The Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland is a major chapter in the worldwide Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Unlike the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the United States, the scandal in Ireland included cases of high-profile Catholic clerics involved in illicit heterosexual relations as well as widespread physical abuse of children in the Catholic-run childcare network.
Starting in the 1990s, a series of criminal cases and Irish government enquiries established that hundreds of priests had abused thousands of children in previous decades. In many cases, the abusing priests were moved to other parishes to avoid embarrassment or a scandal, assisted by senior clergy. By 2010 a number of in-depth judicial reports had been published, but with relatively few prosecutions.
In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter of apology to address all of the abuse that was carried out by Catholic clergy.
On Monday, May 31, 2010, Pope Benedict established a formal panel to investigate the sex abuse scandal, emphasizing that it could serve as a healing mechanism for the country and its Catholics. Among the nine members of the apostolic visitation were Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston (he investigated the Archdiocese of Dublin); Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, the Archbishop of New York (he investigated the issue of proper priestly formation and visited the seminaries), two nuns (who investigated women's religious institutes and the formation there), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, England; Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada; and Cardinal-Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, Canada.
In and before 1980 the accepted norm in the Irish Church was that its priesthood was celibate and chaste, and homosexuality was a sin as well as a crime. The Church forbade its members to use artificial contraception, campaigned strongly against laws allowing abortion and divorce, and publicly disapproved of unmarried cohabiting couples and illegitimacy. Therefore it came as a considerable surprise when the Irish media started to report allegations of lapses in these aspects of the priesthood itself. The Church's high standards had also led on in part to the Anne Lovett tragedy and the Kerry Babies saga in 1984.
A series of television documentaries in the 1990s and 2000s, such as "Suffer the children" (UTV, 1994), Suing the Pope or The Magdalene Sisters, led on to the need for a series of government-sponsored reports and new guidelines within the Church and society to better protect children. In 1995-2002 the emergence of the same problem in the USA led to the view that the Church had attempted to cover up abuse and misconduct, and was not limited to sexual abuse (see Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the United States). By the late 2000s the misconduct was recognized as a worldwide scandal.
In 1984, a group of seminarians in the 'senior division' of St Patrick's Seminary, Maynooth, expressed their concerns to the senior dean regarding the inappropriate behaviour of Micheal Ledwith, then vice president of the College, towards younger students. Ledwith was promoted to President of St Patrick's Seminary despite the allegations. He subsequently resigned as President in 1994 when allegations of sexual abuse resurfaced.
In June 2002, the bishops commissioned Denis McCullough to investigate allegations reported in The Irish Times that the bishops had not responded adequately to complaints of sexual harassment of seminarians at Maynooth College in the early 1980s. McCullough's report, published on 16 June 2005, found that, while the seminarians had not complained directly to the bishops regarding Ledwith's alleged sexual abuse, "concerns of apparent propensities rather than accusations of actual crime or specific offences" had been communicated to the bishops by the senior dean of the college. McCullough concluded "that to have rejected the senior dean's concerns so completely and so abruptly without any adequate investigation may have been too precipitate, although, of course, to investigate in any very full or substantial manner, a generic complaint regarding a person's apparent propensities would have been difficult".