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Church and Irish institutions

Whenever protecting the group or organisation becomes more important than doing the right thing the consequences can be dire. Few would have predicted just how dire it could be when it came to the church and state institutions to whom we entrusted our children.

The following quotations from the executive summary of the Ryan report describe this culture of abuse:

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.”

“Corporal punishment in girls’ schools was pervasive, severe, arbitrary and unpredictable and this led to a climate of fear amongst the children.”

“Sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions.”

“It is impossible to determine the full extent of sexual abuse committed in boys’ schools. The schools investigated revealed a substantial level of sexual abuse of boys in care that extended over a range from improper touching and fondling to rape with violence. Perpetrators of abuse were able to operate undetected for long periods at the core of institutions.

“Cases of sexual abuse were managed with a view to minimising the risk of public disclosure and consequent damage to the institution and the Congregation. This policy resulted in the protection of the perpetrator. When lay people were discovered to have sexually abused, they were generally reported to the Gardai. When a member of a Congregation was found to be abusing, it was dealt with internally and was not reported to the Gardai.”


The following quotations from part one of the Murphy report describe the systematic culture of secrecy and denial that facilitated the continuation of these shocking abuses:

“There were a number of  inappropriate  contacts  between  the Gardaí and the Archdiocese.  Clearly the handing over of the Fr Edmondus case to Archbishop McQuaid  by  Commissioner  Costigan  was  totally  inappropriate.  The relationship between some senior Gardaí and some priests and bishops was also inappropriate – in particular, in the Fr Carney and Fr <removed> cases.”

“There  are  some  examples  of  Gardaí  actually  reporting  complaints  to  the Archdiocese  instead  of  investigating  them. It is  fortunate  that  some  junior members of the force did not take the same view.”

“The Commission  has  no  doubt  that  clerical  child  sexual  abuse was covered up by  the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities over much of  the period covered by  the Commission’s  remit.   The structures and rules of  the Catholic Church  facilitated  that  cover-up.   The State authorities facilitated the cover up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law  was  applied  equally  to  all  and  allowing  the  Church  institutions  to  be beyond  the  reach of  the normal  law enforcement processes.   The welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered  in  the early  stages.    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.”

It is truly difficult to read the events described in these reports. Therein present, in unambiguous precision, is a detailed account of one of the darkest chapters in the Irish state’s history. But as difficult as it may be to read these reports, we must nevertheless endeavour to do so. We, as both a society and as a collection of individuals within that society, must learn the lessons contained in these reports as we move forward. We must recognise that a culture of secrecy and protectionism can occur in any group, and we all share a responsibility in combating such tendencies.


Part one (4.5Mb PDF) of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation report (Murphy report)

The report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse website (off site) (Ryan report)

Due to the nature and size of the Ryan report on the CICA website, Dialogue Ireland has produced a zipped text-file version (3Mb) of the report for those wishing to download a complete copy

RTE News report into the DACI report

PrimeTime on the DACI report