Irish Bishop’s Apology: Evidence of a much bigger problem?

by John McKiggan

Sexual Abuse Was “Friendship”?!

Dr. John Kirby, a Catholic Bishop in Ireland, recently apologized for the role he played in transferring abusive priests from one parish to another. In an attempt to explain his decisions he stated:

“I was unaware of the recidivist nature, or the compulsive nature of sexual abuse and I felt that it was a friendship that had gone astray, and was wrong.”

Kirby’s “apology” came after a number of audits were done on different religious congregations in Ireland which uncovered more than 330 allegations of abuse against 146 priests and members of the congregations.

Bishop Kirby said his actions were the standard church response of the time.

Nova Scotians may remember former Antigonish Bishop Colin Campbell’s statements about sexual abuse survivors. Campbell suggested that the children could have rebuffed the priests that molesting them, and implied they welcomed the sexual advances and that they “wanted it.”

I think Kirby’s admission is important because it confirms what many victims advocates have been saying for years; that the Catholic Church had a policy of hiding complaints about sexual abuse and transferring pedophile priests.

Michael Mernagh, an Augustinian Priest in Dublin, says that the culture of denial is endemic in the Catholic Church. He argues if audits were done of more religious congregations in Ireland, and in the world, many more cases of child abuse and their cover-up would be exposed.

I have written previously about how Secrecy protects the abusers! . That is one of the reasons I titled my book for sexual abuse survivors “Breaking the Silence.”

Not Just an Irish Problem

The Irish scandel is just the latest in a series that have rocked varoius institutions around the world.

Canadian child abuse studies have reported some frightening statistics: 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males in Canada report experiencing some form of sexual abuse before age 17.

As a sexual abuse claims lawyer in Nova Scotia, I have personally represented hundreds of survivors of childhood sexual abuse over the past 20 years.

Part of the problem is the fact that people in a position to act fail to speak out about the abuse. The culture of denial in the Catholic Church described by Father Mernagh is worldwide. In Canada, there have been a number of allegations that Catholic priests have acted to cover up past incidents of sexual abuse in their community.

Bishops, priests and members of the community who become aware of abuse have a legal and moral responsibility to report the abuse, rather than to cover it up or transfer the offenders to another community where they can easily re-offend.

Not Just a Catholic Problem

Sexual abuse of children, and its cover-up, is certainly not exclusive to the Catholic Church. In fact, one recent example of horrendous sexual abuse cover-up is the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

A major part of the problem at Penn State was that officials within the university covered-up and “empowered” Sandusky to continue his abuse. An investigation into the sexual abuse claims has found that Joe Paterno, the legendary football coach, could have done a lot more to prevent the abuse. Investigators determined Paterno did nothing to protect the children from Sandusky’s abuse.

The 267-page report created as a result of the investigation states:

“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Scouts Canada recently admitted it did not report some allegations of sexual misconduct to the police. This is yet another example of an organization protecting its reputation before protecting the rights of sexually abused children.


While the source of the problem is the actual sexual abuse, the inaction of those capable of speaking-up and reporting the allegations allows the problem to grow. If you or anyone you know may have been sexually abused, now is the time to speak-up and Break the Silence. I encourage you to get a copy of my book to help you understand your options.

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