Irish sex abuse: From bad to worse

The bad news just keeps coming in: With yesterday's release of the Cloyne report in Ireland, the world has yet another example of episcopal malfeasance. Indeed, with now-retired Bishop John Magee (now apparently in hiding), we have an example of a bishop who himself acted inappropriately toward a seminarian, though he broke no laws on that count. Magee is the only bishop from the Irish church to resign in light of the scandal, though several others should have. The pope, however, refused further resignations.

What is worse is that the Cloyne report, named for the diocese it covered, focused on that diocese's response to sex abuse after 1996, when the Irish bishops introduced guidelines for mandatory reporting. Yet as recently as 2008, the Cloyne diocese was out of compliance–much like the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, which refuses to implement the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People 10 years after its creation. With this report, there can be no defense that the diocese didn't understand what sexual abuse was or how to deal with it. They knew what they should do–and they didn't do it.

There is much more in the Cloyne report worthy of outright condemnation, including the papal nunico's refusal to cooperate. But it once again raises the problem of accountability: With bishops answerable only to the pope–as if he had time to personally manage the world's thousands of bishops–no one else can force a bishop's removal. Why, then, should he give it?

There is actually a rich tradition of deposing bad bishops–even of deposing popes–when they fail in extravagant ways. I argued in my August column that the people of God should insist on their removal for failure in the matter of child sex abuse, and I stand by that. Their failures are impeding the spread of the gospel and causing grave wounds to Christ's body. They can be forgiven for their failure, but they also must suffer the legitimate consequences of their failure to lead.

Related: The buck stops where? Sex abuse and the bishops

Irish report records problems, abuse, disagreement in Cloyne Diocese (CNS story)

Full Cloyne report

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.