Critical analysis of the Murphy report – Padraig McCarthy

THE MURPHY/Dublin report has been a primary source of news since November 26th. I am not aware of any journalist or professional commentator who has yet taken a critical look at the report. This is extraordinary. We have been dismayed and shocked at the report, but we must not lose our capacity for rational thought.

It is a welcome report. It vindicates those who have been abused, and those who were received with less than full care when they brought the matter to the notice of the diocese. It is a service also to the State and to the church. It takes us from the area of rumour and speculation and allows us to deal with facts.

It also challenges the church in its structures, values and personnel to deep renewal in its mission of truth and reconciliation, of hope and healing. For the protection of all, we need to implement genuine collective responsibility. Abuse of any person, child or adult, is an abomination. No society can guarantee to prevent abuse entirely, but we can do far better, church and State.

The facts of cases are stated clearly. However, some conclusions drawn from the facts seem inconsistent with reality.

The report rejects (1.14) the claim that diocesan authorities were on a learning curve up to the late 1990s. This is contradicted by evidence in the report, as also by the experience of Irish society.

Thirty years ago, there was little professional or general awareness of child sexual abuse, and no guidelines for dealing with it (6.53). We must not judge people for what was done or not done in the past by the knowledge and standards of practice we rightly expect today.

The report claims (1,7) that abuse of children by priests was “widespread” in the diocese. Diocesan statistics (November 2009) show that 5 per cent of priests between 1940 and 2009 have had allegations made against them. This is 5 per cent too much, but 5 per cent is not “widespread”. If 5 per cent of journalists had such allegations against them, and an official report described this as “widespread” abuse, journalists would protest strongly.

The report does not set its findings in the context of Irish (and world) society. We cannot know whether the diocese was worse or better than other bodies without more information. Diocesan records were very well kept. The report says (1.98,2.19) that Health Service Executive and Garda records are deficient.

Investigations are needed in law, education, health, sport and other areas, so that we can know how the report’s findings relate to management of abuse by the rest of society.

Cover-up and confidentiality may be confused in some cases. The report itself “covers up” by using pseudonyms for good purposes, not to deceive. People and institutions (even The Irish Times ) often seek to protect their reputation.

The report assesses 45 cases. Handling by the diocese in 25 of them receives approval from the commission, even by today’s standards. Not good enough, definitely, but far from media impressions that the report is simply unrelieved disaster.

Some criticise “questioning . . . the credibility of the Murphy report” (letter from One-In-Four, published February 6th). However, unquestioning acceptance could result in further injustice. Reasonable questioning of conclusions, without denying the harm done, can only help us learn for the future.

The Irish Times editorial of November 27th last stated: “The vast majority of uninvolved priests turned a blind eye. This is a serious and gratuitous accusation against many priests, living and dead. It appears to be a misreading of the report, paragraph 1.24. Following representations, a correction was published on December 16th which said: “This related to those priests who were aware that particular instances of abuse had occurred.” This does not alter the serious accusation against the “vast majority”.

The Irish Times insists that the correction is adequate. Readers may judge. It is sad that the newspaper has not issued the apology due for the original statement. Even if the correction were adequate, impersonal correction without apology to those accused does not meet even normal human courtesy standards.

There has been undoubted failure of collective responsibility in the governance of Ireland’s financial affairs. Media demand for resignations in government and in boards of banks seems significantly less intense than in the case of bishops. Why should this be?

I do not claim a monopoly of wisdom on the matter. I write to encourage reasoned debate about the report. This debate should have already happened. I have written about this at greater length in the current issue of the Furrow

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One Comment

  1. I agree. However, the niggling thing that is not addressed by the ACP is the abuse of power which underpins the scandals and controversies. There is still no movement to initiate the reforms or check and balances, if you like, to curb the abuse that inevitably happens when power is concentrated. You can take it as read that cover-up/slackness in dealing with the abuse of children, the extreme end of any abuse of power, is at the end of a long line of lesser abuses involving unacceptable influence peddling, questionable use of resources etc. The Church is now at a watershed. It can continue down the primrose path to the next wave of revelations which will certainly not be in the area of sex scandals or take measures to introduce the kind of structures of transparency and oversight necessary to prevent such and re-generate confidence within the ranks of the faithful.

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