It is being said that Cloyne is another Ferns. It is not. It is worse. What has been going on in Cloyne for the last six months is the Catholic church and the Irish state colluding at the uppermost levels to suppress the revelation that the diocese's elders were "vulnerable to be seen as complicit" with predatory child abusers "securing new victims". By allowing priests accused of raping children to continue to wear their holy vestments and dog collars, Bishop John Magee and his now-sidelined enforcer, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, were giving an access-all-areas badge to criminals hunting for fresh young flesh, to paraphrase the excoriating report which the church and the state nearly succeeded in burying.
When the game was finally up last Wednesday, thanks to local TD Sean Sherlock's persistence in the Dáil on behalf of victims, the church and the state stuck with their fantasy tales, putting their own self-protection ahead of the protection of children and the appalling anguish of people whose complaints were never prosecuted by agents of the state or the church. Bishop Magee, propagator of a faith that cherishes the "little ones", and Barry Andrews, the minister who is supposed to look after the nation's children, could teach Pontius Pilate about washing one's hands of responsibility. Don't be fooled. The diocese of Cloyne did not publish Ian Elliott's report willingly. Nor was it Minister Andrews who ensured it was done. Our patrician state has done nothing but act hand-in-glove with a yet-again miscreant church.
The report is out now, but the disinformation goes on. Minister Andrews, who gave his sole interview on the matter to RTÉ radio's Drivetime on Wednesday, is still trotting out his ludicrous line about a separate HSE investigation. This phantom investigation had never been mentioned, either publicly or privately, in the last six months while this newspaper was repeatedly contacting Andrews' office to find out what had become of the Elliott report. The complainants in Cloyne had heard nothing about it and certainly had not been interviewed for it. Upon hearing about it for the first time on Wednesday, one complainant phoned Fr Bill Bermingham, O'Callaghan's replacement as Cloyne's chief child protector, to ask what he knew about it. The woman was told the diocese's knowledge of the supposed HSE inquiry amounted to a single phone call from a HSE official last Monday afternoon (15 December), enquiring how many Cloyne priests now stood accused of child abuse. Undeterred by the reality, Minister Andrews (who says he got the HSE report on 4 December), issued a statement to the media on Friday lauding the publication of Elliott's report and adding that he was still thinking about releasing his own beloved HSE report.
No doubt that one, unlike the Elliott report, will not expose the inauthenticity of the minister's original smokescreen about how his department never asked Elliott to do his damned investigation in the first place. Paragraph four of the Elliott report states unequivocably that the Department of Health and Children asked the chief executive of the church's National Board for Safeguarding Children at a meeting on 15 February this year "to investigate the circumstances outlined in the the complaint and to report back".
On Friday night, the woman who had phoned Bermingham about the HSE report sighed exhaustedly on the phone and said to me: "You know, this is a very sick country."
At the same time that the nonsense was emanating from the children's ministry,
Fr Bill Bermingham, a Youghal curate parachuted into the maelstrom last October as O'Callaghan's substitute – a direct consequence of the Elliott report, despite Bermingham's denials – was being equally disingenuous on national radio. In a pre-recorded interview (preventing any opportunity for debate), he stated that the diocese had decided to release the report on Friday because "it's only in the last few days that questions have been asked about the report". This is patent rubbish. Last July, this newspaper ran a page-one lead story about the suppression of the Elliot report, describing it as too hot to handle by either the church or the state. The true reason why the report was finally published on Friday was because the bishop was made to understand that the demand for its publication was gaining momentum daily and the longer he prevaricated, the greater the damage to him and his church. Why it was not published in the first place when it was completed last summer was because of "legal concerns". It was misleadingly hinted last week that these legal issues related to the danger of prejudicing any potential criminal trials arising from the allegations in Cloyne. This is another untruth and more crocodile tears for the victims. The "legal concerns" preventing its publication until now was the threat that Bishop Magee and Monsignor O'Callaghan would pursue defamation proceedings; essentially suing their own institution (Elliott's office acts independently, but it was established by and is funded by the Catholic Church). How embarrassing would that have been for Ireland's cosy establishment?
The suppression of the report is now over. We are into stage two of institutional denial – the PR blizzard. Without any apparent concern for the emotional rollercoaster their actions were causing victims, Cloyne choreographed the release on Friday to ensure minimum damage for itself. While it was known in national church circles on Friday morning that Cloyne was planning to release the report, a spokesman for the diocese was denying it to journalists. At that stage, they were going to release it exclusively to the Irish Examiner, the local newspaper where, perhaps, they hoped to get a kinder reception. (Unlikely, as the Examiner has recently been trenchant in its criticism of the diocese.) Next, we were told the diocese would post the report on its website at 4pm. Then it was 5pm. It came sometime after 5pm by way of a press release, followed an hour later by a bland interview on RTÉ's Six One news with Bishop Magee. There was no press conference at which journalists who knew the details of the scandal and the cover-up could have asked pertinent questions.
Meanwhile, the facts are these. There is every chance that children who could have been saved if Cloyne had acted correctly have been added to the list of victims. A priest of the diocese who was abused as a child has left the priesthood. A woman who was abused by another priest and informed the bishop 13 years ago is now dead.
While the diocese was immersed in its 'save-our-skin' exercise, another woman was routinely attending her counsellor on Friday morning to try to cope with the damage she is left to live with.
Yes, Cloyne is worse than Ferns because the minister and the bishop stopped the truth coming out. But it is also worse for this reason: Cloyne does not appear to have even heard of Ferns.