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Search for Truth Ends in Tragedy

Alliance Support Group, Added on April 27, 2006


There is something distasteful about the Diocese of Limerick at the moment, writes Mary Raftery. Following the tragic suicide of clerical sexual abuse victim Peter McCloskey and the public exposure of his suffering, what we have witnessed so far is a frantic damage-limitation exercise.

There was some hope that after the immense child abuse scandals in Ferns and Dublin, the bishops might realise the harm that they themselves were causing by the way they treated people who had revealed the abuse they suffered as children.

It seemed that from Diarmuid Martin in Dublin and Eamon Walsh in Ferns at least there had been an acknowledgment of shortcomings, of denial and of the reliance on legal advice instead of a moral and Christian response.

Peter McCloskey's mother Mary and brother Joseph are in no doubt that had Peter been treated with dignity and compassion by the Diocese of Limerick from the time he revealed his abuse in 2002, he would still be alive today.

Joseph talks about Peter's "struggle for recognition and acknowledgment by the Church".

Mary has referred to her son's "final battle with Dr Donal Murray", the Bishop of Limerick.

Both lay the blame for the appalling distress Peter experienced squarely at the door of the bishop.

The facts, briefly, are as follows: during 1980 and 1981, when he was 10 years old, Peter was repeatedly raped by Father Denis Daly, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney, but then ministering in Limerick.

In 2002, Peter revealed his abuse to family members and then to church authorities in Limerick. Peter wanted to know whether the diocese had reason to suspect that Father Daly (who died in 1987) might have been a danger to children.

The Limerick diocese discovered in 2003 that there was an extensive file on Father Daly in the Archdiocese of Sydney. Included was a reference to the local police insisting that he leave the territory for what was described as a "moral lapse".

This information was not passed to Peter McCloskey. Instead he was told in 2004 by the then child protection officer of the Bishops' Conference Paul Bailey that they had no information on Father Daly.

When Peter announced that he would go to Sydney himself to investigate, Paul Bailey agreed to arrange a meeting for him with diocese officials there.

What is extraordinary about this is that Bishop Murray denies all knowledge of the fact that Peter was travelling to Australia to find out information that was already known here in Ireland by the Bishops' Conference.

Bishop Murray told RTE's Prime Time last week that "I very much regret that he did that. If he'd asked us, we'd certainly have given him the information... I would not have put him through that for the world."

The bishop has insisted that he was supportive to Peter at all times. "I honestly think that everything we did was designed to find a solution to Peter's problem."

However, in the months and years before Peter took his own life he had received exactly the opposite message from the diocese.

He had been told that Bishop Murray had no legal liability for the allegations made, that any attempt to make him responsible was unjust, that any proceedings would be struck out and that Peter would be held liable for the diocese's legal costs. According to Peter's mother, Mary, there had even been a threat to sue him for libel.

Peter died two days after a mediation meeting with the diocese's representatives. Peter's brother Joseph, who was present, is incensed that the impression has been conveyed by the diocese that Peter walked out of that meeting. He is adamant that Peter did no such thing.

However, the full truth of exactly what happened remains shrouded by constraints of confidentiality. Peter's mother and brother have demanded that this be waived and that the full truth be told.

Dr Murray, however, has refused to accede to disclosure, and continues to abide by the confidentiality agreement.

Last Sunday, Mary and Joseph McCloskey met Dr Murray. The six-hour meeting was chaired by Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh. A joint statement was issued, admitting failure on the part of the diocese to properly inform itself of Father Daly's suitability for ministry.

It was silent on the issue of Peter's experience since he had revealed his abuse in 2002.

Mary McCloskey believes that only an independent inquiry will get at the truth of how her son was treated by the diocese.

"It was the unbearable weight of the denial of the truth that became too much for Peter," she has said. "That denial must end."

A simple mechanism exists for such an inquiry. With the State already investigating the Dublin archdiocese, it would be a straightforward matter to extend that inquiry to include Limerick.

It is the very least that the rest of us owe to a man whose own dedication to the search for truth had such tragic consequences.

The Irish Times