The Catholic hierarchy in Ireland was granted immunity to cover up child sex abuse among paedophile priests in Dublin, a damning report revealed today.
Authorities enjoyed a cosy relationship with the Church and did not enforce the law as four archbishops, obsessed with secrecy and avoiding scandal, protected abusers and reputations at all costs.
Hundreds of crimes against defenceless children from the 1960s to the 1990s were not reported while gardai treated clergy as though they were above the law.
In a three-year inquiry, the Commission to Inquire into the Dublin Archdiocese uncovered a sickening tactic of "don't ask, don't tell" throughout the Church.
"The Commission has no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities," it said.
"The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up.
"The State authorities facilitated that cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes."
Four archbishops - John Charles McQuaid who died in 1973, Dermot Ryan who died in 1984, Kevin McNamara who died in 1987, and retired Cardinal Desmond Connell - did not hand over information on abusers.
The first files were handed over by the Cardinal in 1995 but even then he had records of complaints against at least 28 priests.
The primary loyalty of bishops and archbishops is to the Church, the report said.
Bishop James Kavanagh, Bishop Dermot O'Mahony, Bishop Laurence Forristal, Bishop Donal Murray and disgraced Bishop Brendan Comiskey, a reformed alcoholic who failed to control paedophile priests when in charge of the Ferns Diocese, all knew about child abuse for many years.
The inquiry, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, said the hierarchy cannot claim they did not know that child sex abuse was a crime.
Cardinal Connell was credited for instigating two secret canon law trials which took place over the 30-year period and led to two priests being defrocked.
Monsignor Gerard Sheehy, a powerful figure in the Catholic Archdiocese, one of the largest in Europe, fought to prevent the internal prosecutions.
Religious orders, for example the Columbans, had clear knowledge of complaints dating back to the early 1970s.
Parts of the 700-page report have been censored to prevent pending or potential prosecutions of abusers being prejudiced with references to two priests, and one of the cleric's brothers, removed.
While the Dublin Archdiocese inquiry found no evidence of a paedophile ring, some of the most shocking findings included:
* One priest admitted sexually abusing more than 100 children;
* Another accepted he abused on a fortnightly basis during his 25-year ministry;
* One complaint was made against a priest who later admitted abusing at least six other children;
* It took gardai 20 years to decide on a prosecution of one priest.
The inquiry said it uncovered inappropriate contacts between authorities and the Archdiocese.
Allegations were made against one priest, known as Fr Edmondus, but Garda Commissioner Daniel Costigan handed the case to Archbishop McQuaid and took no other action.
The inquiry also warned of inappropriate relations between some senior gardai and priests in two other cases.
"A number of very senior members of the gardai, including the Commissioner (Costigan) in 1960, clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit," the report said.
"There are some examples of gardai actually reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them.
"It is fortunate that some junior members of the force did not take the same view."
The inquiry, which was looking at a sample of 46 priests dating back to 1975 but took its review back as far as the 1940s, outlined an insurance scheme for victims set up by the Archdiocese in 1987.
Church files show at the time Archbishops McNamara, Ryan and McQuaid had, between them, information on complaints against at least 17 priests.
The Commission said it proved the hierarchy knew the sex abuse scandals would cost the Church dearly.
"The taking out of insurance was proving knowledge of child sex abuse as a major cost to the Archdiocese and is inconsistent with the view that archdiocesan officials were still 'on a learning curve' at a much later date, or were lacking in an appreciation of the phenomenon of clerical child sex abuse," it said.
The Archdiocese was pre-occupied until the mid-1990s with maintaining secrecy, avoiding scandal, protecting the reputation of the Church and preservation of assets.
All other concerns, including the damage done to young victims, came second, the report said.
"The welfare of the children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early days," the Commission said.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies