Review of Murphy Report makes for interesting reading

A new review of the 2009 Murphy Report in to the handling of abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese has criticised alleged failings in Judge Yvonne Murphy’s approach. It makes for fascinating and often illuminating reading. Let’s be clear: the Murphy Report offers a devastating insight into a corrupt culture in the Church that often ignored the plight of children who were abused by clerics. Time and again, senior clerics could have intervened to prevent further harm to children and they didn’t. The reasons for this are undoubtedly complex, but those facts remain, and Judge Murphy’s report is an important part of the story of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the 20th Century. But none of this is to say that the report should be above critique or treated as an infallible or definitive word on the shocking crimes committed by some priests and covered up by some of their superiors. Nor should the impression be given that anyone who raises points of concern or critique about the Murphy Report are indulging in a form of denial about the extent and scale of abuse.

Learning curve

This new review, commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and carried out by a retired High Court judge from Hong Kong, accused the reporting of failing “spectacularly” to understand that there was a so-called ‘learning curve’ about abuse in the Church.

Judge Fergal Sweeney, who practised law in Ireland before taking up a judicial appointment in Hong Kong in 1985, criticises the report for adopting what he describes as a “broad brush” approach to how Church leaders handled abuse allegations.

He said that “badly worded phrasing” in the report “could have given rise to an incorrect interpretation that the vast majority of priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin were aware of abuse and ‘simply chose to turn a blind eye’.

“This has had serious consequences for priests of the diocese who were wholly innocent of such knowledge or behaviour,” Judge Sweeney said.


It’s a fair point. Many people have the impression that instances of abuse were well-known among the clergy and simply ignored. This is not the case. The vast majority of hard-working, generous and faithful priests in the Dublin archdiocese were as unaware as everyone else. They too feel let down, humiliated and ashamed. Many too – unfairly – feel a guilt by association. The use of phrases in the media like ‘paedophile priest’ and other careless reporting that has inflated the idea of clerical abuse in the mind of the general public has been, to say the least, unhelpful.

The review, which comes just short of the fourth anniversary of the publication of the Dublin Report, is likely to reignite heated debate about the Church’s reaction to allegations. In her report, Judge Murphy accused Church leaders of putting the avoidance of scandal and the reputation of the archdiocese ahead of the needs of vulnerable children who had been abused.

Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has rightly been critical in the past of those who would seek to minimise the clerical abuse crisis. Undoubtedly this is a tendency among some, but this review does not fall into this trap. Some of the reaction is predictable (and in a way understandable): some will accuse the ACP of nit-picking, others of trying to chip away at the substance of the original report. This is unfair and incorrect.

Andrew Madden, one of the first people to bravely come forward about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest, said the review tried to undermine the work of the Commission. “Having offered up nothing but cowardly silence when Murphy Report was published (2009), some Catholic priests now attempt to undermine it,” he said on the social networking site Twitter this week.

Everyone with an interest in the issue should read Judge Sweeney’s assessment. Some people may disagree with some of his assessment, but it is unfair to dismiss out of hand such a review.

Politicians and others who feel aggrieved following the publication of a report of a tribunal frequently point out where they think the inquiry has gotten things wrong. Why should priests be the only people expected to keep silent?