The Roman Catholic Church in Dublin covered up decades of child abuse committed by priests because bishops wanted to protect the church's reputation at the expense of victims, an expert commission reported Thursday after a three-year probe into previously secret church records.
Abuse victims said they welcomed publication of the probe into the mishandling of 1975-2004 child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, home to a quarter of Ireland's 4 million Catholics. But they said government and church leaders still had far to go to compensate for past wrongs.
The government said the investigation "shows clearly that a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in the archdiocese."
"The perpetrators must continue to be brought to justice, and the people of Ireland must know that this can never happen again," said the government, which also apologized for the state's failure to hold church authorities accountable to the law.
This is the second major government-ordered report this year exploring how and why Irish authorities permitted widespread abuse of boys and girls at the hands of the Catholic Church throughout most of the 20th century, the gravest scandal in the history of independent Ireland.
Thursday's 720-page report — delivered to the government in July — analyzes the cases of 46 priests against whom 320 complaints were filed. The 46 were selected from more than 150 Dublin priests implicated in molesting or raping boys and girls since 1940.
The report named 11 priests because they all were convicted of child abuse. But 33 others were referred to only by one-name aliases, and two others had their names blanked out after the Dublin High Court ruled that publication would prejudice their chances of receiving a fair criminal trial.
Investigators spent three years poring over 60,000 previously secret Dublin church files. They were handed over by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat appointed to Dublin in 2004 with a brief to confront the scandal once and for all. Among the files were more than 5,500 that Martin's predecessor, retired Cardinal Desmond Connell, tried to keep locked in the archbishop's private vault.
The investigators, led by a judge and two lawyers, said they had no doubt that the 46 priests were responsible for abusing many more than 320 children.
"One priest admitted to sexually abusing over 100 children, while another accepted that he had abused on a fortnightly basis during the currency of his ministry which lasted for over 25 years," they wrote.
They said it was not their job to confirm the scale of abuse cases, but "it is abundantly clear ... that child sexual abuse by clerics was widespread throughout the period."
The commission found that three archbishops of Dublin — John Charles McQuaid (1940-72), Dermot Ryan (1972-84) and Kevin McNamara (1985-87) — did not tell police about clerical abuse cases, instead opting to avoid public scandals by shuttling offenders from parish to parish.
It was not until 1995, seven years into his reign, that then-Archbishop Connell allowed police to see church files on 17 clerical abuse cases. The documents were kept in a secret, locked vault in the archbishop's Dublin residence.
Records show Connell actually had records of complaints against at least 29 priests at the time.
The report rejected the bishops' key claim that they were ignorant of both the scale and criminality of priests' abuse of children. It dug up a documentary trail showing that the Dublin Archdiocese negotiated a 1987 insurance policy for future legal costs of defending lawsuits and compensation claims.
The investigators said McNamara, Ryan and McQuaid knew about at least 17 priests linked to child abuse in their archdiocese when that policy went into effect.
"The taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the archdiocese and is inconsistent with the view that archdiocesan officials were still `on a learning curve' at a much later date, or were lacking in appreciation of the phenomenon of clerical child sex abuse," the report said.
In May, the government published an investigation into decades of child abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages. That probe also found that thousands of boys and girls suffered rape, beatings and mental abuse by members of Catholic religious orders. More than 12,000 of those victims already have received compensation payments from a government panel exceeding $1.2 billion.