Only one priest in report has been convicted in court
By Barry Roche
July 15, 2011
Among the 19 priests investigated by the commission of investigation under Judge Yvonne Murphy over allegations of sexual abuse in Cloyne, only one has been convicted by the courts.
Fr Brendan Wrixon was identified in the report as Fr Caden.
Fr Wrixon (75) pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last November to three counts of gross indecency against a then 16-year- old youth between October 16th, 1982, and February 15th, 1983.
He was given an 18-month suspended sentence by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin.
While details of the crime were given by Det Garda Colman Murphy – who was singled out for praise by Judge Murphy in her report for his diligence and his sensitivity to victims – the background to the church’s handling of the complaint did not emerge in court.
However, Judge Murphy’s investigation of how the complaint against Fr Wrixon was handled by the church authorities in Cloyne illustrated just how deficient, if not openly unhelpful, both Bishop John Magee and Msgr Denis O’Callaghan were in their approach to the case.
In 2004, a priest of the diocese, named Patrick in the report, told Bishop Magee he had been sexually assaulted by a priest in the diocese when he was a teenager in the early 1980s, but he did not name Fr Wrixon.
He later confided in a friend, another priest, who his abuser was. This friend informed Bishop Magee in January 2005 as he was aware that Fr Wrixon was involved with vulnerable children in the diocese and he was concerned about him. Bishop Magee raised the matter with Msgr O’Callaghan, who advised him he had no obligation to reveal the matter. In May 2005, Patrick contacted Dean Eamon Goold and identified Fr Wrixon to him as the priest who had abused him.
He showed him a letter that Fr Wrixon had sent him in which he spoke about “a dark secret which gnaws away inside me like a cancer with little or no respite day or night” and said he hoped some day that Patrick could forgive him.
Patrick indicated to Msgr O’Callaghan in September 2005 that he was not prepared to meet gardaí but he wanted closure through a reconciliation with Fr Wrixon. He later met Bishop Magee to express his frustration over the diocese’s failure to progress the matter.
Bishop Magee met Fr Wrixon on September 22nd, 2005. After initially denying that he had sexually assaulted Patrick, he admitted it when Bishop Magee produced a copy of his letter to Patrick, in which he spoke of his dark secret.
Bishop Magee then compiled and signed two reports of that meeting – one reporting that Fr Wrixon denied the allegation, which he sent to the diocesan office in Cobh, and one reporting that Fr Wrixon had admitted the abuse, which he sent to the Congregation of the Faith in Rome.
Bishop Magee later told the commission that Fr Wrixon’s admission was made to him on the basis of a priest to his bishop and as such was confidential and privileged, but that he felt he should in conscience share it with Rome.
The report said while Bishop Magee testified it was never his intention to deceive anyone in relation to his meeting with Fr Wrixon, “the compilation of two different accounts clearly had that effect”.
A shadow was also cast over Msgr O’Callaghan’s role when Patrick decided in November 2005 that he wanted the matter reported to the Garda. Msgr O’Callaghan notified gardaí and named Patrick as the complainant but he did not identify Fr Wrixon as the abuser.
Patrick made a full statement to gardaí in January 2006. The DPP directed that there should be no prosecution, citing the length of time since occurrence and the absence of supporting evidence as making the securing of a conviction unlikely.
Meanwhile, Ian Elliott of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church also began investigating the case. In February 2008, Bishop Magee told him that Fr Wrixon had not admitted the offences to him.
Msgr O’Callaghan handed over background general information to Mr Elliott but told him he was not handing over files, which were privileged and confidential under canon law. No documents recording Fr Wrixon’s admission were ever handed over to Mr Elliott.
Bishop Magee repeated the falsehood regarding Fr Wrixon’s admission when, in responding to a draft copy of Mr Elliott’s report, he said that Fr Wrixon “never at any time admitted to the alleged abuse to the bishop or any other diocesan personnel”.
Fr Wrixon was later convicted after gardaí submitted a fuller file to the DPP on receipt of information from Mr Elliott. The commission is damning in its assessment of how Bishop Magee and Msgr O’Callaghan handled the case.
The report said both men “positively misled” Mr Elliott on the question of an admission of abuse; not only were the diocese’s records of the case inadequate, they were misleading in that Bishop Magee created two differing records of his meeting with Fr Wrixon. It was also noted that reporting the matter to the Garda was delayed, both failed to co-operate with the Garda investigation in 2006 and they also failed to report the case to the Health Service Executive as required by church guidelines.
ABUSE ALLEGATIONS: TWO PRIESTS FEATURED IN COURT CASES
TWO PRIESTS who have died, “Fr Drust” and “Fr Baird”, and who were investigated by Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team, featured in court cases relating to their alleged abuse of minors while ministering in the Cloyne diocese.
“Fr Drust” was Fr Patrick Twohig, charged with 28 counts of sexually assaulting a girl in Co Cork between April 1st, 1965, and September 1st, 1970, with the alleged abuse starting when the girl was just seven.
Fr Twohig was charged at Mallow District Court in September 2004 and returned for trial to Cork Circuit Criminal Court later that year. The case against him never proceeded after he successfully obtained a judicial review in the High Court against the case going ahead.
Fr Twohig died in 2010.
“Fr Baird” was Fr Thomas Murphy, a former teacher in St Colman’s College in Fermoy, who was accused by a former pupil of sexually assaulting him while a 14-year-old boarder in 1991. Fr Murphy denied the allegation when it was put to him in 2002 and 2003.
Fr Murphy died in 2004 after an illness but the matter came to light in 2008, when the former pupil sued Bishop Magee, St Colman’s College and Fr Murphy’s estate in the High Court.
The case was settled when St Colman’s College paid damages to the former pupil.