Bishop Dermot O’ Mahony
Bishop Dermot O’Mahony died on 10 December, aged 80, following serious illness for many years. He was ordained a priest in 1960, and then studied canon law in Rome for four years. He was ordained bishop in 1975. He resigned as Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in 1996 on health grounds, but continued to work as his health permitted.
He chaired the Irish Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, and during the hunger strikes at the Maze prison. Among other work, he served on the Irish Pilgrimage Trust which arranged pilgrimages to Lourdes for children. When a group of strikers was invited by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a fact-finding mission to South Africa, but were refused entry in Johannesburg, Dermot O’Mahony was among those who greeted them on their arrival at Dublin airport.
He was the subject of severe criticism in 2009 in the Murphy report into sexual abuse of children in Dublin diocese, accused of serious failures in handling of allegations of abuse. This is the focus of some newspaper headlines since his death, rather than the service he gave to the people of Dublin diocese. “Bishop criticised in abuse inquiry dies” is the heading of a report by Sarah MacDonald in the Irish Independent on 12 December.
At the time of the Murphy report, Dermot O’Mahony raised questions about its findings. “Bishop O’Mahony accused of questioning validity of Murphy report”, reported the Irish Examiner on 29 January 2010, almost as if it were a crime to do so. At the time, nobody in the media or public life voiced any questions about the report. To do so brought about condemnation.
I believe that there was serious substance to his criticisms. This is supported by Fergal Sweeney in his “Commissions of Investigation & Procedural Fairness: A Legal Review of the 2004 Act”, published in 2013, for the Association of Catholic Priests. Fergal Sweeney is an Irish barrister, and former judge of the Hong Kong District Court. He concluded his review by writing:
“I have been unable to get a fair reading of [the case of the clerics who appeared before the Murphy Commission] because the Murphy Report lacks nuance, balance and any understanding of the historical and sociological context in which these events took place. Further, the very nature of the Commission of Investigations Act 2004 precluded fair procedures to those clerics who were called to account for themselves…
“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.”
I documented many of the failings of the Commission in regard to the historical and sociological context in my book “Unheard Story: Dublin Archdiocese and the Murphy Report”, also in 2013.
While there have been strong objections to the Review by Fergal Sweeney and to the contents of my book, these seem to be grounded on an argument that it is not in any way permissible to question the Report, rather than by addressing the substance of the contents of the two publications.
We have had validation of comments of Fergal Sweeney about fairness of procedures in that names have been ordered to be removed from the report of the Moriarty tribunal, and, currently, that the Oireachtas investigation into the banking crisis has recognised that it is precluded from assigning blame to named individuals in its report. One can, however, understand the reluctance of any of those named in the Murphy Report to initiate legal steps to have their names removed from the report, although such move would seem to me to be fully justified and likely to succeed.
The vital importance of historical perspective has been recognised in the case of the Commission to inquire into Mother and Baby Homes by the appointment to the Commission of a person qualified in that area.
The public, the organs of State, and the media who have a responsibility to present a fuller understanding of the matters involved have failed utterly so far to recognise the failings of the Murphy Report.
Dermot O’Mahony felt deeply a sense of responsibility for how he handled allegations of abuse. On 27 October 2009, four weeks prior to the release of the Murphy Report, he sent this statement to the press office of Dublin diocese: “I profoundly regret that any action or inaction of mine should have contributed to the suffering of even a single child. I want to apologise for my failures from the bottom of my heart.” For whatever reason, this statement was not made public, leading to a perception that he did not express any remorse or apology.
Did he make mistakes in his handling of allegations? Yes, as judged by the understanding we have today of many dimensions of the matter: the serious and long-lasting effects on so many who were abused; how difficult it can be to deal with those who sexually abuse children; the best procedures to be followed in dealing with allegations; and many other aspects. However, by the understanding and knowledge of the 1970s and 1980s, not just in the church, but in society, including law, psychiatry and sociology, in Ireland and elsewhere, the steps taken can be more readily appreciated, although today recognised as gravely deficient.
Dermot O’Mahony felt very deeply the pain of being excluded following the Murphy Report from pastoral and liturgical life in the diocese he had served. Sadly, he died before the full wider context of how diocesan personnel handled allegations has become part of public consciousness.
The funeral will be received at St Anne’s Church, Shankill, Co Dublin, on Monday 14 December at 6.30pm. Funeral Mass the following day at 12 noon. Burial is in Shanganah Cemetery in Shankill.
13 Dec 2015
Bishop Dermot O’ Mahony