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Religious Tolerance logo

Sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Ireland

Background. The 2011 Cloyne report.
Main conclusions reached by the report

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The Government of Ireland had ordered a series of investigation into allegations of widespread molestation of children and youth within the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. So far, five Catholic Bishops in the country have resigned after accusations of child abuse in their dioceses. The latest study investigated the Diocese of Cloyne which covers County Cork. It was issued on 2011-JUL-13, and found evidence of Church cover ups from 1996 to 2009. The report suggested that children in Catholic parishes across the entire country may be in danger of continuing molestation. Twenty three dioceses remain to be investigated.

Judge Yvonne Murphy headed the independent commission that researched the Cloyne diocese report. The evidence that it collected confirmed an earlier Church-appointed commission that had resulted in the resignation of John Magee, the former Bishop of Cloyne. He had been a private secretary to three popes -- Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. He said that he took:

"full responsibility ... [for what he called] the flawed implementation of church procedures.... I now realize that I should have taken a much firmer role in ensuring their implementation.

The new report found that Magee and his senior aides did not report anything about 9 of 15 of the abuse cases 1 in the diocese from 1996 to 2009. Further, the Church withheld basic information in all but one case.

According to an Associated Press report:

"Justice Minister Alan Shatter pledged to pass a new law making it a crime punishable by imprisonment to withhold knowledge of suspected child abuse as he published the investigation into the Cloyne diocese in southwest Ireland.

Mr. Shatter said previous pledges by Irish church leaders to place Irish civil law first and report all abuse cases dating back to 1995 had been 'built on sand.' He said it was an open question whether other dioceses ... were still withholding evidence of crimes and posing an ongoing threat to children.

The 341-page Cloyne report is the fourth state fact-finding probe into how church leaders for decades protected their own reputation –- and their own pedophile staff members from the law -– at the expense of Irish children. A string of scandals and revelations since 1994 has decimated the church's reputation and standing in this once-devoutly Catholic nation." 2

Unfortunately, the term "pedophile" is ambiguous. Its usage by the mental health profession is limited to abusers of pre-pubertal children. Its popular usage includes persons who molest children and youths under the age of 18.

The Associated Press reported that:

"Irish government leaders and abuse-rights advocates said the Vatican bore heavy responsibility for encouraging cover-ups since 1996.

They and the investigators emphasized that Ireland's bishops formally agreed in 1995 to begin reporting suspected child-abuse cases to police in rules that became valid Jan. 1, 1996. The Irish church took that step after the first abuse victims went public with their lawsuits, a development that opened the floodgates for more than 13,000 such cases.

But a confidential January 1997 letter from the Vatican's diplomat in Ireland to the Irish bishops warned them that the Irish church's child-protection policies were invalid under Catholic canon law; those internal church laws must be respected foremost; and any accused priests were likely to have any punishments successfully appealed in Rome. 2

That letter from the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, then Pope John Paul II's ambassador to Ireland, dismissed the Irish policy as representing "a study document." The Associated Press was the first media organization to publish that letter in full in January." 3

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Main conclusions from the Cloyne report:

The Irish Times published "some of the main points from the Commission of Investigation report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne:"

  •  The Vatican was "entirely unhelpful" to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse in the Irish church.

  • The response of the Diocese of Cloyne was "inadequate and inappropriate".

  • Primary responsibility for the failure to implement agreed child sexual abuse procedures lies with then-bishop of Cloyne John Magee.

  • Bishop Magee "took little or no active interest" in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the framework document on child sexual abuse was agreed by the Irish Bishops' Conference.

  • Some child sexual abuse allegations were not reported to gardaí was the diocese’s "greatest failure".

  • There were 15 cases between 1996 and 2005 which "very clearly" should have been reported by the diocese, of which nine were not.

  • Given the diocese’s knowledge of clerical sexual abuse and its effects on complainants it was wrong of the diocese not to put in place a proper support system for complainants.

  • The response of health authorities was "adequate", but the commission adds it is not convinced the State’s laws and guidelines are sufficiently strong and clear for child protection.

  • The report is largely complimentary about the role of gardaí, although it does raise concerns about the force’s approach in three cases. 4

The Garda Síochána is Ireland's National Police Service.

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This topic continues

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Henry McDonald, "Irish prime minister attacks Vatican. Enda Kenny says Cloyne report on child sex abuse by priests highlights dysfunction and elitism in Rome," The Guardian, 2011-JUL-20, at:
  2. Shawn Pogatchnik, "Irish Catholic child abuse report finds church encouraged concealment." Associated Press, published by the Globe and Mail. 2011-JUL-13, at:
  3. "The 1997 letter: Vatican message sent to Irish church," Associated Press, published by The Globe and Mail on 2011-JAN-18 at:
  4. "The Cloyne report - main findings," Irish Times, 2011-JUL-13, at:

Site navigation:

 Home page > Religious Info. > Basic info > Clergy abuse > Ireland > here

or Home page > Religious conflict > Specific conflicts > Clergy abuse > Ireland > here

or Home page > Christianity > Roman Catholicism > Clergy abuse > Ireland > here

Copyright 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUL-28
Latest update: 2011-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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