The Murphy Report was published in 2009, following an investigation into child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. At the time of its publication, certain material was held back for legal reasons. The redacted Chapter 19 was published in December 2010, and now Chapter 20 has been released and it paints a horrifying picture. The archbishops of Dublin were not only aware that their priests were raping children but, despite the impression they sought to create in subsequent years, were also fully aware that the activities of those priests were criminal in nature.
They failed to report the crimes to our national police force, but perhaps there was no point, since the report accuses that police force of connivance, of stifling complaints and failing to investigate others. It describes the decision by the Gardai to permit an abuser to leave the country as shocking. Crucially, it points out that, but for information uncovered in diocesan files, it would not have been aware of the Garda role in covering up the crimes of child sex abuse. In other words, our national police force failed to cooperate with the investigation of a monumental crime. This failure is not something that happened in the distant past. Within the last decade, senior gardai were conniving to frustrate an official investigation into the activities of sex-abusing clerics and it’s highly likely that many of these people are still in office.
Coming in a week when we learn that a member of our parliament wrote to a bishop before voting on a government bill, this is highly disturbing. To what extent does this official deference still survive?
Chapter 20 of the Murphy Report concerns Patrick McCabe, a priest of the Dublin archdiocese and serial sex abuser. It involves two archbishops and a cardinal, all of whom knew what this man was capable of, and all of whom were more concerned to protect their institution than the children the abuser preyed upon. They all concealed his activities and even facilitated him by assigning him to posts in the community without alerting anyone to his true nature.
This case also involves collusion by our national police force to protect a known child abuser. It involves officers who were until recently at an extremely high level in the organisation and perhaps even some who might still be in place. By their lax, dilatory and downright negligent approach, they permitted the abuse to continue far longer than it might otherwise have done.
Beginning. Archbishop Dermot Ryan seemed to be a major break from the oppressive reign of his predecessor, the tyrannical John Charles McQuaid. Ryan, a former professor of Oriental Languages in UCD had himself been silenced by McQuaid for espousing liberation theology, but it seems his concept of liberation was confined to the peasants of Central America and to the rapists he protected. As the report remarks of Ryan, it seems that the welfare of children simply did not play any part in his decisions.
Unless of course those children happened to be unborn, in which case his concern for their welfare was boundless. Ryan was an outspoken proponent of the disastrously ill-conceived 8th Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, which led us through thirty years of wrangling until this week when some sort of legislation was finally passed to acknowledge the X Case.
As for born children, well, the good professor archbishop seems to have cared not a jot. Priests buggering little boys did not constitute a problem for Archbishop Ryan.
In January 1977, a 14-year-old boy, James Moran, complained to the Archdiocese about a sexual assault by a priest, Patrick McCabe who called to a boarding school and introduced himself as a friend of the boy’s mother, with whom he had a vague, passing acquaintance. He then assaulted the boy in his car for over an hour, and when the boy complained to the headmaster, he was again sexually assaulted. The headmaster was later convicted of multiple instances of sexual abuse.
Coincidentally, McCabe’s brother, Phelim, was also a priest and had been a classmate of Dermot Ryan’s in Clonliffe College. Two men have subsequently lodged formal complaints about sexual assault prior to this attack.
McCabe had a well-organised modus operandi. He always secured his own accommodation, he always set up some kind of oratory where could hold prayer meetings and he always tried to get control of the altar boys.
The school reported the complaint to the church authorities, who sent a priest, Canon Ardle McMahon, to investigate. It seems he believed the boy, but found the incident regrettable rather than criminal. Nothing in his report suggests that the police should be involved or alerted.
When interviewed, McCabe cast himself as the innocent, taken aback by the aggressive sexual advances of the child. He was so shocked, he claimed, that he sought the help of a psychiatrist
Canon McMahon describes the attack as unbalanced emotionalism and later describes the victim’s claims as the evidence of one witness against the only other witness.
That was the end of it. Dermot Ryan never followed up on McCabe’s activities and the psychiatrist was never identified.
Further complaints. In 1978, another complaint against McCabe appeared, and this time the church representative was auxiliary bishop James Kavanagh.
There was no investigation. Kavanagh didn’t interview McCabe and submitted no report apart from the boy’s account with a one-line note to his boss, Ryan: I presume we can have a word about this sometime.
Nothing more was done about the complaint. Later, former child-victims who attended parties at the home of of another notorious clerical abuser, Bill Carney, reported that Kavanagh attended the same parties.
Meanwhile, in 1977, a woman had called Dr Maurice Reidy, a former staff member at Clonliffe, and told him that a priest had assaulted her six-year-old son.
This is a verbatim quote from the report.
Dr Reidy’s explanation for his failure to do anything about the complaint at the time he received it was that he had reservations about the woman’s capability as a witness. She was, in his estimation, nervous, highly-strung and very innocent of sexual matters for a married woman.
History doesn’t record how Reidy, a celibate priest, would possess a deep and thorough knowledge of sexual matters, but comically, for those who enjoy black humour, Maurice Reidy specialised in teaching moral theology.
Reidy advised the woman not to let the priest into the house again, apparently unaware of the immorality, not to mention the illegality, of raping the child the first time, and when he received no further complaints, he assumed the matter was at an end.
He was wrong. The reason he heard no more about it was because nobody in their right mind would go back to a man like him. The nervous, highly-strung, silly woman continued to tell people about McCabe’s continuing abuse but it wasn’t until a female cleaner found the priest lying on top of the child that the diocese decided to send in their ace investigator, Canon McMahon who chose not to interview the victim, the child’s mother or the woman who had seen the abuse. He did, however, interview Maurice Reidy and came to the conclusion that McCabe was indeed a child abuser, though he didn’t quite put it in those terms.
The clerics, to a man, seem to have concluded that the problem was McCabe’s, and not his victim’s. There is no hint of support for the children or their families.
McMahon’s report to Dermot Ryan suggests that McCabe be asked to consult a psychiatrist. This is happening in 1978, not 1878, and yet there is no mention of police action. In 1979, after seeing the psychiatrist with inconclusive results, McCabe was appointed as a curate in Artane. Archbishop Ryan’s memo in 1981 is revealing: he reminded McCabe of the seriousness of his actions and the risk that he ran of imprisonment, quite apart from the scandal that had arisen and the even more public scandal that could arise in the future.
There’s nothing ambiguous about this. It means that the archbishop of Dublin, in 1981, and his staff, were well aware that Patrick McCabe was committing crimes. Yet they did nothing to prevent him from committing further crimes, nor did they alert the civil authorities. It also means that the bishop’s principal concern was to avoid embarrassment for his organisation.
From July 1979 to March 1981, while McCabe was in Artane, he abused at least eight boys. Victims and their families complained to the archdiocese during that time but the archbishop did nothing until finally, in 1981, a boy’s parents complained to the Gardai. Oddly, no records on this have been found, either in Garda files or in the diocesan correspondence, but it did lead to one definitive result. Bishop Kavanagh called in person to the parents and persuaded them, by whatever means, not to proceed. As a result, the complaint was killed. The police did nothing further.
Treatment. The bishop was rattled and finally sent McCabe to receive treatment in a Catholic centre in Britain. True to form, the abuser hoodwinked them and was sent home with a reasonably positive recommendation as a result of which Ryan reappointed the abuser as a curate in the parish of Clogher Road. No supervision was put in place and it wasn’t long before McCabe began to abuse again. Finally, Ryan revoked his authority to minister as a priest.
You might imagine that the police were notified on the spot, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the decided to send him to New Mexico for further treatment, which the abuser vigorously opposed until eventually he was forced to go by his brother, Dermot Ryan’s close friend, who accompanied him on the plane.
They saw through him in New Mexico, and insisted that he undergo re-evaluation and further workshops, but he was allowed to go home for Christmas 1982 and immediately abused again. Ryan consulted Monsignor Gerard Sheehy, the man who consistently advised the bishops never to inform the Gardai of clerical sexual abuse and true to form, Sheehy wrote as follows:
Whatever the immediate action … it must not be suspension. Suspension would bring you straight into the realm of penal law with all its implications of crime and culpability.
There you go. They knew precisely what they were dealing with.
There’s a year’s gap, but by January 1983, McCabe was back in New Mexico and now acknowledged by all to be a paedophile. He agreed to undergo drug treatment to reduce his libido, otherwise known as chemical castration. Ironically, the drug, Depo-Provera, was a female contraceptive actively opposed by the Church authorities, none more vigorously than Dermot Ryan. It wasn’t until two years later that an Irish government would finally lift the absurd ban on the sale of condoms without prescription.
By mid-1983, McCabe was back in Dublin, staying with his brother Phelim but Archbishop Ryan was far from happy. If McCabe was going to bugger little boys, it wouldn’t be on his patch, so he began to put out feelers, so to speak. He phoned Bishop Hurley of Santa Rosa, California, and hastily arranged McCabe’s return to the States. Unfortunately, McCabe immediately began abusing children in California.
Ryan died in 1985, and McCabe became a problem for his successor, Kevin Mcnamara, another outspoken opponent of abortion, contraception and divorce. McNamara died after three years in office, but he still had to deal with McCabe, despite his illness. He indicated that McCabe would not be welcome back in Dublin, but might perhaps get another appointment in the US.
That didn’t happen. Nobody wanted the abuser in the States, so he came home in 1986. There was no supervision, and he even lived in a house owned by a Chief Superintendent of the Gardai, Joe McGovern.
Garda collusion. The abuse went on. McCabe picked up work here and there standing in for priests who had to be away from their parishes and he continued to attack children including, in August 1986, a nine-year-old boy whose parents brought the child to the sexual assault unit at the Rotunda hospital in Dublin. They then went to the Gardai. In the words of the report the initial Garda reaction was exemplary, but the conduct of the investigation soon deteriorated. A retired Garda sergeant accompanied McCabe to the station and the investigating Gardai took no notes of the interview. Later, McCabe visited Chief Supt McGovern and made certain admissions. McGovern didn’t pass these admissions to the investigators, but did contact a priest called Curley about them. McGovern — a very senior policeman — told the Commission that he considered McCabe’s behaviour to be a matter for the church rather than the civil authorities.
The Commission is scathing in its report.
The following day, the Archdiocese, having been notified of the investigation by the chief superintendent, got involved in the matter. The detective garda handling the investigation contacted an official in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) seeking advice. The investigation stopped. No further inquiries were made by the Gardai.
Just ponder that for a moment before we go on. A senior officer is aware that sexual assaults have taken place. Instead of informing his colleagues, he tells a priest and then the investigation is halted at the very highest level. The guards didn’t interview third-party witnesses or the boy’s father. They knew McCabe was planning to go back to the US but didn’t apply for an arrest warrant. The investigating garda explained this by claiming that he didn’t want the boy to be exposed in the community as a victim of abuse
The Commission does not find this explanation convincing, plausible or acceptable.
In other words, we don’t believe you.
Now it gets murky. There are conflicting accounts of what happened next, but this is the version the Commission prefers.
The priest Curley went to see another superintendent in a garda station and was given the boy’s statement to read. After that meeting, Curley and a Bishop Williams decided that he should meet the boy’s parents, unofficially, in a Garda station, which was facilitated by the Gardai. The Commission is satisfied that the Gardai provided the church authorities with a copy of the boy’s statement. Later, when yet another complaint was pending, a Garda told McCabe that he was out of the woods because the warrant had expired, when in reality there had been no warrant at all.
The Commission concludes that this investigation was marred by church interference, facilitated by the Gardai, which allowed the abuser to evade justice.
In March 1987, the diocese took out an insurance policy with Church & General to cover claims of clerical abuse, despite the fact that a decade or more later, the Catholic bishops were still claiming not to understand the nature of the problem, saintly celibate men that they were.
McCabe was soon off to America again and applying for a hospital chaplaincy course. Not a suitable line of work for a persistent paedophile, you might think, but the Dublin diocese duly sprang for the tuition fees, though in the end, he never enrolled, due to the resistance of the local bishops. However, by bluff and bluster, he did manage to trigger their pre-programmed responses yet again. Just like the Irish bishops, the Americans seem to be far more concerned with protecting their organisation that with protecting McCabe’s victims.
Now it turns very ugly.
Blackmail charges In 1987, James Moran, now a young man in his mid-twenties, approaches Stenson, looking for compensation. He threatens to go public and take legal action.
So far, so good. The young man is clearly angry and hurt, but then he goes to his former school in Kildare where he meets the current headmaster and demands compensation under threat of media exposure for the damage done by McCabe and also by the former headmaster, also a convicted abuser.
The priest-headmaster complains the young man to the Gardai and alleges blackmail. The Gardai launch an exhaustive and comprehensive investigation, not of the sexual abuse but of the victim. They tap his phone and make comments about him and his antecedents which in the Commission’s view are scurrilous. They send a file to the DPP with a strong recommendation that the young man be prosecuted for blackmail.
Only when the DPP refuses to proceed do the Gardai finally begin to investigate the original abuse case, but even then, they do it shabbily, haphazardly and in time-honoured ramshackle Garda fashion. This is not an investigation on principle, but simply because the top brass are embarrassed and want it buried as fast as possible.
The investigating Garda takes a statement from Moran. Other Gardai interview the headmaster alleged to have committed the second assault (and later convicted of multiple offences), they interview Stenson but by then, McCabe is laicised and out of the clergy.
It comes to nothing, but a young man is further traumatised by an aggressive investigation and an official attempt to destroy his good name.
Yet again, the Irish State is not looking good.
Meanwhile, in America, McCabe was lying as usual. He wasn’t on the course he agreed to join and the course director, a nun, was suspicious. While the Irish bishops dithered, the Sacramento church authorities kicked him off the course and told him to go home. Somehow, incredibly, McCabe managed to obtain a favourable psychology report and eventually in May 1987 he secured work as a priest in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
According to the Commission, Stenson spoke by phone to an official from the Sacramento diocese, concerning McCabe’s activities during May 1987. His notes include this stark statement:
Urgent to get him out of the USA — to anywhere.
They brought him home and sent him for more treatment in England, although by now, nobody thought he could be cured. They wanted rid of him and they sent the laicisation papers to Rome at the end of 1987 but he still came back to Ireland and managed to get a job working with young people — a short-lived post after Stenson rang the new employers to advise them of McCabe’s tendencies.
It still didn’t stop. In 1988 he abused another child in a school whose headmaster was later convicted of sexual abuse, yet still, the bishops were calling psychiatrists and not police.
And then the case takes a final twist.
Stockton McCabe obtained a job in Stockton California, working with homeless people. In order to salve their consciences, the Irish bishops made a cursory check to make sure that there were no children involved and once they were satisfied of that, they took no further action. The people of Stockton were about to receive a predatory paedophile into their midst and the Irish bishops, including the newly-appointed Desmond Connell, were not about to warn them. McCabe was laicised in March 1988 and as far as the bishops were concerned, that was the end of their responsibility.
Around that time, a Garda inspector called to Stenson looking for McCabe, and when he was informed that the wanted man was now out of the country, he replied they’ll hardly send me to America for him.
According to Stenson’s notes, the Guards are aware that should the matter surface in the Sunday World in two or three years time, it is important for them to have covered their tracks. Hence the present inquiry.
The question is, whose tracks were being covered?
It’s hardly surprising that the Commission wearily comments on McCabe’s various visits to Dublin in later years
… given the Garda approach to the matter in 1988, the Commission is not convinced that any notification would have been acted upon.
In October 1995, a priest of the archdiocese informed the archbishop that McCabe would be in the country for ten days. Desmond Connell did not inform the Gardai. In November, when the archdiocese provided the Gardai with a list of priests against whom complaints had been received, in an outstanding instance of the now notorious mental reservation, they omitted McCabe because he was no longer a priest.
In June 1998 McCabe again returned to Dublin. The archdiocese was aware of it and failed to notify the Gardai. (McCabe was arrested in the USA in August 2010 and extradited to Ireland in June 2011. He was jailed for 18 months and released in March this year, taking account of the time he had already spent in custody. He is now 77 years old).
Summary. The Commission pulls no punches in its conclusions of this case. It’s enough to quote three examples illustrating the outrage of the author.
- This case encapsulates everything that was wrong with the archdiocesan handling of child sex abuse cases.
- It seems the welfare of children simply did not play any part in [Archbishop Ryan’s] decisions.
- The connivance by the Gardai in effectively stifling one complaint and failing to investigate another, and in allowing Fr McCabe to leave the country is shocking.
Our country is undergoing a period of intense self-examination. While we’re still receptive to this sort of scrutiny, we need to examine closely the implications of the redacted Murphy Commission findings, not only for the relationship between church and state, but also for the nature of our police force.
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