The Year of the Ryan and Murphy Reports – on abuses in the Dublin Archdiocese and Catholic-run Irish institutions for children

VOTFI protests at HSE ‘audit’ of diocesan child protection – Jan 2009

By early 2009 another issue had surfaced, the effectiveness of the Irish state’s monitoring of child protection procedures and structures in all Irish dioceses. It transpired on January 7th 2009 that a HSE ‘audit’ of these that had been carried out in 2008 was based upon a questionnaire, some parts of which most dioceses had failed to fill in! We immediately protested.

VOTFI statement following presentation of HSE report of its ‘audit’ of child safeguarding measures in all Irish dioceses on January 7th, 2009

‘Soul Murder’ – RTE programme on VOTFI, 22nd February, 2009

The disappointing outcome of our meeting with Cardinal Sean Brady in April 2008 had been communicated to all members in an ensuing report. The production team for the RTE ‘Would You Believe’ series, led by Mick Peelo, had come to hear of it also, and the result was a documentary programme entitled ‘Soul Murder’, produced in the second half of 2008 and televised on 22nd February 2009.

The programme focused upon a key issue – what exactly had led to the cover up of the abuse problem by bishops, a cover up that had in turn produced further victims?

The programme included footage of a meeting of VOTF members in Dublin – at which the failure of the April meeting with the cardinal was discussed. However, the main focus was deservedly on two survivor members of VOTFI – Marie Collins and Fr Paddy McCafferty. Each calmly recounted their experiences with the governing structures of the church – experiences mainly of coldness and evasion, which constituted additional abuse. They also explained why they had sought nevertheless to engage with the clerical institution of the church, in the hope that it could come to understand its own dysfunction. Despite what has happened to them they have retained a core of deep Christian faith and a belief that their own experiences could somehow be understood by the institution, helping it to develop. Up to that point their perseverance had reaped no visible harvest, as there was a deep trend towards denial and aloofness on the part of the Irish hierarchy.

The programme finished with an interview with Tom Doyle. Asked why the clerical institution always failed the test of responding adequately to survivors, he argued that the reason was the medieval monarchical structure of the Catholic hierarchy.

The programme may still be viewable on the RTE website at:


VOTFI and the CEO of the National Board for the Protection of Children – Ian Elliott – 2009

We had been greatly impressed with the determination shown by Ian Elliott in 2008 to make sure that his report on the diocese of Cloyne would be published. And with the forthrightness of the report, which led eventually to the standing down of Bishop John Magee, and to the referral of Cloyne to the Irish State commission of inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese. Referred to the NBSC by Cardinal Brady’s team at the Carrickdale meeting in April 2008, we had delayed approaching Elliott for a meeting during the Cloyne controversy as we were not sure then that we could place any reliance upon the NBSC, a church-sponsored body, to impose any kind of accountability upon Catholic bishops. The eventual stepping down of Bishop John Magee had given us some reassurance on this point.

On February 24th 2009, the NBSC published its first report, together with new child safeguarding guidelines for all dioceses. The report stressed the need to develop a ‘culture of accountability’ in the church – a key issue for VOTFI – and it also emphasised the role of the NBSC in the tasks of healing and reconciliation. Anxious to hear further from Ian Elliott on this, and concerned also to clarify issues arising from the safeguarding guidelines, we requested a meeting with him. We also began preparing a detailed list of questions so that whatever time he gave us would be utilised to the full.

In addition we prepared a formal letter to Ian Elliott recounting our abortive meeting with Cardinal Brady at the Carrickdale in April 2008, and the failure of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to respond to our open letter of February 2008. Concerned especially about the bishops’ patent lack of concern for healing and reconciliation we asked Ian Elliott in this formal letter where he thought the initiative on this issue should come from. We carried this letter with us to the meeting with the NBSC that followed.

On May 13th, 2009 VOTFI members Fr Paddy McCafferty and Sean O’Conaill met with Ian Elliott and Sister Collette Stevenson in Maynooth.

VOTFI meets with the CEO of the NBSC in Maynooth, May 13th 2009

In response to the formal letter left with him relating to the issue of healing and reconciliation, Ian Elliott replied later that both ‘reaching out’ and a ‘culture of accountability’ were two arms of a strategy necessary to deal with these issues. However, he said that the question as to who should take the initiative in progressing them lay beyond his remit.

While VOTFI agrees that a culture of accountability will indeed be an essential part of the healing and reconciliation process, the lack of clarity on who is to take the initiative on healing and reconciliation left us bewildered. We had been referred to the NBSC by Cardinal Sean Brady and Bishop Eamonn Walsh in May 2008 when we had raised both the issue of accountability in the church and the issue of healing and reconciliation. At the end of this exchange with the NBSC it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that in fact the Irish Catholic Church had no agency charged with taking the initiative on these matters.

VOTFI and the Ryan Report May 20th, 2009

Although VOTFI has members who are survivors of clerical sexual abuse, none so far (Dec 2009) were survivors of the appalling Irish residential institutions which were the subject of the Ryan Report of May 20th, 2009. We had known it was in the offing, but were shocked to the core by the scale and savagery of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse that was revealed on May 20th. None of us has yet absorbed the full horror of it – a horror that was the daily diet of thousands of Irish children, many of whom are still living. To sample it, and to read the executive summary, is as much as any of us has been able to do.

What struck us straight away was the total failure of the institutional Irish Catholic Church to lessen the catastrophe, over many decades. This church had taught its members to delegate upwards all responsibility for moral leadership, but those at the summit, the overseers, our bishops were obviously all turning a blind eye also. And Irish state officials in the Department of Education did exactly the same.

Alone among Irish Bishops in the immediate aftermath of the Ryan Report, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor called for an intensive multi-disciplinary inquiry into the causes of this national and Catholic disaster. Our statement on May 21st echoed that call.

VOTFI statement on Ryan Report, May 21st, 2009

This call for an intensive investigation of the causes of the church’s failure, and for structures that would implement a culture of accountability within the church, have so far met with no response either from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference or from the papacy. With the Ryan Report the Irish Catholic Church crisis had become extreme, raising the serious question of whether the institutional church could survive such a crisis.

VOTFI and the Murphy Report on Dublin Archdiocese

Throughout 2009 Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had issued warnings that everyone would be shocked by the content of the report by the Irish state commission of inquiry into the handling of a sample of clerical child sex abuse cases in the archdiocese of Dublin.

Despite this, no one was really prepared for the report itself. Shocking accounts of such abuse are by now nothing new in Ireland – but the scale of the report’s criticism of four former archbishops, and of the auxiliaries who had served in the diocese, was quite extraordinary, and was still reverberating in 2010.

Expecting that there would indeed be such criticism, and in cooperation with VOTF HQ, we had already prepared an open letter to Pope Benedict calling for a church inquiry into the betrayal by so many bishops in so many countries of so many children.

This we now released, along with a statement on the Murphy report.

VOTFI open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in reaction to the Murphy report Nov 2009

VOTFI Statement on Murphy Report Nov 2009

VOTFI members in demand for comment on Murphy Report

In the weeks leading up to the publication of the Murphy report, Dublin survivor Marie Collins was in constant demand. Delays in its publication caused by legal complications were a special trial. Marie’s composure throughout this period was awesome.

Fr Paddy McCafferty was also frequently on call during this period. His ability to separate his strong Catholic faith from the dysfunctional clericalism that typifies so much of the behaviour of the institution gave us all cause for hope. Clearly he belongs to the church of the future in Ireland, one in which we can all collaborate honestly as adults.

Both Marie and Fr Paddy featured in the outstanding Prime Time RTE programme on the Murphy report, screened on Thursday 26th November 1st, 2009, the day the Murphy Report was finally published. Marie was one of a panel of four, which also included Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Mary Raftery. The archbishop was under considerable pressure, confessing himself bewildered by the behaviour of previous archbishops and archbishops of Dublin. Marie pointed out that Irish church leaders had never conducted an internal inquiry to determine why things should have gone so badly wrong, and expressed no confidence that things would change. At this point the archbishop had expressed no opinion on whether bishops named in the report who were still in office should resign – and this tended to reinforce Marie’s point.

Fr Paddy McCafferty participated in a segment on failures in other dioceses, outlining the total frustration he had faced in the diocese of Down and Connor when he had first reported the abuse he had suffered as a seminarian from a priest of the diocese.

This Prime Time programme also included a segment dealing with other dioceses needing investigation. Prominent among these was Raphoe, and in this Martin Ridge was called upon to explain why the extraordinary abusive career of Eugene Greene is virtually certain to have come to the attention of other clergy in Raphoe long before he came to the attention of the Donegal Gardai.

The programme may still be viewable at:


In the following week Marie gave an extended interview to Joe Duffy on RTE Radio. She expressed total dissatisfaction with the church response to the Murphy report. By this time all of the named bishops were still refusing to resign. Archbishop Martin seems to have run out of patience at much the same time – and declared on December 1st that he had written to the named bishops asking them to clarify their positions for the benefit of the people of Dublin. The pressure continued to mount until, by December 26th, four of those named had given way and declared their intention to resign.

VOTFI pickets the Apostolic Nunciature in Dublin 5th Dec 2009

An unexpected feature of the Murphy report was its revelation that neither the Apostolic Nunciature in Dublin nor the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had responded to requests from the Dublin tribunal for documentation that could have assisted the inquiry into the handling of abuse in Dublin archdiocese. The explanation given by the Nuncio was that proper protocol required the commission to make its requests through the Irish foreign ministry.

However, Bryan and Irene Maguire discovered that the primary role of a nuncio in Canon Law is to maintain the bonds between the local church and the universal church. To stand on diplomatic protocol in the context of the suffering visited upon children by church servants was clearly to strain those bonds.

On December 5th 2009, Bryan, Irene and other members and supporters of VOTF briefly picketed the Nunciature on the Navan Road to deliver this message – as well as a copy of VOTFI’s open letter to the pope. This gesture was well received by passing motorists, and well reported in the media that weekend.

VOTFI message to the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Dec 5th 2009

VOTFI and the Papal Communiqué of Dec 11th, 2009

In a very tense atmosphere in the wake of the Murphy report on Dublin archdiocese, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference met on Wednesday December 9th. In a statement issued the same day the Irish bishops made the following extraordinary admission:

“We are shamed by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and recognise that this indicates a culture that was widespread in the Church.”

On the same day Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin flew to Rome. They met with the Pope on Friday of the same week. A communiqué followed from the Holy See, acknowledging problems of governance in the Irish church and promising a papal pastoral letter to Ireland in 2010. Speaking to the press afterwards the Irish archbishops declared that the pastoral was likely to call for “a very significant reorganisation of the church in Ireland”.

The statement we issued in response expressed disappointment at the failure of the papacy to call for the resignations of the named bishops and insisted that problems of church misgovernance were not confined to Ireland. There is clearly a systemic weakness in the church’s monarchical structure – a weakness that usually leaves failing bishops under no pressure from any higher church authority to relinquish their positions. (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s pressure upon the bishops criticised in the Murphy report is exceptional.) It is this systemic weakness that leads to media-driven scandal – the only decisive source of accountability to which bishops are subject. If the papal pastoral to Ireland does not address that problem, it will fail the church not only in Ireland but in every other country where bishops have covered up child clerical sex abuse.

VOTFI statement in response to papal communiqué of Dec 11th, 2009

We will be carefully studying the promised papal pastoral in 2010 to see if it addresses adequately this crucial question: are Irish bishops to continue to be wholly unaccountable to those they are appointed to serve? No assurances relating to greater involvement of lay people in the church will be persuasive unless this question is clearly answered in the negative. We greatly fear that the papacy may not yet have measured the degree to which trust in the clerical institution – and especially in bishops – has collapsed in Ireland, or understood what is required to restore it.

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