ACP Statement on appointment of Yvonne Murphy

Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP)
responding to the 
  establishment of the Commission of Investigation
into Mother and Baby Homes 
and the appointment of Yvonne Murphy
The ACP welcomes the establishment of the Commission of Investigation into
Mother and Baby Homes. It is important that it be carried out competently,
justly and in strict accordance with guidelines to be laid down by the
government, which should reflect natural and constitutional justice.
The ACP notes the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy who chaired the Murphy
Commission into abuse in Dublin diocese.
It is also important to note that, in view of a report commissioned by the
ACP into procedural fairness in that investigation, Fergal Sweeney, an Irish
barrister who worked for many years as a judge in Hong Kong, concluded that
the Murphy Report contained significant deficiencies in terms of respecting
the demands of natural and constitutional justice.
Last October, the ACP published Fergal Sweeney’s findings. His conclusions
are on pages 37-39 of his document, which is on I this web-site.
The final point is as follows:
4.14   However, from the legal perspective it is difficult to avoid the conclusion
that insofar as the Catholic clerics who were called to testify were concerned,
the practices and procedures of the Murphy Commission fell far short
of meeting the concerns of the Law Reform Commission
and, more importantly, of natural and Constitutional  justice.
In the light of the serious failings of the Murphy Commission, the ACP
suggests that Fergal Sweeney’s important and robustly argued conclusions
should be considered before the terms of reference for the investigation are
established and the necessity of following them is accepted.
Our concerns should not be interpreted as an attack on Judge Murphy, still
less an attempt to obstruct the investigation, but a concern that the new
Commission of Investigation should have the best possible team to carry out
the vital work.
The ACP is aware that Judge Murphy and the Murphy Commission are legally
debarred from any comment once they issued their Report but even though
strangely Fergal Sweeney’s study was largely ignored in the media and by the
legal profession, it is vital for the credibility of the enquiry that those
entrusted with investigating the Mother and Baby Homes should accept and
implement the guidelines laid down by the government. This is a matter not
just of natural justice but of judicial competence.
We would also hope that the Commission will avail of the expertise of social
scientists, especially anthropologists, to make sure that the cultural prism
through which we interpret present reality is not imposed on the past. Here
too competent historians must be consulted so that the Commission has an
accurate understanding of the historical reality at that period in Irish
history and of the various actors who were involved in the wider context of
the Mother and Child homes at the time.
Making the same mistakes twice, when people’s characters and reputations are
at stake, would be unconscionable.
Fergal Sweeney’s report can be found at
Numbers for media contact
Sean McDonagh 087 236612
Brendan Hoban 086 6065055
Gerry O’Connor 087 2320295
Seamus Ahearne 087 6782746
Gerry Alwill 087 2305557

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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    At the risk of increasing the task, it is important that the Commission of Investigation do not consider the religious run mother and baby homes in isolation: other such homes, including county homes, must be included. In relation to funding and staffing, the Commission must see how such homes which were funded by the state compare in funding to other kinds of homes, and to the regular maternity hospitals.
    The matter of children being sent for adoption, and of children who died being sent to medical schools, must be looked at in all such institutions.
    In looking at the matter of how society dealt with non-marital children and their mothers (what about the fathers?), the Commission must look at the context of how other jurisdictions at the time dealt with this. This would include the practice in some places of introducing legislation for the compulsory sterilisation of women in these situations.
    In dealing with infant mortality, the Commission must look at how other institutions, including maternity hospitals, dealt with the burial arrangements; and how society at the time dealt with the deaths of small children – this includes the “Holy Angels” plots in many parts of the country as a normal practice. While today, we would see the burial of a child without a funeral rite as cruel and unfeeling, we need to ask how people saw it in the years before and following independence, including the question of whether it was seen as a kindness and help to the bereaved parents. The economic factors are relevant here. Also the fact that stillbirths were not registered here until 1995, so the child would not usually be given a name.
    The level of infant mortality in society over those years is clearly important. Where there appears to be a much higher level of mortality of non-marital children, the Commission must look at the health and living conditions of the mothers; the question of poverty is relevant. The Commission must consider the experience in other jurisdictions also, where the level of infant mortality of non-marital children was frequently higher than the level in marital children, and what may be the reasons for this. The contemporary situation could be enlightening here. Also the kind of medical care available, and nutritional factors.
    In the matter of adoptions, we must be aware of what was seen as good practice at the time. Often this involved minimising the bonding of the mother and child. Sending children abroad was not just a practice in Ireland: many children were sent from UK to Australia.
    To look at international experience is not a way of justifying all that was done; but if we fail to look at the wider picture, we may be in danger of blaming ourselves because we are Irish, and largely Catholic.
    I’m sure there are other relevant matters which do not come to mind at present. All in all, as the statement makes clear, it is important that the Commission take the matter in its historical context. This was a matter of serious failure in the Murphy Report.
    The Commission must consider whether it can name and shame people they consider to blame: this was a very serious failure and injustice in a Commission of Investigation, as the Sweeney report makes clear.
    It will be instructive to see whether this new Commission of Investigation learns from the errors of the past, and whether they pay attention to the study of the Murphy Report produced by Fergal Sweeney.

  2. Fair enough. At a time when suspicion is draped over all priests (1 in 50?) from (it seems) even the highest earthly authority of the Church, it’s only right that everyone involved is respected and the good work of many religious is not written off.

  3. One point that Fergal Sweeney did NOT mention is that the Murphy Report on Dublin includes criticism of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid even though he died in in 1973 and the inquiry was supposed to investigate the actions of the Catholic Church in the period 1975 to 2004. Also the Report failed to comment on the widely-publicized allegations of pedophilia against the late Archbishop even though these were made in 1999 i.e. WITHIN the period that Judge Murphy was supposed to report on. Could the fact that the allegations were universally rejected as false, have anything to do with this curious omission? The Dublin Archdiocese under Archbishop Desmond Connell, strongly repudiated the claims. Did they really have no effect on the attitudes of senior clergy who had to deal with similar sex claims against Dublin priests?
    Judge Murphy’s report on Cloyne also failed to refer to scurrilous allegations against Bishop John Magee for which the UK Guardian was forced to apologise in 1994 and TV3 in 1999. Did Judge Murphy believe that these false allegations had NO effect on how the Bishop would have viewed similar claims against his priests?
    The current investigation into Mother and Baby homes was sparked by a world-wide media storm based on claims that the Bon Secour nuns in Tuam had dumped the bodies of dead children into a septic tank. Most of the journalists who published this obscene libel have now quietly dropped it and only a few have had the grace to apologise. I hope that Judge Murphy will not fail to provide a detailed analysis of this fake atrocity story and name those responsible for creating it.

  4. Dr Margaret Kennedy says:

    It seems to me that the ACP despite its claim not to want to
    “attempt to obstruct the investigation”, is, in fact, conveying from dayone that Judge Yvonne Murphy needs to brush up on her ‘practices and procedures or even is ‘not suitable’; which from my perspective is disrespectful and does not fill me with admiration. Such enquiries are always limited by resources, information lost, not given (!) and in the end humanity and one’s human fallibility. I suspect some clergy did not equip themselves well in that enquiry! One could unpick most inquiries as ‘deficient’. It further seems to me that the ACP wants to highlight the ‘unfairness’ of the Murphy Commission i.e. being allegedly ‘unfair’ towards clergy rather than hope that justice will be served to women and children incarcerated in ‘mother and baby homes’ and the subsequent (often) blighted lives of these women and children. That the ACP take this defensive clergy stance continues to present the Catholic Church as an institution largely only of benefit to clergy themselves! When Clergy begin to see the deficiencies of it’s OWN institution rather than point out the log in another’s eye, then will lay people subjected to the horrors of past Catholicism receive justice. I suspect that most of the Murphy Commission painted an accurate picture of victims abuse and the ACP statement above seeks to damn it whole and entire thus almost calling victims ‘liars’. Have we not endured enough of this clericalism? Now could the ACP speak/say something about the Women and Children who suffered in Mother and Baby Homes?

  5. Here again we have the Catholic Church rushing to defend its good name by pre-empting the investigation of the Mother and Baby story. This article is trying to muddy the waters before the investigation even gets off the ground. It is an arrogant article written by clerical male celibate men trying to deflect blame from the Church. In trying to deflect possible inaccurate blame from the Church it puts itself above the real victims, the Mothers and the Babies. The Church did not mind treating the Mothers in this story as sinners and blameworthy. The Mothers and Babies in this story were defenseless, weak, vulnerable and at the mercy of the powers at the time, Church and State.
    In his comment @1, Padraig McCarthy tries to deflect scrutiny from the Church by shifting the attention on society and ‘how society dealt with ‘non-marital’ children and their mothers’. Padraig McCarthy, whom I think is a priest, can not even speak about these women and babies without labeling them. Society, political, educational, medical, judicial, all ‘cravenly deferred’, to the Church and Church leaders.
    If Padraig McCarthy wants society to accept equal share in the blame of how the Mothers and Babies were treated he should also take into account this ‘craven deference’ society had to the Church and how the Church demanded this deference. Do not let us forget that for Catholics, the Church holds the promise of eternal life. The Church can with hold this promise if its laws are broken. As John A Costelloe once said, I am an Irishman second; I am a Catholic first’.

  6. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Dr Margaret Kennedy @4:
    Lessons need to be learned from the Murphy Commission – precisely because of deficiencies clearly identified by Fergal Sweeney, and also in my book Unheard Story. The ACP and Fergal Sweeney and I have been careful to recognise explicitly the valuable work done by the Commission. We are greatly concerned that justice be done for those who were abused, and for all concerned in the mother and baby homes.
    The ACP itself is not a perfect association, and is very much aware of serious failings in the Church. The ACP certainly does not take a defensive stance in this regard.
    It is not true to write, as you do, that “the ACP statement above seeks to damn [the Murphy Commission] whole and entire thus almost calling victims ‘liars’.” This cannot be found anywhere in any statement from the ACP; nor is it in Fergal Sweeney’s document; nor is it in my book.
    This is not at all incompatible with bringing to attention deficiencies in the Murphy Report. One does not correct one injustice by inflicting another injustice. The points made by Fergal Sweeney in his document are the points to address: this is what is at issue here. The really strange thing is that the media and the political establishment have not so far addressed the matters raised by Fergal Sweeney.
    Your work has been valuable in bringing public attention to abuse. It is understandable that any person who has experience of abuse, as you have, would be wary of anything that may seem to downgrade the appalling abuse which is well documented in the Murphy Report. It is vital that we hold on to that, and at the same time not fail to address failures in procedural fairness in the work of the Commission. This is not an attempt to exculpate anyone.
    It is because the ACP wants the full story of the mother and baby homes to be made clear that the statement was issued. The media have backed away very much from initial sensational reports. As the ACP statement says: “It is important that it be carried out competently, justly and in strict accordance with guidelines to be laid down by the government, which should reflect natural and constitutional justice.” If there were deficiencies in the Murphy Report, as I believe Fergal Sweeney shows, then, indeed, “Making the same mistakes twice, when people’s characters and reputations are at stake, would be unconscionable.”

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    What one would like to see in a new Murphy report is a deeper sense of historical perspective, setting the work of the sisters who ran mother and child homes, Magdalene laundries, etc., in the context of the demands of society at the time. Even the shaming and shunning of unmarried mothers alleged to be a uniquely Catholic outlook could be put in perspective — unmarried mothers were not viewed benignly anywhere. As Fintan O’Toole points out, the vast amount of secret abortions that is our current solution to unwanted pregnancies bespeaks similar attitudes which have not gone away even though no longer connected with Catholic notions of guilt and sin. And it would also be nice if the next Murphy report recorded also the positive things people had to say about the sisters. If demonizing indignation is allowed to set the tone of the new report, as it in part set the tone of the Dublin and Cloyne reports, it will only undercut its reliability as work of historical reference.

  8. My first reaction to this ACP statement was one of ‘more clerical circling of wagons’. However, on reflection, there is indeed also a danger of engaging in an endless excoriation of the role of Catholic clergy and religious in ‘shaming the unfortunate’ in Ireland in the last century – when the priority for all of us should surely be to put right whatever may still be wrong in our Catholic Christian witness in Ireland today.
    With that priority in mind I am wondering why the ACP failed to report here the call made earlier this month by Vincent Twomey – for Irish Church leaders ‘to appoint an expert panel to review what went wrong in Irish Catholicism to cause the prevalent culture of abuse’.
    Fr Twomey believes that the Church missed an opportunity at the time the Ryan Report was published in 2009 to ask deeper questions about Irish Catholic culture in the 20th Century. This is a belated echo of the call made at that time by Bishop Noel Treanor: “We have to examine why this happened …. so that we have the best anthropological and scientific analysis available to try and understand”. It is still a mystery why the Irish Bishops’ Conference did not act on that suggestion five years ago.
    Now Vincent Twomey’s echo of that call is a welcome acknowledgement that irrespective of what any future state-sponsored inquiries may reveal there must indeed have been serious failures of Irish Catholic leadership and spiritual formation when the political clout of the church was at its zenith in Ireland in the last century – and an overwhelming need to understand those failures and put them right.
    So will the ACP support Vincent Twomey’s and Bishop Treanor’s call? If not, why not?

  9. In her book “Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church”, Marie Keenan writes about how the tendancy of individualizing the Abuse Problem in the Church means that any structural and theological aspects of the Church that created the conditions for abuse to occur are not recognized, and therefore remain unchanged. This should allay some of the fears the ACP may have and give them the confidence and incentive to back Vincent Twomey’s call for a review. It would seem this book goes quite a way already in answering some of the likely questions such a review would ask. The four part review of the book by Dr Gladys Ganiel is well worth a read. Find a link to it here:- http://www.acireland.ie/child-sexual-abuse-and-the-catholic-church-gender-power-and-organizational-culture-by-marie-keenan-july-2013/ or directly to Part One of the book review here:- http://www.gladysganiel.com/uncategorized/marie-keenan-child-sexual-abuse-and-the-catholic-church-book-review-part-one/

  10. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Seán Ó Conaill @8:
    Seán: I support the proposal, which Vincent Twomey also put forward in the Irish Times on 19 June. The church could step forward to be proactive in these matters.
    However, there seem to be at least two possible hurdles:
    1. It is likely that there would be public and media reaction to the idea of the church investigating itself.
    2. I strongly suspect that many of the bishops would have no stomach for it, however desirable it may seem.

  11. Clare Hannigan says:

    One of the findings of the Murphy Report was that there was an inexplicable delay in the introduction of child protection legislation in Ireland. There was also a delay in the introduction of adoption legislation in Ireland. An adoption law was passed in Britain in 1926 but adoption was not made legal here until 1950’s. The Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes is available for download at the following link – http://www.dcya.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=3239

  12. #10 “1. It is likely that there would be public and media reaction to the idea of the church investigating itself.”
    There would certainly be deep scepticism, and therefore an overwhelming need for a credible church-sponsored inquiry to have a membership component that would be both detached from the church’s own patronage network and respected academically in the field of institutional abuse causation.
    And this would obviously accentuate the second problem:
    “2…. many of the bishops would have no stomach for it.” To the degree that any inquiry team would be academically independent its findings would also be unpredictable, and therefore potentially devastating for the entire clerical system – the entity that tends to think of itself as coterminous with ‘the church’.
    However, it’s also clear that a continuing failure to grasp this nettle is also deeply debilitating for the Irish church leadership, suggesting as it does that the latter is motivated by fear of further damaging revelation, rather than faith. Any institution that cannot subject itself to searching internal examination following this scale of catastrophe is surely doomed to total loss of credibility anyway.

  13. Sean (12), you rightly point out, doing nothing, (which seems to be the Bishop’s strategy) is as bad or worse than any potential devastating impact an in depth inquiry would have on the entire clerical system.
    Let’s face it; this system has done none of us any favours anyway, not least our clergy. The big damage it has done there lies in the fact that it has given us priests that happen to be men rather than men who happen to be priests.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    The main plank of SNAP and other critics of the bishop concerns the system of Mandatory Reporting. The Vatican gave clear signs of being against it and even now only says grudgingly that bishops should comply with the law in their respective countries.
    Is drunken driving an offense covered by Mandatory Reporting, and if not, why not?

  15. Eddie Finnegan says:

    The interesting Opinion piece by Vincent Twomey in this morning’s Irish Times perhaps goes a step further than the ACP Statement and other substantial comments above. He asks, not just “Why Judge Yvonne Murphy?”, but why any judge as chairman of the mother-and-baby home inquiry? Like several of the contributors above, he asks why the narrow concentration “primarily on the mother-and-child homes run by Catholic religious congregations together with one Protestant-run home”. He also wonders whether the commission will enquire into the sensationalist media coverage of the original Tuam story.
    Perhaps Vincent can hope for a fairer hearing from commenters on this forum than from the often rabid online commentariat the Irish Times now permits or even encourages. If they don’t permit such mindless anonymous or pseudonymous rubbish in their Letters Page, why leave serious contributors open to it online?

  16. Fr. Vincent Twomey’s article in the Irish Times on 29 July raises a couple of very important issues
    Should the commission uncover grave misdeeds, even criminal actions, natural justice demands each instance be dealt with according to due procedures, all of which are predicated on the presumption of innocence. Malicious accusations against “the nuns” by some public commentators have been deeply offensive, not least to today’s aged Sisters, who, with depleted human resources, continue to provide unsung service to the marginalised in Ireland, which the State cannot provide. ……
    “Finally, it would be a welcome development if the commission were to devote some attention to the media’s coverage of the initial Tuam story. How did such sensationalist coverage affect the women and children themselves – and those who provided service in the homes? What further hurt did it cause?

    The purveyors of ludicrous atrocity stories about the Bon Secour nuns have now largely gone silent – at least on the allegations that actually can be TESTED. So it may be helpful to remind ourselves of what they originally wrote:
    ‘Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers’, declared the Washington Post. ‘800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers’, said the New York Daily News. ‘Galway historian finds 800 babies in septic tank grave’, said the Boston Globe. ‘The bodies of 800 babies were found in the septic tank of a former home for unwed mothers in Ireland’, cried Buzzfeed. Commentators angrily demanded answers from the Catholic Church. ‘Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves’, said a writer for the Guardian, telling no-doubt outraged readers that ‘the bodies of 796 children… have been found in a disused sewage tank in Tuam, County Galway’. ……. The foregoing details are from Brendan O’Neill’s article on the Spikedonline website and he also comments that “A hysterical piece in the Irish Independent compared the Tuam home to the Nazi Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebrenica, saying that in all these settings people were killed ‘because they were scum’.”
    Brendan O’Neill is an atheist. Yet his article is entitled “The Tuam Tank: Another Myth about Evil Ireland” and the subtitle is “The obsession with Ireland’s dark past has officially become unhinged.” Compare this to Fr Brian D’Arcy’s article in the Sunday World on 10 June entitled “Fr Brian: Baby Graves are Our Greatest Crime” that includes the following
    When I first heard the news that more than 800 babies were buried in what was formally a septic tank I was astonished – because initially I thought it happened in some famine-stricken country today. Then I thought I was hearing about Nazi Germany…..” etc etc
    When the Commission of Investigation eventually issues its Report, will it even mention these fake atrocity stories that shamed us world-wide? Or will the Report ignore every allegation that is OBVIOUSLY false while accepting as true any claim that the nuns cannot PROVE is a lie? I strongly suspect the latter. After all, that is what happened in all previous investigations of this type!

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