the Irish State -- in connection with this, it insists that this was the effect of the Congregation for Clergy's decision, saying that (C1.18):
'This effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who, like Monsignor O’Callaghan, dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy.'
This claim is repeated several times (C1.76, 4.22, 4.91), and it does seem to be supported, at least with reference to Monsignor O'Callaghan, who is reported as having disdainfully written of what he regarded as the bishops' folly in having expected Rome to endorse the Framework Document (1.43). However, the Report offers no evidence whatsoever of anybody other than O'Callaghan having found comfort in the Congregation for Clergy's response, and it really does seem as though O'Callaghan would have done his own thing anyway. After all, despite the Congregation for Clergy's insistence that the Church's established Canon Law procedures should be 'meticulously followed' (C4.21), O'Callaghan made no effort whatsoever to abide by their instruction. Indeed, once the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was given the job of centrally dealing with this sort of stuff in 2001, so that Rome could make sure abuse cases were handled properly, O'Callaghan read this as primarily being about respecting the rights of accused priests (C4.24), and not about the rights of victims of clerical abuse. This was the subtext of the CDF's 2001 instruction, he said. The reason why he had to say this was the instruction's subtext is because it blatantly wasn't in the text! In hindsight O'Callaghan is open and contrite about his clerical bias (C1.27):
'I regret also that I tended to show favour to accused priests vis-à-vis complaints in some cases. I realise now that in some instances I became emotionally drawn to the plight of accused priests and in this way compromised my care of some complainants.'
Given this and all the evidence, I think it's pretty clear that no matter what Rome could have said in 1997, O'Callaghan would have found a way of sticking to his pastoral guns; he would have found comfort and support in whatever the Congregation for Clergy had decided. The facts as revealed in the Report are a damning indictment of Magee and O'Callaghan, but not of Rome, or indeed of the other bishops.

Lest Anyone Take False Solace...
It's utterly clear from the Report that Magee had no serious interest in protecting vulnerable children in his diocese, or in remedying harm done to his flock in the past. It's equally clear that for whatever reason he handled complaints in a duplicitous manner, and was grossly irresponsible in delegating the handling of complaints to a man who was openly opposed to the bishops' own policies for dealing with child abuse allegations, and who was far from keen on clerical discipline of any sort whatsoever.

There are those who will rightly point out that the Cloyne Report is not a report on clerical abuse, but is, like the Murphy Report, a report on how the diocese dealt with allegations of abuse and related expressions of concern. This is true, and indeed, although the Report features 19 case studies, only one of these has thus far led to a conviction, that being an 18-month suspended sentence (C21.100). However, that's not to say for a moment that the other cases are devoid of truth, and indeed even leaving aside cases where priests accepted the truth of what had been alleged against them (C10.6, 14.7, 16.10), it seems clear that there's truth to several -- if not almost all -- other allegations.

Others will argue that although the diocese was approached about these events in recent years, between 1996 and 2009, the bulk of the alleged incidents happened a long time ago. Again, this is broadly true, with some cases dating back to the 1930s and the largest number of cases relating to the 1960s, but even so that's not to say that all is good now. The Report testifies to two instances of suspicious activity without complaints of any sort, one in the 1990s and one in the 2000s, an unproven allegation relating to an event in the early 1990s, and one other instance, where a priest (who later eloped with a married woman) admitted in 2000 to having had a relationship with a teenage girl, something the girl herself denied. I'm sure things have improved enormously, but that's not to say that there aren't tares among the wheat even now.

Conversely, another common thing that some within the Church will claim is that abuse is a post-Conciliar problem, that it didn't happen before Vatican II. Now, there is quite a bit of truth in this, in that insofar as we have statistical evidence on abuse in America -- the John Jay Institute having done an enormous study on clerical abuse there -- it seems that abuse was low in the 1950s, rose sharply in the 1960s, peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has been steadily declining ever since, with reporting of abuse really only beginning in the mid-1990s. However, the Cloyne data testifies to some abuse having gone back to the 1930s, and I don't think there should be any shirking of the fact that during the decade when most abuse seems to have happened in Cloyne -- the 1960s -- the abusers had clearly been selected and trained in the years before the Council. For what it's worth, just to crunch the data, I think we have to leave out the case where two priests were clearly wrongly accused (C22), the Magee incident since that clearly wasn't child abuse (C26), and the case of 'Father Moray' since the report gives no indication of when the accusation refers to (C13). Allowing for that, then, it seems that between 1996 and 2009, accusations we should regard as credible even if unproven were made against fifteen priests who had operated in the diocese:
  • The earliest accusation against four priests relate to events in the years before the Council (C16, 19, 20, and 25).
  • Four priests who were trained before the Council were accused of having committed abuse in the 1960s (C10, 11, 15, and 17).
  • Seven priests were accused of having committed abuse, or had concerns raised about them, in the years after the Council (C9, 12, 14, 18, 21, 23, and 25).
One of the most common arguments made about clerical abuse is that it's not really paedophilia in the vast majority of cases, but is, rather, ephebophilia, in that it relates to adolescent males, rather than to children proper. Yet again, the American statistics show that there is something to this, as it happens, but it doesn't seem to have been the case at Cloyne. Certainly, if we take the allegations at face value and given that it's really only possible to analyse fourteen of the cases statistically, it seems that at least nine allegations or concerns related to prepubescent children, three related to adolescent males, and two related to adolescent females. This, as it happens, is in line with the SAVI Study's findings in 2002 that two-thirds of Irish adults who had been sexually abused in their youth were sexually abused before the age of twelve. There's no getting around the fact that most of the allegations and concerns dealt with in the Cloyne Report relate to children.

I'll have more to say on this over the next day or two, not least in connection with the Government's hysterical response, but I thought it was worth laying out the facts on this, as far as I can see them. I've read the SAVI Report, the Ferns Report, the Ryan Report, and the Murphy Report already, so it made sense to read this properly, grim though it is. It's important to me that the Church of which I'm a member not be a haven for paedophilia, and small though the consolation is, I'm glad that most of the reports relate to events long ago, that the Cloyne Report recognises the quality of the Church's procedures, that Magee is no longer bishop in Cloyne, that even Magee didn't resort to the tactic of moving priests from one parish to another if they came under suspicion (C1.58), and that the only case in the Report which relates to allegations handled by a religious order rather than the diocese was handled impeccably.

That, at least, gives hope that Cloyne might well be an exception, rather than the rule, which I think is what we all fear.

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