The Ryan Report on Child Abuse in Ireland

Early this summer the Ryan report in Ireland exploded with stunning revelations of child abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and brothers. The study reveals that thirty thousand children from the lower rungs of society suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse from the 1930s to the 1990s in schools run by the government and religious orders. The commission, a state body led by Justice Sean Ryan, conducted the study over nine years. Controversy over releasing names of perpetrators slowed its progress.

The latest exposé of child abuse in Ireland landed like a huge aftershock following the American quake felt in Boston a few years ago. In the US, court settlements for victims cost billions and have forced bankruptcy on dioceses and religious orders. Similar seismic activity threatens in the Los Angeles area where Cardinal Mahony and his lawyers are fighting lawsuits.

Thomas P. Doyle, a Dominican priest and leading expert on clerical child abuse, has pointed out that the problem is not accidental but systemic. It is deeply engrained in Irish child care culture. Doyle claims that church authorities from the pope to local bishops and religious superiors knew about the abuses and condoned or ignored them. Church leadership, satisfied with denials, apologies and blame shifting, has skirted real accountability.

Promises of future change are dubious without thoroughgoing investigation of the clerical culture that spawned the problem. Some point to the influence of Jansenism, a theology that stresses the evil in human nature, on the Irish clergy.

It is unlikely that recent Vatican-sponsored investigations of US seminaries and women religious will resolve the underlying maladies. Lack of transparency in closed clerical society impedes the openness required to seriously probe issues.

A tendency to blame gay clergy for these abuses becomes ever more preposterous in light of the longstanding Irish debacle.