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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Irish Catholicism in crisis
Archbishop Desmond Connell
Archbishop Connell supports a Church-based inquiry

These are dark days for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Irish Government has announced it is to set up a state inquiry into allegations of sex abuse within the Catholic Church and the failure of senior clerics to report such abuse over many decades.

Announcing the inquiry, the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, said it was right for the government to act and that no-one was above the law.


I am not afraid of the bang of a crozier from any direction. I will follow this where it goes, how high it goes or how low it goes

Michael McDowell, Irish Justice Minister

"I am not afraid of the bang of a crozier from any direction. I am acting in the prudent interests of the state and most of all the victims. I will follow this where it goes, how high it goes or how low it goes", Mr McDowell told his parliamentary colleagues.

Resignation call

There have been calls for the country's leading figure, Cardinal Desmond Connell, to resign after a television documentary raised many questions about how the Church authorities handled clerical abuse in Ireland, particularly in the Archdiocese of Dublin which is the under the cardinal's control.

Cardinal Connell has expressed regret over his appointment of a priest to a hospital without telling authorities there about "concerns" which had been expressed about the priest's inappropriate behaviour with children.

A mother whose 12-year-old son was allegedly abused by a defrocked priest at her father's funeral said there had been "no apology, absolutely nothing from the Dublin archdiocese" and no contact from anyone connected with it.

The Irish Government has sent a strong message to the Catholic Church that priests will face the full rigours of the law and will not be allowed to hide behind their status or position.

In an unusually direct intervention in church matters, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern told parliament that "the law of the land applies to all - irrespective of what status they hold".

He described child sex abuse as "abhorrent" adding: "This is doubly so when those who perpetrate it are abusing a position of trust which is why revulsion at child sexual abuse runs so deep in the community."

Cardinal Connell has now said the Church would co-operate with an inquiry, but that he still remained convinced that an internal inquiry set up by the Church was already carrying out the task.

This is clearly not a view shared by the Irish Government or many Catholics in Ireland, including the victims of such abuse.

Heckled

At a Mass in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral on Saturday evening, Cardinal Connell told the congregation he felt a sense of personal failure where victims were concerned.

"We failed them. I failed them and there are no excuses for this failure," he told mass-goers. Some people in the congregation heckled him saying, "It's too late".

Survivors of clerical abuse and the government will be consulting in coming days on what form of inquiry should be held.

Whatever its terms the sad legacy of child abuse continues to haunt victims and casts a long shadow over the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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See also:

22 Oct 02 | N Ireland
08 Apr 02 | Europe
21 Feb 01 | N Ireland
19 Sep 02 | Americas
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