The other side of Murphy Report

Fr Padraig McCarthy tells Cathal Barry the Murphy Report needs further examining

The 2009 publication of the Murphy Report which investigated the handling of abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese shocked a nation already reeling from the appalling revelations of the Ryan Report on institutional abuse.

The Murphy Report condemned the State, but was particularly critical of the Catholic Church, for not adequately responding to some allegations of abuse.

The Church’s reputation sunk to even deeper depths in the wake of the report, with various media commentators praising the document for vindicating the claims of the abused and acknowledging the pain they had suffered.

Critics rightly demanded harsh treatment of those in the Dublin archdiocese, who had facilitated the abuse of children by covering up the scandal.


However, a longstanding Dublin priest has now spoken out against the report claiming its “universal acceptance” has unfairly contributed to all priests being “tarred with the same brush”.

Dismissing the Murphy Report as “merely considered opinion”, Fr Pádraig McCarthy told The Irish Catholic the report “shouldn’t be made unquestionable”.

“We have to look at it in the context of Ireland at the time. There is no question of denying the abuse, or of denying that the handling of allegations was not at all what we would demand today, but most of mistakes were due to a lack of understanding of how to handle the accusations,” he said.

“I am not trying to take away from the mistakes made by the diocese but the Murphy Report needs further examining,” he added.

In his new book The Unheard Story, Fr McCarthy challenges some of the assumptions and conclusions of the Murphy Report and puts the response of the diocese to priests who abused children into the context of the times.

Learning curve

Despite the commission of the investigation rejecting claims that diocesan officials were on a ‘learning curve’ about child sexual abuse during the period from 1975 to the late 1990s, Fr McCarthy states this is entirely plausible in the light of the experience of other agencies and other countries.

Fr McCarthy also contends that the generally accepted allegation that there was widespread cover-up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities over much of the period is not in accordance with the facts.

Public perception

He additionally claims the media’s uncritical acceptance of the report has helped create a public perception that the report is not to be questioned.

Throughout the book, Fr McCarthy takes care to emphasise that he is in no way claiming that there was no sexual abuse of children by clergy or that complaints were always handled in a competent manner.

He stressed to The Irish Catholic the “tremendous value” of the Murphy Report in “establishing facts about the abuse and in bringing public recognition of the truth of the abuse with authority to the diocese and to the country”.

However, Fr McCarthy remains concerned readers of The Unheard Story will misinterpret its contents.

The big danger

“The big danger I see with the book is that some will read it as if I were denying these, whereas I make it as clear as possible that this is not the case.

“What I want to do is to bring out the unheard side of the question, so that we can work better towards protection and healing,” he said.

Whatever readers’ opinions may be, the purpose of this book is to examine critically a report which has widely escaped any public questioning to date.

The Unheard Story is not without error or above criticism itself; however, it does offer a somewhat more balanced view of the strengths and weaknesses of the Murphy Report, and contributes to a better understanding
of the handling of abuse
in the past by the Dublin archdiocese.


A summary of the arguments Fr Padraig McCarthy presents in The Unheard Story:


                ▪               The Murphy Report about the handling by Church and State authorities of allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy serving in the Diocese of Dublin has helped to validate stories of people abused and has raised the level of public awareness of such abuse in Irish society.

                ▪               The Murphy Report has been uncritically accepted and acclaimed, without serious examination.

                ▪               Courts administer justice in public. The work of this commission of investigation was not public.

                ▪               The report assesses the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse. In twenty-seven cases it approves the handling of allegations by the diocese; in eighteen cases it criticises it.

                ▪               To question the findings of the report does not imply casting doubt on the terrible reality of abuse that did take place. Nor does it imply that handling of allegations was all that we would expect today.

                ▪               The report rejects the claim by diocesan officials that they were on a learning curve prior to the late 1990s, something that greatly damages their credibility, but it does not provide evidence to support this rejection.

                ▪               Chapter 20 contains many errors. The commission claims at the close of this chapter that this case encapsulates all that was wrong in the diocese’s handling of complaints but the evidence of the chapter itself shows quite the opposite. The fact that so many of the diocese’s efforts resulted in failure was not a result of negligence. At that time, nobody had the answer.

                ▪               Chapter 20 names 19 diocesan officials with responsibility in the handling of allegations but state officials involved remain anonymous. This requires explanation.

                ▪               The allegation that the diocese engaged in a nefarious ‘cover-up’ oversimplifies a very complex situation and is not in accordance with the facts.

                ▪               The categorical nature of the assessments by the commission is attractive and seems to meet the need for a response to the great injury and injustice of the sexual abuse of children but it is dangerous in that it can distract us from rationally considering the evidence.

                ▪               The report fails badly in not taking account of the level of knowledge and understanding in the historically different, although relatively recent decades in question; in not seeing the facts in the context of the problem of abuse in Irish society; and in not relating the findings to how sexual abuse of children was handled by other organisations.

                ▪               The fact that bishops and other officials did not fight back and that some resigned is not in itself evidence of guilt: other factors were involved.

                ▪               The Murphy Commission, in trying to deal effectively with a horrifying and difficult reality, may possibly have fallen into human error.

                ▪               The media’s uncritical acceptance of the report has helped create a public perception not in accordance with the facts.