Catholic Church turned a blind eye as thousands of children were sexually abused by priests in Ireland, says official report

May 20, 2009 /

The Catholic Church was aware long-term sex offenders were repeatedly abusing children while working in Ireland's church and state-run institutions, a damning report revealed today.

The Child Abuse Commission detailed a catalogue of disturbing and chronic sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted on thousands of disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children by both religious and lay staff over the last 70 years.

The dangers to the children were not taken into account, the inquiry found.

Victims hope the massive report - five volumes totalling 2,500 pages - will finally reveal the full extent of the abuse inflicted on them by Roman Catholic nuns and priests.

Roughly 2,500 men and women who were abused in schools and institutions all over the country gave evidence.

More than 100 institutions run by religious orders, including industrial schools, institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools, have been examined.

An interim report published in 2003 gave the testimonies of more than 700 men and women who recalled being beaten on every part of their body with objects including leather straps, sticks, farm implements, and even hurling sticks.

Others were sexually abused and some described being gang raped.

Maeve Lewis, of support group One in Four, said victims want a well-documented acknowledgement of the abuse.

'Over 35,000 children from the 1940s onwards were condemned to live under a regime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect,' she said.'

'While these institutions no longer exist, people who are now aged from 30 to 80 years live day by day with the impact their experiences had on their lives.'

Ms Lewis added: 'If it is a thorough acknowledgement and documents rigorously what people experienced, then it may bring some closure.'

A government compensation scheme has been set up for victims of institutionalised child abuse - at an expected cost of £725million.

The names of alleged perpetrators will not be published - except for those already convicted - after several religious orders began legal action against the Commission.

But the inquiry is expected to produce specific findings against a number of institutions.

Among the many orders under investigation were the Sisters of Mercy and Christian Brothers, which ran the largest number of children's institutions.

Some of the allegations in the report cover events more than 60 years ago and many of the alleged perpetrators are dead or infirm.

The Commission was set up in 2000 by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern after a TV exposé.

Its first presiding judge, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, quit in 2003 amid accusations that the Republic's Department of Education - responsible for inspecting and regulating most of the institutions - was not co-operating with her requests for documents.

A second report, examining how the Catholic Church handled sex abuse complaints, will be published by the Commission in July.

Its first presiding judge, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, quit in 2003 amid accusations that the Republic's Department of Education - responsible for inspecting and regulating most of the institutions - was not co-operating with her requests for documents.

A second report, examining how the Catholic Church handled sex abuse complaints, will be published by the Commission in July.

Key steps in struggle to confront child abuse in the Catholic Church

June 1994
Catholic priest Brendan Smyth pleads guilty to 17 counts of indecently assaulting five girls and two boys in Belfast. His order, the Norbertines, spent decades shuttling him among Irish and American parishes and harbored Smyth from British arrest.

November 1994
Taoiseach Albert Reynolds resigns, and his government collapses, amid claims that his attorney general colluded with church authorities to delay the British extradition demand for Smyth. It shatters the taboo against pursuing criminal charges against priests.

July 1995
Former altar boy Andrew Madden becomes first person to speak publicly about abuse by a priest. Madden says the Church paid him €35,000 to keep quiet about three years of assaults by Fr Ivan Payne. Archbishop Desmond Connell denies the deal until Madden provides documentary proof of church payoff. Case spurs hundreds to pursue civil lawsuits against church authorities.

January 1996
Panel of Irish Catholic leaders instruct bishops to tell senior police officers ‘without delay’ about all suspected sex-abuse cases. Some bishops continue to suppress such information over the coming decade.

February 1996
Dear Daughter, a documentary shown on RTÉ details abuse suffered by Christine Buckley and others at St Vincent's Industrial School, Goldenbridge, Inchicore, Dublin.

July 1997
After serving prison term in Northern Ireland, Smyth is extradited south and pleads guilty to 74 counts of sexually abusing 20 boys and girls between 1958 and 1993. He dies of a heart attack one month into 12 year sentence.

January 1998
Payne is convicted in Dublin on 14 counts of sexually abusing eight boys aged 11 to 14. He serves only four years in prison.

March 1999
Fr Sean Fortune commits suicide in prison while awaiting trial on 66 criminal charges of molesting and raping 29 boys in the southeast Ferns diocese. One Fortune victim, former altar boy Colm O'Gorman, launches victims support group One in Four. It lobbies government for investigations into abuse cases, particularly in Ferns.

April 1999
Groundbreaking documentary series ‘States of Fear’ by RTÉ exposes abuse of children in church-run workhouses, reformatories and orphanages since the 1940s.

May 1999
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern issues ‘long overdue apology’ to all those abused in church-run institutions and vows to establish a financial compensation board and a fact-finding commission into extent of abuse. Ms Justice Mary Laffoy is appointed to head the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

May 2000
Government gives investigatory powers to Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to measure causes and extent of unchecked child abuse in institutions from 1937 onward.

July 2001
The deadline for complaints of abuse to be made to the Commission. Some 3,149 people ask to testify.

April 2002
Ferns Bishop Brendan Comiskey becomes first, and only, church figure to resign because of failures to stop abuse. He admits he did too little to stop pedophile priests.

December 2002
Government establishes board to pay compensation to people who suffered sexual, physical or mental abuse in church-run institutions. Payouts require claimants to give up their right to sue church and state authorities. Taxpayers, not the church, cover bulk of cost.

September 2003
High Court Judge Mary Laffoy resigns complaining that the Department of Education, which holds most records on church-run institutions, is obstructing her investigation into child abuse. Her successor, Justice Sean Ryan, says probe must severely limit the number of abuse cases it considers or it will never finish.

April 2004
A Vatican modernizer and diplomat, Diarmuid Martin, replaces Connell as Dublin archbishop. Pledges full cooperation with state and police in exposing past cover-ups of abuse and protecting children in future.

June 2004
Judge Ryan announces the Commission will not name abusers unless they have been convicted. The Christian Brothers religious order drops legal actions against the Commission.

July 2004
The Christian Brothers testify at a public hearing that files only recently discovered in its Rome-based archive show evidence of 30 canonical trials of brothers based on proven incidents of child sexual abuse against boys in their care from the 1930s onwards.

October 2005
Investigation led by retired Supreme Court justice finds that church, police and state authorities did too little to stop sexual abuse of hundreds of children by 21 priests in Ferns. Report says Ferns bishops sheltered and promoted priests known to have raped altar boys and molested schoolgirls on an altar.

December 2005
Residential Institutions Redress Board says more than 14,000 people who claim to have suffered childhood abuse in church-run institutions have filed claims for state payouts.

December 2008
Board says it has paid nearly 12,000 victims average of €64,230 each, about 2,000 claims remain. Cost including lawyers' fees expected to reach €1.1bn.

May 20, 2009
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse unveils 2,575-page report into thousands of child abuse cases in institutions. Two more reports into the church's protection of sex-predator priests in the Dublin archdiocese and the southwest diocese of Cloyne may be published later this year.

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