BISHOPS who failed to report priests accused of sexually abusing children should be prosecuted in the courts, according to a former monk and canon lawyer. US attorney Patrick J Wall said nothing would change within the Catholic Church “until a bishop does jail time”.
The former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk told the Humbert Summer School in Castlebar, Co Mayo, that the protection of children was the most profound civil rights issue in the 21st Century.
“Children are not chattels,” he added.
He called for an end to clerical immunity and said bishops should be prosecuted under “misprision of felony”, a legal term for concealing a crime.
“I would seek to have thrown out all church procedures of child investigation, and have them replaced with just three words: call the gardai,” he said.
Those seeking justice should chase all the relevant documentation produced in these cases as the church was diligent about keeping records, he pointed out.
“The past is prologue. If we are to learn from the crimes against children, public access to all church records on predator priests is necessary for us to learn from the past.”
Mr Wall said those seeking information should also “follow the money” by investigating accounts set up by the church.
He said he would be seeking reparation for victims of clerical abuse from the Holy See. “The sexual abuse of children by clerics and religious have left a permanent scar upon the soul of Ireland. The Vatican ought to help foot the cost of making the survivors whole,” he added.
Mr Wall said after working as a “fixer” in the church, dealing with the aftermath of sexually abusive priests in parishes and schools, he left the priesthood. He felt the only way that abuse survivors would get the help they needed was outside of the church hierarchy.
He has been consulted on more than 200 cases of clerical child abuse in the United States and is co-author of ‘Sex, Priests and Secret Codes’, about the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, the Humbert School yesterday heard a junior minister urge fundamental reform of the local government system, saying that, at the moment, power rests with “non-elected officials”.
Minister of State for Labour Affairs Dara Calleary said this had to be reversed so that councillors were the ones driving local government.
Ireland has to decide a role for its politicians — whether as legislators who run the country, elected representatives who look after roads and schools, or “the mish mash we now have”, he told the school.
The Mayo Fianna Fail TD conceded that there were difficult challenges facing his party in the wake of recent opinion polls. But he added that those already celebrating in advance of the next election should not pop the champagne just yet.
The role of leadership was also examined by the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, who said that, in the wake of the Bloody Sunday report, leadership that transcends tribes and parties was needed.
Bishop Richard Henderson said what was important was a shared vista and leadership that was willing “to take the risk of extending beyond its historical norms and boundaries”.
Giving the Bishop Stock Peace Address at the school, Bishop Henderson said it was important to acknowledge the “horrible legacy” from a terrible past and the relief following the report. “Yet as has been said, there are other victims, too, for whom the same release has not been found,” he said.
He added “almost no one can rely any more on an inherited sense of assumed decency within authority and power”.
By Marese McDonagh
Monday August 23 2010
‘The abuse of children by clerics has left a permanent scar upon the soul of Ireland’