Priests felt ‘tarred with same brush’ by abuse report

ACP review challenges assertion Dublin priests turned ‘blind eye’ to abuse

Paul Keenan and Mags Gargan

Many Dublin priests felt unfairly ‘tarred with the same brush’ following the 2009 Murphy Report which investigated the handling of abuse allegations in the archdiocese.

Priests who spoke to The Irish Catholic this week welcomed a newly-published legal review of the report which accused the Commission of incorrectly giving the impression that most priests knew about abuse and turned a blind eye.

The new review, commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and carried out by barrister Fergal Sweeney, said this had “serious consequences for priests of the diocese who were wholly innocent of such knowledge or behaviour”.

Fell far short

The review claims that the practices and procedures of the Murphy commission “fell far short” of meeting the requirements of natural and constitutional justice for clerics who were called to give evidence.

Mr Sweeney found that in the report the commission “dismisses out of hand any reasons, explanations or mitigating circumstances put forward by those clerics whom it ‘names and shames’.”

Fr Arthur O’Neill from Cabinteely parish said he “always found the 100% non-questioning of the Murphy Report disconcerting”. Another priest, who did not wish to be named, said “We all felt tarred with the same brush.

“It was not fair at all to suggest all priests of the archdiocese knew about the abuse, and it really affected priests’ morale,” he said.

However, responding to the review, Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said that “one should never overlook the context which gave rise to the establishment of the Murphy Report – that a strikingly large number of children were sexually abused by priests within the Church in Jesus Christ.”


Another Dublin-based priest Fr Alan Hilliard spoke to The Irish Catholic this week of his experiences giving evidence to the commission.

“In my case, I shared a home with a priest who abused and I had absolutely no knowledge.

“I had to arrange my own representation to prove I was not complicit,” Fr Hilliard said.

He said that Dublin priests are of the view that from the point of view of victims the Murphy Report was a very good thing because it gave voice to their suffering. However, he said “there are other perspectives too. Once the report is written there is no revisiting it, so no further discussion can be had”.

Fr Aquinas Duffy, a former member of the diocesan child protection committee, said that “while there was no great sense of being targeted by the Murphy Report, priests did find it difficult to be accused of turning a ‘blind eye’.

“Priests did come forward and they were not listened to. It was an extremely difficult time and there was a sense of shock and anger. It took the ground from under priests, they felt betrayed.

“Priests were abandoned to cope, which caused a sense of isolation,” Fr Duffy said.

Several other priests of the Dublin diocese, who asked not to be identified, said they felt the new review was valuable in pointing out that they were not all complicit in abuse of cover-up. Numerous priests said that many of their colleagues felt that an unfair impression had been given of them by the original 2009 report.

However, Archbishop Martin said that while every association or person has a right to examine or criticise, “any person who had a difficulty with the fairness of procedure adopted by the Commission had the right to challenge those procedures by way of a judicial review in the High Court.

“As I said it on the publication of the Murphy Report in 2009, the fact that the abusers were priests constituted both an offence to God and affront to the priesthood.

“The many good priests of the archdiocese share my sense of shame. This is and remains the case in 2013,” the archbishop said.

Andrew Madden, one of the first victims of clerical abuse to come forward, was dismissive of the new review.

“Having offered up nothing but cowardly silence when the Murphy Report was published (2009), some Catholic priests now attempt to undermine it,” he said on Twitter.