By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A retired District Court judge is to head an independent audit commission that will inquire into the extent of child sex abuse by priests and members of religious orders and the handling of the scandal by the Catholic church authorities.
All-Ireland Primate and Archbishop of Armagh Sean Brady said the audit would “remove the uncertainty which has undermined the confidence and trust of the laity in the church.”
The Irish Bishops’ Conference, representing the country’s 26 dioceses, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union are jointly establishing and funding the new commission.
It is hoped it will begin work in September, produce an interim report by the end of February 2003, and a final report a year later.
Retired judge Gillian Hussey, 65, will chair the commission and will choose the other six members. It will adopt its own methodology and will delegate to external consultants any functions it considers necessary.
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Renowned for her straight-talking from the bench, the judge and her team will face a daunting task of probing case-by-case and diocese-by-diocese the circumstances of a lengthy series of abuse allegations, some of which date back decades.
The commission is free to amend or extend its terms of reference and will make recommendations.
The church first announced it planned to have an audit carried out following an emergency meeting of the bishops about sex abuse in April.
The meeting followed the resignation of Bishop of Ferns Dr. Brendan Comiskey after criticism of his handling of pedophile priests in his diocese.
“The purpose of the commission is to establish the truth about the extent of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church in Ireland, and the response of church authorities to complaints of such abuse,” a statement from the church said.
It will examine what each bishop and each religious superior knew about complaints of child sexual abuse and what steps they took.
It will also quantify the extent of child sexual abuse by priests and religious.
Victims will be interviewed to learn how they suffered and what their experience has been of the response of church authorities to their complaints
It will also examine how bishops and religious superiors have implemented the 1996 guidelines on child abuse in responding to complaints.
Concern has been expressed that issues of confidentiality and the destruction of some documentation may hinder the audit.
A spokesman for the hierarchy, Fr. Martin Clarke, said the expectation was that the commission would be given all the documentation it required to carry out its work.
This would include confidential documents. If there were difficulties about a document or part of a document “it would be very much the exception rather than the rule.”
“The whole exercise is to establish the truth,” Clarke told RTE. “There is no point in setting up a commission with the left hand and then taking back all sorts of powers with the right hand.
“There is huge trust put in Judge Hussey that she will deliver the goods and say what has to be said.”