gives the Cloyne committee a shield of immunity? Look no further
than the state
By Justine McCarthy
January 11, 2009
The vicious epistle fired off from Cloyne in an attempt to quash
the Elliott report should be made compulsory reading for every citizen.
Nestling among the legalistic menaces, the invocation of canon law
and the twisted inference that professional advisers have been using
their tormented clients to pursue their own agenda against the church,
a light is inadvertently shone on our society's fundamental insult
to victims of child sexual abuse.
The letter, reproduced in the Irish Times last week, was addressed
to Aidan Canavan, chairman of the church's National Board for Safeguarding
Children, in the names of the 10 members of the Limerick/Cloyne
interdiocesan case-management committee; three of them priests and
two nuns. In lay parlance, it threatened to sue the pants off the
board if it dared publish Elliott's report, typifying the church's
disposition that saving its own skin is paramount to saving the
skin of innocent children.
This is the same committee whose fitness to do the job of protecting
children from sexual predators is baldly questioned by Elliott,
but such doubts make no dent in their perception of themselves as
all-round champions. And what, precisely, gives them this shield
of immunity? Look no further than the state.
Dealing with the case of Father B – who continues to swan
around his locality 14 years after the first of a series of complaints
was made against him – the committee argues that the priest
has denied any wrongdoing and is strenuously contesting High Court
proceedings against him (as is Cloyne diocese, despite Bishop John
Magee's yuletide mea culpa). Then comes the hammer-blow argument:
"The [Elliott] report inexplicably omitted to state that in
his case he was investigated three times by the gardaí and
on each occasion the DPP failed to prosecute."
This is not the first time the DPP's decision not to press charges
has been used to exonerate an accused child molester. It happens
frequently because, most of the time, the DPP returns the investigation
files on child sexual abuse to the gardaí marked "no
prosecution". This failure by the state is the worst hurt inflicted
on someone trying to come to terms with childhood abuse because
an acknowledgment by others of what was done to them is essential
for recovery. Again and again, you hear abuse survivors say vindication,
not money, is their reason for taking civil actions when the DPP
has blocked their access to the criminal courts.
As a society, however, we insist on quantifying their suffering
in terms of hard cash. Isn't it perverse, for instance, that criminal
charges (the tiny minority that make it to court) are tried in the
Circuit Court while civil proceedings for damages are heard in the
High Court? We can only suspect the DPP feels obliged to operate
on the same principle; weighing up the chances of securing a conviction
as against the monetary cost of mounting a prosecution that might
fail. Even justice has its price.
There are obvious difficulties specific to the prosecution of child
sexual abuse cases. Primarily, there is an absence of physical evidence
and of eyewitnesses. Mostly, it is presumed the "antiquity"
of the events alleged makes a prosecution too problematic to pursue.
Nobody ever knows the real reason because the DPP does not explain.
In one case I know of, after the two gardaí bearing the "no
charges" news had left her home, a young woman who was raped
as a child walked to a nearby field and hung herself from a tree
with her scarf.
This is the invisible human tragedy. As a community, we cannot
let it go on. We could follow the example of Northern Ireland, where
the DPP is emboldened to press charges by his obligation to consider
the public interest in all his decisions.
Here in the republic we cannot even stir ourselves to organise
a referendum for a constitutional amendment to strengthen children's
rights. Oh, we're all gung-ho when we get the whiff of a bishop's
head on a plate but, the rest of the time, do we really care? If
we did, we would eradicate the excuses the state provides for turning
a blind eye.