Archbishop John Charles McQuaid is entitled to the presumption of innocence, writes David Quinn
Few figures in recent Irish history are more discredited than Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. In a certain narrow way, he was a very effective and energetic bishop in that he worked tirelessly to develop a diocese that served all the Catholics of Dublin, rich and poor alike, in both body and soul.
But he was born out of time. His authoritarian style was already reaching its sell-by date when he became archbishop of Dublin in 1940 and by the time he retired in 1972, he was a dinosaur. Had he been born 100 years earlier, he would probably be seen in a better light.
Instead, he is indelibly associated with all that was wrong with Catholic Ireland and now he is associated with the child abuse scandals as well.
The Murphy Commission reported his shameful handling of allegations against Fr Paul McGennis, known as Fr Edmondus in the Dublin report. McGennis abused Marie Collins and has since been imprisoned again, having been convicted of abusing another person.
It says of McQuaid: ”Archbishop McQuaid was familiar with the requirements of canon law but did not apply them fully. It is clear that his dealings with Fr Edmondus in 1960 were aimed at the avoidance of scandal and showed no concern for the welfare of children.”
McQuaid decided that Fr McGennis’ actions arose out of his ”wonderment” at the female anatomy, a truly absurd notion on his part.
He had intended to pursue an action against McGennis under canon law but did not do so in the end.
Had he, McGennis might have been dismissed from the priesthood. Ironically, it appears to have been McQuaid’s previous practice to use canon law against priests in this sort of situation.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told Pope Benedict that up until the 1960s the Dublin archdiocese seemed to have been using canon law to punish guilty priests, but from that point canon law fell into ”disuse” as the Dublin report itself puts it.
As if this wasn’t bad enough in terms of McQuaid’s reputation, now we learn that up to two allegations of child abuse have been made against him also.
When the Cloyne Report was published last summer, the Murphy Commission also published a brief supplementary chapter to the Dublin report that dealt with allegations against an unnamed, long-dead cleric.
One was received by the archdiocese in 2009, and in 2010 a civil action was launched against the archdiocese in respect of an allegation against the unnamed priest.
Last week, we learned from The Irish Times that the priest in question was none other than John Charles McQuaid himself.
It is not as clear from the Murphy Report just how credible the allegations are. It was not the job of the commission to determine the veracity of any given claim.
It was simply its job to record that a given allegation had been received against a given priest and then to judge how well or how badly the Church authorities had dealt with the allegation.
Was The Irish Times right to publish the fact that these allegations had been made against Archbishop McQuaid?
The Irish Times is no better placed than the Murphy Commission to judge whether the allegations are credible, nor, in fairness, is it claiming to be.
Indeed, we can probably never know whether the allegations are true or not because McQuaid died 38 years ago.
It is hard enough to prove an abuse allegation against a living person, and almost impossible to do so against a dead person, let alone someone dead for so long.
Perhaps if a cascade of allegations against him comes to light, then we can reasonably conclude he is guilty.
Short of that, McQuaid, just like anyone else, is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
This is a very basic and fundamental principle of our justice system because without it, a person’s reputation can be destroyed in an instant and more importantly, it shifts the burden of proof onto the accuser, where it should be.
It is also why, in an ideal world, the name of an accused person should not be published until that person is charged with a crime or at least has been questioned by gardai¨.
For example, a prominent Irish journalist has been accused of sexually abusing a minor. Some newspapers have printed his name.
But he has not been charged and so The Irish Times for one has not printed his name yet. This is only right and proper. But why didn’t it extend this courtesy to John Charles McQuaid also?
At least the journalist, because he is still living, will have the chance to defend himself, if it comes to that. The late Archbishop McQuaid has no such chance.
Did the ‘public interest’ justify publication of his name? It is hard to see why, and if the public interest was so overwhelming, the Murphy Commission could have printed it but that has not been its practice precisely because of considerations as to a person’s good name.
The Fr Kevin Reynolds case seemed to have alerted us to the fact that in the case of priests, the presumption of innocence has been replaced by the presumption of guilt.
In such an atmosphere, almost all allegations made against priests will be believed and this is why most people will probably believe that the allegations against John Charles McQuaid are true.
But we cannot lose sight of the fact that McQuaid, like the rest of us, is entitled to the presumption of innocence and to whatever bit of his good name is left.
Otherwise, it is open season on the reputations of dead people, especially dead clergy, and that cannot be right or just.