Call for Northern Ireland clerical child sex abuse inquiry as Amnesty responds to Vatican tribunal

Amnesty International has called for the Northern Ireland Executive to set up clerical child sex abuse inquiry in response to an announcement by the Vatican that it will establish a tribunal to investigate bishops who failed to protect children.

The Vatican tribunal could investigate allegations against church leaders in Northern Ireland such as former Bishops of Derry, Edward Daly and Seamus Hegarty, who were involved in a confidential civil settlement after an eight-year-old girl was abused over a decade from 1979, and who were strongly criticised in reviews conducted by the church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

Former Cardinal and Archbishop of Armagh, Sean Brady, could also be the subject of investigation - he was criticised by victims over his handling of abuse allegations in 1975 involving Fr Brendan Smyth, when two abused teenage boys were asked to sign oaths of silence. Rather than report the notorious child rapist to the police, Irish bishops moved Smyth around parishes and across the border into Northern Ireland, where he went on to abuse many more children before finally being arrested by the RUC in 1994.

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, Patrick Corrigan, said:

“To that extent that the Vatican is finally taking steps to deliver a measure of accountability for child victims who were cruelly abused by priests and colossally betrayed by bishops, their announcement of a tribunal merits a cautious welcome.

“However, as Catholic Primate, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin has acknowledged, an in-house Church tribunal is no substitute for the State’s criminal justice system, which, to date, has not held any Church leader accountable before the law for their actions in cases of clerical child abuse.

“This is despite what we know in terms of church leaders’ failure to report criminal activity to the police on both sides of the border and bishops choosing to move abusive priests across the border, enabling them to evade justice and leaving them free to abuse more children.

“That is why Amnesty International now repeats our call for the Northern Ireland Executive to establish a public inquiry into the scale and circumstances of clerical child abuse in this jurisdiction. To date, Northern Ireland's clerical abuse victims have been let down, not just by the Church, but by Executive Ministers who have done nothing to help.”

View latest press releases