The RTE documentary “Cardinal Secrets,” which aired in mid-October, focused on the handling of abusing priests in Cardinal Desmond Connell’s Dublin archdiocese. Suggestions of a cult of secrecy has unleashed a renewed flood of anger about the scandal.
A special Garda unit has been established and a telephone hotline for victims set up. The government has made it clear it is determined to fully probe the scale of the problem and whether there has been a cover-up.
Both Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Justice Minister Michael McDowell have made strong statements emphasizing that no one is above the law. McDowell described canon law as being similar to the rules of a golf club and said he needed time to decide on the scope and type of a new state inquiry.
McDowell and Health Minister Micheal Martin met abuse victims to discuss the way forward and how the scandals should be full investigated.
“I am not afraid of the bang of a crosier from any direction,” McDowell told the Dail. “I am acting in the prudent interests of the state and, most of all, of the victims. I will not be embarrassed or in any way found to be wanting. I will follow this where it goes, regardless of how high or low it goes.
“Any institution, of any kind or any religious denomination, however organized, which claims the right to provide services to engage in education or pastoral work, in circumstances where its members are likely to come into contact with young people, clearly owes those young people, quite apart from criminal or civil liability issues, a fundamental duty under our Constitution to save them from violation and degradation of the kind we saw.”
The minister said he needed to carefully consider the scandal as new cases may emerge in other dioceses.
“If I set in train a series of Ferns-like inquiries, which are like a rolling campaign of inquiry right across the country, I have to see where it’s all going to end up and what effect it is going to have,” he said.
This marks the third time in recent years that a TV documentary has prompted government action.
An RTE program on abuse in church-run institutions led to the current judicial commission investigation, and a BBC documentary led to the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey in Wexford and the setting up of a new state inquiry last week into his Ferns diocese under a retired Supreme Court judge.
Ahern also made his views clear to the Dail last week.
“Child sexual abuse is abhorrent, doubly so when those who perpetrate it are abusing a position of trust, which is why revulsion at clerical sex abuse runs so deep in the community, not just since last week’s programme but on many issues in recent years,” he said. “I want to make it clear that the law of the land applies to all irrespective of what status they hold. I appeal to anyone who has information relating to clerical sex abuse to make it available to the Garda Siochana.”