Lecture from author of historic Irish report on child sex abuse

8 March 2013

The author of Ireland's landmark report on the Catholic Church's handling of child sex abuse claims this week told a capacity audience at the Sydney Law School of the Irish experience of dealing with these claims.

Judge Yvonne Murphy spearheaded two inquiries relating to the sexual abuse of children by clerics in Ireland. Her Sydney talk came as Australia gears up for a similar - but wider ranging - inquiry into institutional handling of child sex abuse claims. It is also the forerunner to a Sydney Law School forum on how the law and society can best deal with child sex abuse. Listen to Judge Murphy's talk above.

Judge Murphy's 2009 report into how the Archdiocese of Dublin handled claims of sexual abuse shook the nation's deep faith in Catholicism. Held as the wider ranging "Ryan Commission" into institutional child abuse was progressing, it resulted in a rise in secularism and a precipitous drop in the recruitment of priests.

The 'Murphy Report' found the church - when dealing with complaints - was primarily concerned with avoiding scandal, protecting its reputation and preserving its assets. The welfare of children was reportedly given scant consideration.

In her address - the first of the Sydney Law School's Distinguished Speakers Program for 2013 - Judge Murphy outlined how revelations by journalists in the early 1990s about the sexual proclivities of priest Father Brendan Smyth brought clerical sexual abuse to public attention in Ireland.

"The 1990s saw the trickle of claims become a flood," she said.

Judge Murphy was asked to head a commission of inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese in 2006 in order to reduce the growing number of tribunals and enquiries underway in Ireland. The commission was charged with looking at how complaints were dealt with by church and state authorities.

Judge Murphy discussed the legal techniques involved during her inquiry. For instance, the commission employed a statistician to ascertain how many of the priests facing claims of abuse needed to be investigated to provide a view representative of all claims. She also referred to insurance taken out by the archbishop of Dublin in the 1980s, providing cover against civil awards for sexual abuse compensation. This insurance policy, she said, flew in the face of the church's claim it wasn't aware of the extent of the problem.

Judge Murphy's lecture offered a timely perspective of the Irish experience, coming as Australia prepares for a national Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. Also timely in relation to the establishment of the Royal Commission, the Sydney Law School will host a forum, Engaging with Historical and Institutional Child Sexual Assault: A multi-disciplinary approach on 31 May. This forum will host speakers from the church, police, the legal profession and academia. It will inform debate about alternative approaches in responding to child sexual abuse. This event is part of the Sydney Social Justice Research Network Workshop Program for 2013.

Judge Murphy served as a judge of the Circuit Court in Ireland - an intermediate Trial Court in Civil, Criminal, Family and Tax cases - between 1998 and 2012.

Judge Murphy served as a judge of the Circuit Court in Ireland between 1998 and 2012. Her distinguished career includes membership of the Bars of England and Wales and of Northern Ireland; Editor of the Irish Times Law Reports; and author of two books on insider dealing and defamation.

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