Mary McAleese has revealed that senior figures in the Catholic Church approached her in 2003 to keep church sex abuse crimes away from the public. In an interview with the Irish Times, the former President spoke of a meeting with the then Vatican secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, and his assistant, Monseigneur Joe Murphy of Clone. At the private meeting in Rome she was asked by Sodano whether the church could come to a so-called ‘confidentiality agreement’ with the Irish state to protect Vatican and diocescan records. This effectively meant paying money to keep the authorities out of the church’s archives. At the time, the catholic church was a full decade into its sex abuse scandals and the Irish state was itself involved in two statutory inquiries – The Ryan Commission, set up to investigate child abuse in industrial schools and the Ferns inquiry into clerical child sex abuse in the Ferns diocese. Sodano understood the extent of churches crimes in these areas and sought to keep them from the public.
A year later he was at it again, this time approaching former Fianna Fail Minister, Dermot Ahearn, for an indemnity agreement to protect the Catholic Church against legal action by the survivors of clerical child abuse. In public, the church was apologising for knowingly protecting paedophile priests, but behind closed doors they were working frantically to keep this information from the public and to make sure they didn’t pay the cost for the devastation they had created.
Sodano presumably thought he was in with a chance as two years earlier, FF Minister, and devout Catholic, Michael Woods gave the church an indemnity deal on one of his last days in office. Under the Woods Deal, the Catholic Church agreed to pay €127 million towards the cost of clerical child abuse, with FF putting taxpayers on the hook for the rest. However, in the wake of the abuse outlined by the Ryan Report, the church agreed to a further payment of €352 million – reduced to €192 million when some of the anger died away. To date, the Woods Deal has cost Irish taxpayers €1.5 billion whilst the church has only paid €208 million or 14% of the damages awarded.
The Irish establishment have always worked to protect the church and have little stomach for taking on their power today. If the President and a senior Minister knew that the catholic hierarchy were trying to hide their abuse then why did they not let the public know at the time? This information was crucially important, but it was kept from the public for well over a decade by two elected representatives. More importantly why hasn’t the state gone after the church’s property to pay back its tax payers? Last year, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, labelled the church’s attempts to evade paying €1.3 billion it still owes as “hugely disappointing and massively frustrating”. But his government have not made any real attempt to force the church to sell land and assets to pay off their debts. This amounts to aiding and abetting as the church continues to drag its heels and the state speaks tough but does nothing to cajole them.
To force the church to pay its way People Before Profit would
- Initiate a full inventory of church held assets followed by a compulsory sales process to pay back the state.
- Separate the church from our school system and end the baptism barrier that blocks too many students from getting an education
- Call on the Pope to use his visit to Ireland to meet survivors of clerical abuse and to open the Vatican’s files so that those responsible can be held accountable.
Anything less will let the church off the hook and keep the state guilty by association.