Marchers in Dublin protest priests' sexual abuse of children
Cardinal's Mass at Catholic order's celebration prompts outrage.
April 8, 2002
By BRIAN LAVERY
The New York Times
DUBLIN Ireland Dozens of protesters demonstrated Sunday against the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, gathering outside the padlocked iron gate at the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society.
The target of their anger was Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin, who said a Mass on Sunday at the society's conference center to conclude a weekend celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order inextricably linked with the Irish parochial education system but that in recent years has become synonymous with abuse after a string of pedophilia cases.
The sight of stern-faced security guards outside a ceremonial Sunday Mass illustrated Ireland's entrenched difficulties in coming to grips with sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The precautions proved necessary: When the gate opened to allow photographers through, the crowd surged forward and scuffled with authorities.
The protesters taunted people on the other side, waving signs with messages such as "Child abusers go free - victims get a life sentence."
Since a British television documentary several weeks ago showed graphic testimony from the victims of Ireland's most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Sean Fortune, the issue has regained the urgency it had in the 1990s, when the cases were first exposed. Very little new information has come to light, but eloquent and vocal victims' support groups are aggressively criticizing how the church is handling the matter.
So the timing for the Christian Brothers' 200th anniversary celebrations could hardly have been more awkward. Last week, victims called on Connell not to deliver Sunday morning's Mass, which they viewed as a tacit endorsement of the order and its attempts to play down allegations of child abuse.
During the Mass, Connell apologized for abuse by priests, acknowledging the suffering of victims and asking for "God's forgiveness and healing." But the cardinal has refused to comment specifically on the case of Fortune, which prompted Bishop Brendan Comiskey to resign last week after admitting that he did not take adequate steps to stop the abuse in his diocese. Fortune committed suicide in 1999 while facing 66 criminal charges of sexually assaulting eight boys.
Connell deliberately addressed the tarnished legacy of the Christian Brothers, a teaching order founded by Edmund Rice and known for its rigid discipline.
"Painful though it is for all of us, especially on such an occasion, we cannot fail to acknowledge that the history of Edmund Rice's followers has been disfigured and his inheritance dishonored by the terrible failures of some who have called themselves his sons," he said. "We are conscious of the unspeakable harm and suffering caused to their victims and the grave scandal that has resulted."
The Irish Catholic bishops' association will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the storm of outrage against the church. Clergy have responded in varied fashions, with many priests and bishops remaining quiet while others have spoken out. Bishop John Buckley acknowledged that the church had not treated sexual abuse victims fairly, and he said no priest found guilty of abuse would remain in his ministry.