The identities of around 1,000 Irish Catholic clergy against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse have been made are being kept secret under laws and practices that continue to hurt victims and endanger children, it has been claimed.
The Boston-based group BishopAccountability.org, established following revelations of abuse and cover-ups in Boston in the early 2000s, delivered the warning while publishing the first database of clergy convicted of abuse in Ireland.
Despite the Church here acknowledging child sex abuse allegations against more than 1,300 clergy over the last 40 years, just 75 can be named because of highly restrictive defamation and data-protection laws.
That is despite the fact that many of the others were sanctioned under Church law and the belief that some of the accused remain in ministry or active in community life where they could be in contact with children.
Database co-director Anne Barrett Doyle said the lack of transparency in Ireland is in stark contrast to other countries where it is possible to publish the names of both convicted and Church- sanctioned priests including, in some dioceses, regularly updated details of where they are living.
“In Ireland, we have this painful incongruity of a massive amount of suffering documented but very few perpetrators named publicly,” said Ms Barrett Doyle.
She said making names known publicly helps safeguard children and, even where perpetrators had died, aids healing for victims.
“We have heard from survivors that seeing their perpetrators’ names listed has contributed immensely to their own healing,” she said. “It is instant validation.”
She said the lack of action taken by State authorities against bishops and religious superiors involved in covering up abuse is startling compared to other countries.
“This is a challenge to the DPP and the prosecutors here,” she said. I think they need to have the courage to go after the Church.”
The database launch took place as Pope Francis issued an apology for the Church’s failures in dealing with abuse.
Writing “with shame and repentance” and referring to the abuse as “atrocities”, the Pope wrote: “We showed no care for the little ones. We abandoned them.”
He made specific reference to the need to tackle the culture of cover-ups with a “zero-tolerance” approach.
“We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary,” said Francis.
The letter comes just days before the Pope is due in Ireland and while the Vatican is reeling from abuse and cover-up revelations in the US state of Pennsylvania.
Ms Barrett Doyle said it is time for action, not words.
“There’s such a disconnect between what Pope Francis says and what he actually does in terms of reforming the Catholic Church,” she said.
“If he wants to stop the abuse of children, there’s a real simple thing he could do. He could make zero tolerance more than a slogan. It could actually become universal canon law.”
Survivors group One in Four expressed disappointment with the letter, which it described as a rehash of previous apologies and condemnations.
Executive director Maeve Lewis said: “There is nothing in this new communication from Pope Francis to show that the Vatican intends to put in place clear laws and protocols that will hold [to account] every bishop and cardinal who shield sex offenders and place them in positions where they can continue to abuse children. Survivors are tired of meaningless apologies and expressions of solidarity that do not involve a clear call to action.”
A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the call to open its files and name all priests sanctioned under canon law, saying all queries relating to child abuse must be referred to the National Board for Safeguard Children.
The board said it acted in accordance with legislation.
“At the moment that legal framework does not allow for those who have been accused but not convicted to be named — and we comply with that,” said chief executive Teresa Devlin.
“As for the possibility of changing those laws, we would suggest the best first step would be to talk to the victims to determine what they’d like to see happen.”