08 December 2011

Smoke Alarms Ring Even When There's No Fire...

So, there are alarm bells ringing about McQuaid again, are there? So the Irish Times reports anyway, in connection with a supplement to the Dublin Report that was published online back in July.

Before anybody starts jumping to conclusions, they should do three things.
  • Firstly, they should keep in mind that Archbishop McQuaid died in 1973, and thus is no position to answer any allegations. Innocent till proven guilty is a wise and fair precept, and no less so when speaking of those who are incapable of responding to claims dating back forty or fifty years, if not further.
  • Secondly, they should understand that allegations that McQuaid had been a paedophile were first raised in John Cooney's 1999 book, John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland, parts of which were published in advance in the Sunday Times. This is a vital part of the story. Keep that publication date in mind, and note how such historians as John A. Murray, Ronan Fanning, and Dermot Keogh roundly dismissed Cooney's claim at the time as having been ill-founded and deriving from sources both biased and unspecified.
  • While on the subject of 1999, they should look into how it was reported that year that there had once been a Garda investigation into allegations that related to McQuaid, with McQuaid being cleared of all involvement. The important thing probably isn't that he was cleared so much as that there were stories about McQuaid in circulation in 1999.
  • Thirdly, they should read the supplement to Yvonne Murphy's Dublin Report for themselves, rather than relying on secondhand summaries. It's only two pages long, after all. There's no excuse for relying on churnalistic paraphrases on this one.

The supplement, as you'll see, is structured as a narrative, explaining how the Commission came by new information, followed it up, and said it was a matter for the archdiocese to look into now. The supplement doesn't give McQuaid's name and uncharacteristically for the Dublin Report there are no details whatsoever given of what is alleged to have happened. This is more peculiar than it might at first seem: if you've read the Report you'll remember that Murphy doesn't like to skimp on details, however horrific. It's almost as though this time Murphy's saying that there's nothing to report, and this is merely being covered for the sake of completeness.

Telling thetale from the point of view of the Commission makes for an interesting story but is misleading. The Commission's remit concerned how allegations of clerical abuse were handled by the institutions of Church and State within the Archdiocese; it makes far more sense to retell the story in the order relevant to the bodies under investigation. Only that will give us any indications whether things have been handled properly.

The story from the perspective of the protagonists...
At an unspecified point -- we're not told when -- a letter was sent from an unnamed source to the solicitors for the Archdiocese; this letter indicated that people were aware in 1999 that concerns had been expressed about McQuaid. Given that 1999 was the year in which Cooney published his biography of McQuaid and in which it became public knowledge that there had once been a Garda investigation in relation to the then Archbishop, this is hardly surprising. It's quite likely that Cooney's researches would have caught people's attention even before his book was published. Taking all this into account, it would have been rather more surprising if concerns hadn't been expressed!

In 2003, some years after Cooney's book had publicly made dubious allegations about McQuaid, a man complained to the Eastern Health Board that he had been abused by McQuaid decades earlier. This complaint seems to have gone nowhere, for reasons that Murphy doesn't divulge. It may simply have been that the complaint was not credible, or that the Eastern Health Board felt it couldn't do anything in response to an unproven allegation about a man who'd been dead for thirty years; we cannot say.

When this complaint came to light several years later, the Health Service Executive did not pass this complaint on to the Murphy Commission. Again, we cannot for certain say why, but the Commission is satisfied that this was simply due to human error.

In May 2009, the HSE passed the complaint to the then Director of Child Protection in the Dublin Archdiocese, who informed Archbishop Martin, who immediately informed the Murphy Commission. This would seem to have been exactly what the diocese ought to have done, and I'd hope nobody would fault it for that.

The diocese conducted a further search of diocesan files, finding the letter which related to concerns that were abroad in 1999, and passing that on to the Commission, which was due to submit its report and unable to deal with such new information. Having examined the matter since then, it recognises that the Archdiocese had never been in a position to have responded to the concern, knowing neither the details nor the source of the matter, and with Archbishop McQuaid long dead.

In 2010 Archbishop Martin informed the Commission that he had received another complaint about his predecessor. As the Murphy Commission's remit had extended only to complaints received between 1975 and 2004, this was of no concern to the Commission, which recognised that Archbishop Martin had been under no obligation to report this matter to them.

Or to sum it up...
In short: sensationalist and unsubstantiated claims that Archbishop McQuaid had been a paedophile were publicly made and widely reported in 1999, and in the twelve years since these claims have been common currency two people have claimed to have been abused by him. We know nothing whatsoever about these claims, which may not have been remotely credible; the fact is that we just don't know.

In its July supplement, the Murphy Commission broke with its normal practice and gave no information on either allegation, save to say that on both occasions the Archdiocese came forward and reported the matter as soon as it was aware of the allegations, in one case when it was under no obligation whatsoever to do so. The Commission says nothing either way about whether these two complaints have been passed on to the Guards, that being practice in Dublin Archdiocese but not being required in law, it doesn't fault the Archdiocese's actions in the slightest, and it says that any further investigation of the matter is for the Archdiocese.

If there's a story here it should be that the Church responded in an exemplary fashion to reports of abuse having been committed by the most influential cleric of twentieth-century Ireland. Does anyone really think that'll be what happens?

Update: I gather John Cooney is looking for an apology from Cardinal Connell for his having poured scorn on Cooney's allegations. Presumably he's looking for apologies from Ronan Fanning and other historians too? Given that there's still no publicly accessible historical evidence to support his allegations -- Murphy evidently having deemed the allegations not worth publishing -- this is rather rich. After all, even should there turn out to be some merit to the complaints, it wouldn't change the fact that Cooney's allegations were based in large part on an unpublished short story which was written by a man who hated McQuaid. If he's right, he's right by accident.


shane said...

Excellent post, as always. I have to say I was initially startled by the post's title because last night (for the first time I think ever) the smoke alarm started ringing, I woke up and got into a bit of a panic but discovered that there was no fire! What a relief!

Lynda said...

I think we would all find David F Pierre's latest book on the sex abuse scandals in the Church very enlightening - It's called "Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, the Facts, the Fraud and the Stories". It was discussed by Fr MacRae on his last post on These Stone Walls, Musings from Prison of a Priest Falsely Accused. His own case is treated in Chapter 20 of the book. Fr MacRae recommends the book to all but especially Catholic priests so that they may be more informed about how they are being targetted and how easily their lives might be thrown in to disarray by a false accusation. I'd urge people to read Fr MacRae's blog (written from a typewriter in prison) and the case documents on his site (These Stone Walls) and to read David Pierre's book and get a copy for a friend who's a priest.

GOR said...

As always, excellent post TG!

This business smacks of jumping on the bandwagon – something many in Ireland appear only too willing to do. It is the fashion – but it is not new. Bishop Fulton Sheen once contrasted the different reactions of Jewish and Irish communities to success. When a Jewish boy made good, he said, everyone acclaimed: “That’s our Benjamin!” When an Irish boy made good, he was whacked on the head with a shillelagh and told to get back in his place.

In our sense of faux egalitarianism we love to drag down our heroes – especially if they are dead and can’t defend themselves.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Well, given what chapters 12 and 13 of the Murphy Report reveal about McQuaid, I'm not sure about his being a hero, in that he seems at least to have had an astonishing capacity to rationalise away horrific realities, but certainly this seems a full-blown calumny.

It seems to me that any reports that omit what the stories abroad in 1999 are seriously misleading. Such omission lends the unspecified 2003 and 2010 allegations an air of credibility that they otherwise lack.