Report Shows Decades of Catholic Sex Abuse in Ireland

Former bishops, police and state agencies did far too little to prevent the alleged sexual abuse of more than 100 children by Roman Catholic (search) priests in southeast Ireland over a 36-year period, a report published Tuesday charged.

The 2 1/2-year probe, led by retired Irish Supreme Court Judge Frank Murphy, found that two former bishops of the Ferns diocese, Brendan Comiskey and Donal Herlihy, protected — and even helped to promote — abusers within the clergy.

The report also found that Ireland's national police force rarely investigated complaints of abuse properly — and kept no records of any such cases before 1988. In addition, it said officials at government-appointed health boards sometimes failed to act on reports of abuse.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (search), whose archdiocese faces its own fact-finding probe into how Catholic leaders mishandled more than 100 abuse cases, said the church accepted Murphy's findings, which he called "horrific."

"Many people would not have suffered abuse had the people with knowledge about it acted in a timely matter," he said. "It's only when the whole truth about this comes out that we'll be able to pick up the pieces."

Just as in the United States (search), the Catholic Church has been rocked badly by sex-abuse scandals in Ireland. In 1994, the Irish government fell apart over its failure to extradite a serially abusive priest to neighboring Northern Ireland. That case opened the floodgates for thousands of complaints of abuse in the country's churches and church-run schools, orphanages and workhouses going back to the 1940s.

Murphy's investigation involved the interviewing of more than 100 alleged victims of abuse by 21 priests — eight of whom have since died — from 1966 to 2002. Allegations against five other priests were included in an appendix.

Comiskey resigned in 2002 after admitting he had not done enough to prevent abuse, particularly by the Rev. Sean Fortune, who committed suicide in 1999 after being charged with 66 counts of molesting and raping teenage boys.

The report found that Herlihy ordained "clearly unsuitable" candidates for the priesthood and repeatedly transferred priests who were accused of abuse to duties in England, but only temporarily. It also said Comiskey's efforts to investigate abuse allegations were woefully inadequate, most crucially against Fortune.

Two of Fortune's alleged victims committed suicide.

Other priests named in the report included the late Rev. James Grennan, who was accused of molesting 10 girls in a rural church in 1988, but never faced criminal punishment. Another priest, Martin Clancy, allegedly left money in his 1993 will to the woman he had raped, and impregnated, more than two decades before when she was 14.

In Ireland's parliament, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (search) called the report "a catalogue of serial abuse and gross dereliction of duty." He said it was "obviously shocking that it went on for decades."

Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the government would refer the report's contents to state prosecutors for potential use against some of the priests, most of whom were not identified by name in the report.

He also said the government would draft a law making it a crime to engage "in conduct that creates a substantive risk" of child abuse "or failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk." Such an offense would allow bishops or other supervisory officials to face criminal charges if they didn't report abuse to authorities.

Colm O'Gorman, a former Ferns altar boy who was the first to make a criminal complaint against Fortune in 1995, said the report was impressive — and highlighted the fact that just two of the priests implicated have been convicted of any crime.

"That's the real failure here," said O'Gorman, who leads an Irish group called One in Four that offers support to abuse victims and seeks to bring charges against abusers in the church.