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Unheard stories of the sex abuse crisis

  • 02 June 2014

Unheard Story: Dublin Archdiocese and the Murphy Report, by Padraig McCarthy. Londubh Books, 2013.

The victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of church personnel have waited a long time to be heard, to be believed, and to be offered a modicum of compassion and justice. In the process, some church personnel, including conscientious priests of the utmost propriety, have been hurt and wronged by the broad-brush approach of some state sponsored inquiries and media responses.

In Unheard Story, Fr Padraig McCarthy rightly highlights shortcomings in legal-political-media processes like the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation. Analysing the report and the responses to it, he has 'no wish, in anything that has been said, to deflect from the pain and suffering of victims and their families over the years or to excuse any professional mishandling of cases that has occurred'. But the future wellbeing of children demands that the spotlight be shone on all equally; and justice for all requires that state sponsored inquiries follow due process giving all those whose reputations are impugned the right to be heard.

McCarthy observes that it is a serious mistake to see the report emanating from such an inquiry as 'the ultimate answer on the issue of the handling of sexual abuse of children' and then to promote the processes of such a commission as providing 'a template for how commissions of investigation should be conducted'. McCarthy is right to join issue with unsourced, uncorroborated, unsubstantiated, glib, headline-seeking assertions such as: 'The volume of revelations of child sexual abuse by clergy over the past 35 years or so has been described by a Church source as a 'tsunami' of sexual abuse' — 'an earthquake deep beneath the surface hidden from view'.

But there is no getting away from the fact that in countries like Ireland and Australia, the reported instances of child sexual abuse has been greater in the Catholic Church than in other churches. In part, that is because the Catholic Church conducted far more institutions for vulnerable children than did other churches. That is not the whole explanation. That is why the Church has needed help from the State to shine a light on hidden places and to assist with designing protocols and procedures acceptable to the general community.

In Australia, a national Royal Commission which has already been running a year has conducted private sessions with 1426 persons telling their story about sexual abuse suffered