Archbishops at centre of cover-up

BBC News, UK/November 26, 2009

Four Catholic archbishops of Dublin have been criticised for covering-up clerical child abuse in a damning report into how the crimes were handled by the Dublin diocese.

The archbishops were in charge of the area from the outbreak of the World War II- known as the Emergency in the Republic of Ireland - through to Vatican II and the rise of the "Celtic Tiger".

They presided over a period of unprecedented social, religious and economic change in the country.

Throughout the decades however, the four men appear to have taken a very similar approach to tackling the issue of clerical child abuse - an issue which would eventually bring down a government and rock the Irish Catholic Church to its very foundations.

Only one of the four, the former Cardinal Desmond Connell, is still alive to witness how their actions have been assessed by Thursday's report.

John Charles McQuaid (Archbishop of Dublin 1940-1972)

Born in Cavan in 1895, his term of office saw the Catholic population of Dublin grow from approximately 630,000 to over 800,000 people while the number of clergy and religious increased by over 50%.

He created over 60 new parishes, built more than 80 new churches and around 350 schools.

He was described as a powerful and conservative figure who wielded much influence in all aspects of Irish society.

His opinion was sought on the wording of the Irish constitution and he was said to have heavily influenced the Republic's founding father and first Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera.

Dermot Ryan (Archbishop of Dublin 1972-1984)

Viewed as more approachable than his predecessor, Archbishop Ryan continued with the established policy of moving rather than removing those accused of abusing children.

The high point in his term of office was the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Republic of Ireland in 1979.

After his death, the pope said of both him and his successor that the Lord had called them to himself too quickly.

"Both were moved in their service of the Church by a profound sense of personal accountability to Christ," the pope said.

Archbishop Ryan gifted land at Dublin's affluent Merrion Square, which had been ear-marked for a new church, to the people of the city.

Kevin McNamara (Archbishop of Dublin 1985-1987)

An outspoken figure against divorce and abortion, he was co-consecrated as Bishop of Kerry by the now disgraced Bishop Eamon Casey, who he succeeded in the role in 1976.

The Irish charity One in Four, which supports victims of sexual violence, has alleged that as Archbishop of Dublin, Kevin McNamara sought legal advice about how to deal with allegations of clerical abuse.

He is said to have taken out an insurance policy to protect church finances from compensation claims.

His period in office was short-lived though and he died suddenly in April 1987.

Cardinal Desmond Connell (Archbishop of Dublin 1988-2004)

The former head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Dr Connell was in office when the first, very public clerical child abuse scandal broke.

It involved the Northern Ireland-born priest Fr Brendan Smyth who was convicted of over more than 90 charges of child sexual abuse.

The civil authorities' failure to take action over Fr Smyth eventually brought down the government and redefined the relationship between church and state.

The high-profile coverage of the case opened the flood gates, as hundreds of other victims of clerical abuse who had stayed silent for years finally contacted the authorities.

In the years of furore that followed, Desmond Connell repeated the mistakes of his predecessors by opting for internal inquiries as opposed to passing on details of the allegations to the Irish police.

In 1995 he finally handed over the names of 17 suspects to civil authorities, a figure which must be seen in context with the hundreds of complaints identified by his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Before his retirement in 2004, Dr Connell publicly asked for forgiveness from all those he had offended.

At the time, his successor said history would recognise that Dr Connell had acted in accordance with his conscience when handling clerical sex abuse scandals.

The two are said to have strongly disagreed last year, however, when Dr Connell caused outrage by mounting a High Court action to block the child abuse inquiry getting access to thousands of church files on clerical abuse.

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