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Catholic child abuse: 164 allegations against 85 priests have led to zero convictions

“I am one of the fortunate survivors to have succeeded in securing a criminal conviction against one of two Spiritan priests who sexually abused me,” writes campaigner Mark Vincent Healy.

Mark Vincent Healy

THE DIOCESES OF Elphin, Killala and Waterford join the infamous group of six Catholic Church authorities, including Derry, Dramore and Limerick, where not one priest has been convicted for having committed an offence or offences against a child or young person despite numerous allegations since 1 January 1975.

From the 16 dioceses reviewed to date by the National Board for Safeguarding Children, there have been 164 allegations made in relation to 85 priests where there have been no convictions. This represents a third of the church authorities examined where not one priest was held to account. Following the publication of the third tranche of audits, today is yet another difficult day to bear for any survivor from these Catholic Church authorities.

It is hard to take in the sense of pain and suffering inflicted upon those brave enough to bring their case forward, to seek justice. Seven of the 16 dioceses sent their complainants away with nothing for their pain and suffering save an empty apology having re-traumatised them all over again.

The totals for the 20 authorities (including four religious orders) make for very distressing reading – 340 priests have had 789 allegations raised against them. And only 27 priests were convicted and held accountable by the Irish justice system.

The Church’s record in holding members of missionary orders to account is equally abysmal as only one member of the Society of African Missions was convicted out of the 21 priests against whom allegations were raised by 32 complainants.

Abuse in Africa

The former head of the Irish Missionary Union, Fr Eamon Aylward, when asked the morning after the infamous “Mission to Prey” programme shown on RTÉ on 23 May 2011, if he would like to see a Murphy style investigation into abuse of children by some missionaries, he said it would be difficult to investigate crimes in 83 different countries, but that in Ireland 99.9 per cent cooperation with state authorities is in place.

I am glad that the NBSCCCI have conducted reviews of four missionary congregations which have apparently gotten over some of the “difficulties” alluded to by Fr Eamon Aylward back on 24 May 2011.

To date there have been four reviews of missionary orders where a total of 113 priests have had 287 allegations raised against them but only seven priests have ever been convicted. The sad reality is that only 6.2 per cent of accused Irish missionaries are ever convicted.

I am one of the fortunate survivors to have succeeded in securing a criminal conviction against one of two Spiritan priests who sexually abused me from the ages of nine to 12 and then tried to cover it all up.

Forty-seven Spiritans had 142 allegations made against them in the second tranche of audits, and only three were convicted.

Little is known of the extent of missionary abuse abroad by Irish missionaries save the Mission to Prey programme (excluding the incorrect Fr Reynolds segment), an Irish Times report on 29 October 2012 and investigations by Dutch Radio Netherlands Worldwide into the former Dutch Bishop of Ngong, Corneilius Schilder MHM.

The only known case to come to Ireland by an African survivor of missionary child sexual abuse was lodged with the Irish courts earlier this year and received coverage in the United States, Ireland and Sierra Leone. It might be considered brave to come forward in Ireland but this African is extremely brave in coming forward and seeking justice in Ireland.

Lifelong suffering

The reports from this third tranche show that there is a consistent picture in the manner in which clerical child sexual abuse has been dealt with in Ireland. Whilst it is felt that child protection is improving the failure to rescue and gather up those who have to live with the lifelong suffering of clerical child sexual abuse, these reports do little to bring them any comfort.

The reports from this third tranche show that there is a consistent picture in the manner in which clerical child sexual abuse has been dealt with in Ireland. Whilst it is felt that child protection is improving, the failure to rescue and gather up those who have to live with the lifelong suffering of clerical child sexual abuse mean these reports do little to bring them any comfort.

As with the previous tranches it is important that one recognises that those brave enough to come forward are but the tip of the iceberg.

Victims left behind?

Fr Andrew Greely, a professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago believes there could be up to 50 victims per priest. Meanwhile, Richard Sipe a psychotherapist in Maryland, has said 250 victims may suffer over the lifetime of a paedophile. Shockingly, the 106 priests accused in the third tranche could possibly have abused between 5,300 to 26,500 potential victims. Just 271 came forward.

I work to raise awareness about this under-reporting and advocate for the establishment of ‘Rescue Services’ and ‘Safe Space Provisioning’. Who would leave a crash site without finding and caring for all the victims? I am engaged with the Minister for Children in order to establish these services for survivors of clerical child sexual abuse and to ensure they are 100 per cent confidential, 100 per cent non-threatening, 100 per cent non-confrontational, 100 per cent non-judgemental and 100 per cent caring. They should be built on the statutory provisions created for survivors who came forward to the Commission to Inquiry into Child Abuse Confidentiality Committee.

Mark Vincent Healy was abused while he was a student at St. Mary’s College, a Dublin school run by the Congregation of Spiritans (formerly the Holy Ghost Fathers). He has been campaigning for years for the Catholic Church to actively seek out more victims of abuse so the correct rescue response can be administered. Read his full report and response to the NSBCCCI audit into the Holy Ghost Fathers here.

Clarification: the original publication of this piece noted there were no convictions in Clogher. In fact, there were two. This has now been rectified.

‘Unacceptable delays and unsatisfactory responses’ to abuse concerns in Clogher

Column: If clerical abuse was a car crash, we’d still be looking for the victims

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