DUBLIN — Ireland's next report into the cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church might be censored or delayed because its publication could undermine prosecutors' efforts to imprison pedophile priests, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern announced Friday.
Ahern said he wants to publish the report into three decades of abuse cases in Dublin's archdiocese "with all possible speed" – but not if this would allow priests responsible for "horrific acts of depravity" to escape justice.
A fact-finding commission spent three years gathering evidence about how bishops and other Dublin archdiocesan officials sheltered known pedophile priests from police and other child-protection authorities from 1975 to 2004. The commission delivered its findings confidentially 10 days ago to Ahern and Attorney General Paul Gallagher.
Gallagher has concluded that the report, if published now in full, "might prejudice some current criminal proceedings," Ahern said.
The justice minister said he has asked Ireland's second-highest court, the High Court, to read the report and deliver a judgment on whether it should be censored or withheld from publication until criminal cases are complete.
Three cases involving priests charged with sexually abusing children are scheduled for Dublin courts next year. Ahern's comments suggest that, at minimum, details of those three cases will be blacked out before the government publishes the Dublin archdiocese report.
The investigation, led by Dublin High Court Justice Yvonne Murphy, documents the cases of 46 priests implicated in abusing hundreds of children. Several of the cases are already well known to the Irish public because of criminal trials and lawsuits by former altar boys since the mid-1990s, when it began to become socially acceptable in Ireland to sue the once-powerful Catholic Church.
In most cases, bishops told police nothing about the crimes reported to them by parents or teachers, and instead transferred the abusive priests to new parishes – where even other priests were kept in the dark about abuse complaints against their colleagues.
The previous archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, tried to withhold key documents from investigators documenting what he and other church officials knew about abuse complaints. He relented after suffering public criticism from his reform-minded successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who took over in Dublin in 2004.
Martin told Mass-goers in an April sermon that the report's findings "will shock us all."
Over the past 15 years, Ireland has grown somewhat numb to revelations of molestation, cruelty and cover-up in a church that until the 1980s wielded heavy influence over the government and wider society.
The floodgates for lawsuits and criminal investigations began to open in 1994, when a government collapsed amid allegations it delayed the extradition of a notorious abuser, the Rev. Brendan Smyth, to the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland.
Since 2002, a government-funded compensation board has paid out more than euro900 million ($1.25 billion) to about 12,000 people abused in church-run facilities for children since the 1930s.
In May, a 2,600-page report into that scandal concluded that Catholic orders of nuns, priests and brothers who ran state-funded orphanages, workhouses and reformatories for Ireland's poorest children were guilty of shielding hundreds, if not thousands, of known abusers within their ranks. Crimes documented included ritual beatings, rape, and lying to children that their parents were dead. The last of those church-run facilities closed in the 1990s.