The three year Garda investigation into child abuse has been closed, resulting in no Catholic bishops or priests facing prosecution. This is due to the investigation being complicated by lack of laws at the time the sexual crimes were reported.

The probe commenced in 2009 following the Murphy report on the numerous instances of senior clerics failing to act on information about clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

The report also revealed, in the final chapter which has only recently been published due to being held up by legal proceedings, how priests and bishops hid decades of child abuse and formed an alliance with state authorities and gardai (police) to shield pedophile priests and protect the Catholic Church’s reputation.

A team of 12 to 14 detectives interviewed more than 800 witnesses over the three year Garda investigation. They were unable to build a case against surviving clergy for secretly moving pedophiles from parish to parish, allowing them to remain in ministry despite knowing claims had been made against them, during the Eighties and Nineties as covering up for child abusers was not a specific offence at the time.

Fachtna Murphy, the Garda Commissioner at the time, launched the inquiry in 2009, saying its focus was to establish whether the failings of the Church and state authorities “amounted to criminal behaviour”. John O’Mahony was appointed as assistant commissioner and was to report back on possible crimes, with a view to forwarding them to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

It is alleged that Dublin Archdiocese, under Archbishop Diarmuid Martain, opened the files to the investigation team and co-operated fully. Serving and retired priests, bishops and cardinals were interviewed along with victims of abuse and members of An Garda Siochana. However, some key clerical witnesses were elderly and infirm and some victims were reluctant to revisit their childhood suffering.

The absence of laws relating to the reporting of sexual crimes and child abuse in the period under investigation hampered the probe. The law on reckless endangerment of children and defilement of a child was passed six years ago and withholding information on child abuse only became a criminal offence last year.

To try and make progress the investigation was later broadened to include allegations of collusion and cover-up in the Cloyne diocese in Cork. Files were sent to the DPP in relation to both Dublin and Cloyne but they decided not to prosecute in any of the cases resulting, in the investigation being closed.

However, the Garda watchdog has launched its own inquiry into how members of the force handled child abuse investigations. The Garda Ombudsman launched the investigation last year, on foot of the commission of inquiry into child abuse in the Cloyne diocese. The report found that in one case, files and statements relating to a complaint of abuse against a priest were never found and that a second complaint against the priest was not investigated.

Jordan’s Lead Solicitor of the Child Abuse Compensation department, Lisa Jackson, said: “The clergy continue to assist in the cover up of actions of known paedophiles within their number and show no intentions of assisting police enquiries willingly. This indicates the urgent need for a government led enquiry to assess the true extent of such activities”.

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