The Catholic sexual abuse scandals have been rocking Ireland and disgracing the church since allegations were first made against Fr Brendan Smyth in 1994 but this most recent series of revelations has become particularly confused due to conflicting press reports and confusion over which case is which. Smyth died in 1997.
One former Catholic clergyman, renegade Bishop Pat Buckley, says there is a lot more to come out because the church’s attitude to sexuality is the root of the problem.
‘Only three per cent of priests are paedophiles,’ said Buckley, citing research by American clinical psychologist, sociologist and former priest Richard Sipe. ‘Of course, it’s particularly horrific when priests abuse their trust.’
Buckley says the problem isn’t a vast number of paedophile priests but the church’s repeated cover-ups allowing them to offend again. There are approximately 6,000 priests in Ireland, divided between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Bishop Buckley, an openly gay clergyman who recently entered into a civil partnership, says the majority of Irish priests – 80 per cent, he claims – are involved in sexual relationships at some point in their career, both heterosexual and homosexual, some abusive, some not.
‘I think that a minimum of 40 per cent of today’s Catholic priests are gay and are sexually active. A young priest in England said to me last week that the Catholic priesthood, in England, is now a gay profession. He has now left the priesthood because of the number of priests, bishops and cardinals who sexually seduced him while he was in Rome.
‘So, on the one hand you have the pope and the hierarchy of the church in Rome condemning homosexuality and yet the Vatican is probably one of the places in the world where homosexuality is most practiced,’ he said.
Allegations of abuse are not confined to same-sex activity – or to male members of religious orders.
Buckley told forth that the morning he spoke to forth he had met with a woman who was sexually abused by a priest while at school – with the connivance of nuns.
A priest at a convent school in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland is alleged to have inserted what he claimed was a piece of ‘the true cross’ into the vagina of a 16 year old girl, masturbating her. He allegedly told her he was sanctifying her. The girl, now a woman in her 60s, has not given her name yet but Bishop Buckley is encouraging her to go to the authorities.
Buckley says that afterward a nun said to her: ‘How did you like that?’ and also that nuns would deliver children to the notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth and pick them up afterwards.
Bishop Buckley was ordained in 1976 and worked as a Catholic priest for a decade before being removed from his duties. He has never been formally removed from the Catholic church and his consecration as bishop is considered ‘valid but illicit’ by the Vatican.
Buckley says the church attempted to silence him by buying him off at least twice.
‘When Cardinal Cahal Daly came to the disocese of Down and Conor [as bishop] he didn’t really like my way of working, the amount of social work I did with people and my criticism of the church structures in the media, so he offered me a parish in California and £10,000 [sterling] to get there – which I declined.
‘In July of 1986 he removed me as the parish priest – curate – of Larne and I’ve operated independently ever since.’
The second incident had more sinister undertones as Buckley tells it.
‘In 1998 a barrister approached me in Belfast and offered me £250,000 [sterling] to go away for five years, at the end of which I would be given an important job,’ he said.
Asked on whose behalf this offer was made, Buckley told forth: ‘He told me it was on behalf of the whole hierarchy, it wasn’t just the bishop of Down and Conor it was the whole Irish Catholic hierarchy.
‘So, basically, what they wanted me to do was go away for five years and they would pay me £50,000 a year and I would be given an important job when I got back. The condition was that during the five years I wouldn’t speak about anything to do with the Irish church or the Catholic church in general,’ said Buckley.
Buckley says an alleged victim of clerical sex abuse came to see him two weeks ago and he put him in touch with the Police Service of Northern Ireland that day. The alleged perpetrator, Fr Sean Cahill, has been asked to step down from ministry while the investigation is going on. The alleged abuse is alleged to have occurred in Nazareth Lodge orphanage in Belfast.
‘On the day he came here I made two phone calls: one to the police and one to the bishop of Down and Conor, Noel Trainor. Bishop Trainer removed Fr Cahill,’ he said.
Buckley has ministered to paedophiles in his church but with the full knowledge and co-operation of the congregation for child protection, he says.
Buckley says the church’s failed internal investigations and codes of silence stem from a belief that the church is above the law.
‘The Catholic church regards itself as God’s kingdom on earth and it [therefore] regards canon law as the law of god’s kingdom and [as] God is superior to the civil authorities therefore canon law is superior to civil law.
‘That can’t be and shouldn’t be tolerated in civil society,’ he says. ‘Until such time as we have a bishop who has been seen on the television screens being taken from his palace in handcuffs to be questioned I don’t think any of us can believe that the Gardaí or PSNI are serious about priests and bishops.