DUBLIN, Ireland — Police officers, government officials and bishops of the Catholic church in Ireland have been harshly censured in a report on clerical child abuse over three decades in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Coming just a few months after an equally harsh report on the ill-treatment of children in Church-run industrial schools, the latest revelations have shocked Catholics and non-Catholics alike throughout the island.

An official commission investigated 320 allegations against a sample of 46 out of 183 priests from 1975 to 2004. It found that several cardinals and bishops protected criminal priests while taking no action to protect children.

Responding to the report, Ireland’s Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that “the era where evil people could do so under the cover of the cloth, facilitated and shielded from the consequences by their authorities, while the lives of children were ruined with such cruelty, is over for good.” He added: “The bottom line is this: A collar will protect no criminal.”

In one of the most telling comments, the religious affairs correspondent of Irish national broadcaster RTE said on the main evening news that the report “represents the failure of civil Ireland, in the independent republic of Ireland, to stand up to the royalty of Ireland, the Catholic Church.” Deference to the clergy in this once devoutly Catholic country caused the police to conclude that the crimes of the Catholic Church were outside their remit.

The driving force behind the report is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who came from Rome in 2003 to take over the archdiocese and handle the growing scandal.

Yesterday, at a news conference, holding his hand over his heart, and with tears in his eyes, Martin apologized as a man and a bishop. “How do I feel when I have to unveil here before you the revolting stories of the sexual assault and rape of many young children and teenagers by priests of the archdiocese?” he said. “To each and every survivor my apology, my sorrow and shame for what happened.”

The report of the commission found that the protection of pedophile priests was facilitated by “the structures and rules of the Catholic Church.” Government prosecutors and police facilitated the cover-up by allowing the church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes. Over the period the welfare of children was not even a factor to be considered. “Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members — the priests.”

The commission concluded that Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who ruled the Dublin archdiocese from 1940 to 1972, did not apply canon law where such allegations were concerned. His dealings with a Father Edmondus in 1960 “were aimed at the avoidance of scandal and showed no concern for the welfare of children.”

Archbishop Dermot Ryan, who served from 1972 to 1984, “failed to properly investigate complaints” against six priests and ignored the warning of a psychiatrist in the case of another priest who subsequently seriously assaulted a young teenager.

Archbishop Kevin McNamara, who served from 1984 to 1987, restored to the ministry a priest, Father Bill Carney, who had pleaded guilty to charges of child sex abuse.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, who held office from 1988 to 2004, while “appalled” was slow to realize that it could not be dealt with “by keeping it secret and protecting priests from normal civil processes.”

Ireland’s most senior police officer, Commissioner Fachtna Murphy apologized for the acts of officials who regarded priests as above the law. He said he was “deeply sorry” that children who sought assistance did not always receive the response or protection to which they were entitled.

The report was also critical of three auxiliary bishops of Dublin, Dermot O’Mahony, James Kavanagh and Donal Murray for dealing “badly” with complaints. Bishop Murray, now Bishop of Limerick, said last night he would not resign. His failure to reinvestigate earlier suspicions against an offending priest was described as “inexcusable.”

The traditional deference to the clergy in Ireland that facilitated the cover-up has diminished after a series of scandals over clerical abuse in recent years in an increasingly secular Ireland. This was illustrated at Bishop Martin’s press conference when writer Nell McCafferty asked angrily why people should still call bishops “Your grace” and priests “Father.” 

The director of Amnesty Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, who once sued the Catholic Church for abuses he said he suffered as a teenager, said the report revealed that “bishops in Dublin colluded with child abusers, protecting them and hiding them, enabling them to prey on the innocent (who) were deliberately sacrificed to protect the Church."

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