Fr McGinnity, whistle blower, scapegoat victim of vicious abuse by the Irish Catholic Hierachy

Part Three Fr McGinnity, whistle blower, scapegoat victim of vicious abuse by the Irish Catholic Hierarchy :

Fr Martin Tierney writes in The Irish Catholic of his incredulity at the appalling experience of Fr McGinnity, at the hands of Church leadership. “Here is a man”, he says, “who was greviously wronged, and no restitution was made for a reputation left in tatters at the hands of certain bishops. They apparently preferred the ‘status quo’ to the exposure of possible evil.” Fr Tierney commented that “no bishop was made accountable for the injustice visited upon Fr McGinnity.”

Fr McGinnity raises concerns at Maynooth College.

It was in June 2002 that Fr McGinnity sprang to national prominence in Ireland when The Irish Times revealed that, in his own words, he had in 1984 as senior dean in St Patrick’s College Maynooth, been “demoted and humiliated” after taking up senior seminarians’ concerns about the behaviour of the then college vice-president Monsignor Michael Ledwith in relation to junior seminarians – “including concerns of a sexual nature”. (5)


In synopsis, Canon Patrick Marron PP, in a letter to The Irish Catholic said, “Fr Gerard McGinnity conveyed the concerns of some seminarians in Maynooth College about the conduct of a Ferns priest to the Irish bishops in April 1984, and it was transmitted to the Board of Visitors to Maynooth. According to the Ferns Inquiry (10) ‘they were inadequately investigated and appear to have been wholly misunderstood. “It goes on to say that it was ‘entirely understandable that Fr McGinnity should feel victimised’. Bishop Eamonn Walsh in the report acknowledges that ‘some priests had wrongly remained silent’ Not so Fr McGinnity. The Episcopal conference has acknowledged Fr McGinnity’s hurt and has apologised to him for it.” Canon Marron comments further “I have known Fr McGinnity for many years and admired him as a priest. Since his demonstrating a sense of responsibility and a willingness to expose the wrongs being perpetrated on others he has admittedly had a fall in his high standing and been avoided in some gatherings where he was previously in demand and made welcome. At this time of new beginnings, in his case too, justice should not only be done, but seen to be done.” (8)

A statement given by Fr McGinnity in relation to this was printed in full in The Irish Times on 27th July 2001 (6) . In it Fr McGinnity describes the events of 1984; of being approached by the senior seminarians with their concerns regarding Mgr Ledwith; of passing on these concerns to Church authorities; and of his subsequent abrupt dismissal from his position by Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich acting on behalf of the Trustees (17 bishops) of the College. (7)

The six senior seminarians who approached Fr McGinnity had done so after their concerns had already been dismissed by the bishops. They had previously arranged separate meetings with the then Catholic Primate, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich; Cardinal Cahal Daly, then Bishop of Down and Connor; Bishop Colm O’Reilly of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise; Archbishop Joseph Cassidy, then Bishop of Clonfert; Bishop Brendan Comiskey, who became Bishop of Ferns in 1984; Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway; Bishop Edward Daly of Derry; and the since deceased Bishop James Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Armagh and Bishop John Ahern of Cloyne. (9)

In a letter to The Irish Times in June 2002, Cardinal Daly and three of the bishops disputed the claims that they were approached by senior seminarians with complaints about the behaviour of Mgr Ledwith towards their junior colleagues. Cardinal Daly, the retired archbishop of Tuam, Dr Joseph Cassidy, the retired bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly and the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr Colm O’Reilly, said the complaints were about the former president’s “extravagant” lifestyle. However, uncovering the scandal , Patsy McGarry, religious correspondent for The Irish Times stated “Members of the group of six have repeated to The Irish Times that they made it explicit to the bishops precisely what they were talking about. There was no confusion in the matter. Fr McGinnity confirmed the students’ approach”. (9)

During the subsequent state inquiry (known as the Ferns Inquiry) which reported in 2005, Bishop Eamonn Casey who had interviewed Fr McGinnity on behalf of the bishops in 1984 regarding the concerns he had passed on from the students, confirmed to Judge Frank Murphy and the Inquiry team that they certainly contained a sexual dimension. Bishop Casey admitted to the Inquiry that it was precisely because Fr McGinnity reported such remarks from the students about the vice-president that the decision was taken “that he could not continue as Senior Dean.” (10)(26)

Fr McGinnity risks all for truth

After alerting the authorities, Fr McGinnity was persuaded by his bishop to take a sabbatical year and was told later he would not be returning to Maynooth. He was pressured into resigning his position and was posted as curate to a rural parish in Armagh diocese before being appointed dean of discipline at a boarding school, where he remained for 10 years.

The six seminarians had also been concerned about their own future as priests as, having reported their anxiety already to their own individual bishops, there had been no action. They sought Fr McGinnity’s protection, as well as his help, in alerting the bishops to their concerns about Mgr Ledwith. (11) When Fr McGinnity was being forced into a sabbatical year, attempts were in fact being made to stop the seminarians from proceeding to the diaconate, a step towards full priestly ordination. “This effort was successfully resisted by Fr McGinnity before his departure.” (12)

In an attempt to deflect from the seriousness of the concerns reported about Mgr Ledwith, sources attempted to discredit Fr McGinnity while on sabbatical implying that “his health broke down”. The Irish Times reported a senior Church figure had repeated to them that Fr McGinnity had a “nervous breakdown”. Hearing this for the first time in July 2002, Fr McGinnity was “shocked at the question, but far more shocked to hear that this particular rumour had been maliciously circulating about him for 18 years.” (13) At the request of The Irish Times, he secured a letter from his longstanding personal physician formally refuting these claims. According to his doctors, throughout his lifetime “there has been absolutely no record of ‘psychological or mental problems’ where Father McGinnity is concerned.” (13)

For almost 10 years following these events, the Catholic Church remained silent about the fact that at the head of the national centre for training priests in Ireland was a man , Mgr Ledwith ,”repeatedly accused of sexually harassing young men there”.(7) Furthermore, in 1985 Ledwith was promoted and became president of Maynooth, a position he held for 10 years. Then in 1994, Ledwith stood down following allegations that he had sexually harassed junior seminarians. (14) Following his departure in 1995 an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor was made against Ledwith. There was a subsequent allegation in 2000. Both allegations were strenuously denied by Mgr Ledwith, He subsequently made two settlements following allegations of abuse.

In 2002 the 17 Catholic bishops, trustees of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth confirmed that its former president, Mgr Michael Ledwith, was subject to allegations of sexual abuse.(15 ) and Ledwith was laicised (16) by the Church in September 2005. (17)

Fr McGinnity and the McCullough Report

An investigation was initiated by the Irish bishops into the handling of allegations that Ledwith sexually harassed seminarians. At the time Fr McGinnity expressed “serious and profound reservations” about The McCullough Inquiry, adding, “…an inquiry which is not independent but conducted under the auspices of that body undergoing inquiry is wrong in principle, it seems to me.” On 16th June 2002 the Bishops, trustees of the college, published their findings in The McCullough Report which criticised the investigation that they themselves had made in 1984 at the time Fr McGinnity reported the seminarians’ complaints. (14)

Fr McGinnity and The Ferns Inquiry

The concerns raised by Fr McGinnity were fully validated in the report of The Ferns Inquiry, which was commissioned by the Irish Government in 2003, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Frank Murphy and with which Fr McGinnity did cooperate. The aims of the inquiry were to identify what allegations had been made against Ferns clergy before April 10 2002 and to assess the response to them by church authorities and gardai. (14)

Judge Frank Murphy’s findings were published in The Ferns Report in October 2005. The report acknowledged Fr McGinnity’s feelings of being victimised as a result of expressing the concerns of seminarians. In relation to Fr McGinnity he stated:

“By any standard the concerns as communicated by the seminarians and expressed by Fr McGinnity were inadequately investigated. They also appear to have been wholly misunderstood. He made no specific allegations of particular abuse and accordingly the demand to produce a victim was unrealistic. As Fr McGinnity was invited to take a sabbatical on the same date that Bishop Casey reported the results of his “investigation” to his fellow Bishops on the Board of Visitors of Maynooth, the Inquiry views as entirely understandable Fr McGinnity feeling that he was victimized as a result of the concerns of the seminarians which he expressed. Punitive actions of that nature could only deter bone fide complaints to Church authorities which should be valued as providing information for the control of those having access to young people.”(10)

Fr McGinnity – widely recognised as a priest of integrity

In June 2005, Fr Gerard McGinnity was recognised as one of the few who had the courage to stand up for the victims and for what is right, “by reporting complaints of sexual harassment of students by a senior theologian. He behaved with courage and integrity and in doing so he became a victim himself through his dismissal”. The Dundalk Democrat in praising the courage of Fr McGinnity reported how “He was forced out of his position- a job that he loved and by his own admission was crushed with his reputation and respectability shattered.” (18)

The Irish Times reported on 17th June 2005, “On foot of the report by Denis McCullough the Catholic primate Archbishop Sean Brady and the other trustee bishops at the college yesterday apologised to Fr McGinnity, a former senior dean at the college and to a group of former seminarians.” (12)

Fr McGinnity was totally vindicated and although he received an apology from Archbishop Sean Brady in 2005 for this treatment, no hint of possible reparation for the wrong done to him has been expressed. (18)

Speaking to Margaret Roddy of The Argus newspaper, Fr McGinnity said that his sudden, mysterious and undeserved removal from a very prestigious position had resulted in him losing friends and also his good name.

Recalling the week of the events leading to his removal from the position of Senior Dean of the College he said, “I was acting conscientiously and honourably at the time, as I thought I was making the Bishops aware of the concerns of what students had appraised me. For trying to make the Bishops aware of the situation I was ousted from my position and that has been a cause of severe suffering and enormous humiliation.”

“Going from a prominent position was a very public humiliation which seemed to undermine my credibility. I was only doing what I saw as part of my job and if I had failed to act, to me it would have been a dereliction of my duty and it would have rendered the students more at risk,” he said. Although gratified that the Church had apologised to him he still awaits restitution. “A little apology”, he said, “can’t undo the enormity of the damage. Even though they have apologised at this late stage, they cannot bring back those twenty years of my life, the twenty most vital and dynamic years of anyone’s life.” (19)

Fr McGinnity was reported to be overwhelmed by the extent of public support and comments of sympathy following his interview on RTE’s The Pat Kenny Show in October 2005.(20) However he received no written apology from the Church and the damage to his reputation and position remained.(21)

In March 2006 the parishioners of Knockbridge, Co Louth, in solidarity with their parish priest, Fr McGinnity, delivered a petition to Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of All-Ireland. In it, over a thousand people are critical of the injustice done to Fr McGinnity. In stating how appalled they were, they complained that “a man who acts with such integrity should not have had to endure such punishment for trying to protect young people. How can the Church claim to put the protection of children first when it fails to redress the damage done to someone who acted on that principle?”(21)

Fr McGinnity was interviewed on RTE in August 2006 as part of RTE Radio One’s ‘Whistleblowers’ series in which broadcaster Alan Torney interviews prominent whistleblowers, those who take exceptional risks to highlight wrong-doing.(4) Following the interview Fr Martin Tierney writes in The Irish Catholic of his incredulity at the appalling experience of Fr McGinnity, at the hands of Church leadership. “Here is a man”, he says, “who was greviously wronged, and no restitution was made for a reputation left in tatters at the hands of certain bishops. They apparently preferred the ‘status quo’ to the exposure of possible evil.” Fr Tierney commented that “no bishop was made accountable for the injustice visited upon Fr McGinnity.” (5)

Dr McGinnity has never been offered redress by the Irish Bishops despite an acknowledgement in both The McCullough Report and The Ferns Report that the inadequacy of the “investigation” led to the destruction of a promising career.

(Again notes are not consistent with the text, numbering is totally out of sequence.)

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