profile, big influence
The man who advises the Catholic church on
child sex abuse
By Justine McCarthy
July 27, 2008
A controversial report commissioned by the Department of Health
into complaints about the mishandling of child sexual abuse allegations
in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne is critical of advice received
by Bishop John Magee. So, who exactly is solicitor Diarmaid Ó
Catháin, the enigmatic legal adviser to Magee and a number
of other bishops?
|Diarmaid Ó Catháin:
controversial solicitor who wields great influence in the upper
reaches of the Catholic church PROVISION
People in Cork who are acquainted with him portray Diarmaid Ó
Catháin, solicitor to a key coterie of Catholic bishops,
as a sort of latterday Samuel Pickwick, Esq, genteel and cerebral
and engrossed in his books. "I quite like Diarmaid," says
one such Corkonian. "Very old-fashioned and a grand fella."
Others have a different picture entirely of the scholarly 57-year-old
ex-seminarian. He causes more than a little disquiet among the Irish
church's elder advocates for glasnost and modernisation. It was
Ó Catháin who advised the octogenarian Cardinal Desmond
Connell in his High Court challenge to a discovery order for the
Dublin archdiocese's child sex abuse case file back in February.
In an affidavit, Ó Catháin attested that his client
had only recently become aware his successor as archbishop of Dublin
had been discussing with the commission how issues of legal privilege
should be determined.
It also emerged Diarmuid Martin only learned of the cardinal's
High Court intervention on the eve of his application for an injunction.
The move against judge Yvonne Murphy's commission of investigation
culminated in a PR catastrophe that cast the cardinal in the mould
of a secretive, regressive, self-protective Luddite.
As solicitor to the bishops of Cork and Ross, Cloyne, and Limerick,
as well as to Desmond Connell,
Ó Catháin's influence has a wide reach. Yet he remains
an enigmatic figure, keeping an unusually low profile.
Two years ago he attended mediation talks in a Limerick hotel,
on behalf of Bishop Donal Murray, with Peter McCloskey, a 37-year-old
father who had been violently and sexually abused by a priest while
serving as an altar boy at the age of 10 in Caherdavin parish. Also
attending as a representative of the bishop was Fr Gerard Garrett,
chairman of the (child abuse) case management committee which is
jointly operated by Donal Murray's diocese of Limerick and John
Magee's diocese of Cloyne.
A member of the survivors' support and lobby agency, One in Four,
accompanied Peter McCloskey, who was striving to establish the facts
of his abuser's paedophile past. His quest had taken him to Australia
where the Clare-born priest had been investigated by police in 1963
for something logged in church records as "a moral lapse".
But McCloskey's efforts to obtain local church files in Limerick
proved fruitless. Two days after that protracted and tense meeting
in the hotel, he killed himself. Afterwards, it was announced
Murray was taking leave of absence due to the strain.
In Cork, where the former city coroner Cornelius Riordan was the
bishop's previous lawyer, the staple of Ó Catháin's
legal work for the church involves property and probate. Most recently
he has been embroiled in internal church conflict as another of
his clients, John Magee of Cloyne, locked horns with the inaugural
child protection manager, Ian Elliott, based in Maynooth. Elliott's
debut report on the diocese's responses to child sex abuse, due
to be published next month, is expected to be highly critical of
events in Cloyne.
Diarmaid Ó Catháin also acts for sectors of the Irish-language
community. He runs a relatively small practice, the office recently
relocating from Washington Street to South Terrace. He and his nephew,
Rúairí Ó Catháin, are the sole partners.
His older brother, Malachy O'Kane, a government appointee in the
1980s to the Irish Legal Terms Advisory Committee, is a consultant
to the firm.
A portrait of the latter, who also goes by the Irish version of
his name, Leachlain Ó Catháin, hangs in the foyer
of the Everyman Theatre in the Munster capital to commemorate his
role as a founding member. A Leachlain Ó Catháin was
appointed by the government to the Irish-language cross-border
body set up under the Good Friday agreement.
The brothers grew up in New Ross, Co Wexford where their father,
Malachy Kane, an Irish-language enthusiast, was a teacher in the
Vocational School. Dermot Kane, as he was known then, was taught
by the Christian Brothers at junior level. He is remembered from
his time there as "a tempestuous and earnest small fellow"
with a ready temper and a bright mind with "absolutely no interest
He got his secondary education from the Augustinian order at the
Good Counsel school in New Ross, going on to study for the priesthood
at the University of Tubingen in Germany where the future pope,
Joseph Ratzinger, had been appointed to the teaching staff in 1966,
along with the rebel theologian, Hans Kung. Ó Catháin's
time in Tubingen, plus a further sojourn studying in Rome, did not
result in his ordination as a priest but it sowed an abiding love
in him for Latin scholarship. It also sowed the seeds of his intimacy
with canon law which, according to recipients of his legal correspondence,
he quotes liberally in his missives. He is listed as an independent
scholar attached to the Centre for Neo-Latin Studies at UCC where
the long-term ambition is to gather, edit and translate the full
corpus of Latin texts of Irish provenance written since the 1200s.
He is regularly in the audience for the centre's weekly seminars
and has had his writings published in the Cork Historical Journal.
He is the author of several academic books written in Irish, as
well as novels. He also contributed to a special publication marking
the 800th anniversary of New Ross last year.
On his return to Ireland from Rome, he completed a degree in Latin
at UCD and moved to Cork to obtain his law degree at UCC. He has
made his home in the city, marrying the former Geraldine Butler,
a Kilkenny-born school teacher who uses the Irish name, Gearóidín.
A mother of four children, she is due to graduate from UCC with
a PhD in Irish later this year.
"He's conscientious in representing his clients but he's not
heartless," says a Cork lawyer. "He's not hurtful. He's
pensive and angelic in appearance, a bright guy, affable."
According to someone else who has dealt with him in relation to
child abuse complaints against priests, he's "an ideologue"
In the past month, his client, the bishop of Cloyne, has been threatened
with having his record in dealing with such complaints investigated
by the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation. Two complaints
have been made to the minister for health that the Cloyne diocese
failed to comply with guidelines in handling allegations that named
priests had sexually assaulted and raped minors.
Inquiries by the Sunday Tribune to the diocesan office in Limerick
about Diarmaid Ó Catháin's status as Murray's legal
adviser have gone unanswered. A woman in the office of Ó
Catháin solicitors said the adviser to Cardinal Desmond Connell
and bishops Murray, Magee and Buckley was unavailable to take a
call. That was two months ago. He has not rung back.