Sean Ryan, the judge who led the investigation of pedophilia in Ireland: "If the Spanish Church refuses to collaborate, the embarrassment can be enormous"
Sean Ryan, the judge who presided over the investigation of the abuses of the Church in Ireland, on Tuesday in Pamplona.
Sean Ryan, the judge who presided over the investigation of the abuses of the Church in Ireland, on Tuesday in Pamplona.PABLO LASAOSA

Irish judge Sean Ryan (Dublin, 74 years old) attends the appointment on time. He is elegant and serious, an initial image that soon gives way to an acid and peculiar humor. Ryan led the independent investigative commission promoted by the Irish Government that, after 10 years of investigations, documented in May 2009 that thousands of minors, mainly boys, had been sexually, psychologically and physically violated in religious centers in Ireland since 1936. investigation, in addition, concluded that the Irish Church had tried to hide the scandal. This commission has served as a model for other countries. Ryan, Chief Justice of the Republic of Ireland Court of Appeal (from 2014 to 2018) and High Court Justice from 2003 to 2014, recognizes that today it is more difficult for the Church to refuse to collaborate due to the social change that has occurred and recognizes that the Spanish Ombudsman is going to have a difficult time because he does not have “the power of the law and of the courts”.

Ask. 13 years have passed since the publication of the so-called Ryan Report. What impact has it had inside and outside of Ireland?

Response. To be honest, the day we published the report, I was very surprised to see so many televisions and journalists. We realized that [el problema de los abusos] It was going to be something very relevant, but at that time we were not aware of how much.

P. In Spain there have been discrepancies with the way of carrying out this research. Did the same thing happen in Ireland?

R. In Ireland two things happened. On the one hand, the government decided to respond to survivors of abuse and, on the other, citizens began to denounce the state. Then, the Administration realized that the courts could end up blocked for years, so they created a commission led by a judge to rule in favor of one or the other. The idea was well received, most were satisfied. Nobody questioned the chosen system. He always had resources and budget.

P. Being an investigation led by a judge, he had the power to call congregations and other officials to testify. In Spain, it will be the Ombudsman who will head the commission. Will the Church agree to be questioned?

R. By having the power of the law and the courts, we had two important things: the power to call witnesses and request documents. It’s complicated if you don’t have that option, so I guess the defender will have to find a way to call those responsible for clergy abuse to testify. If a witness comes forward and tells his story, and the person accused of committing these abuses says it’s not true, someone will have to decide. That’s where I or the jury came in.

P. Do you then foresee many difficulties with a commission led by the Ombudsman?

R. Yes, I think it’s complicated.

P. How should it be done?

R. I don’t want to tell anyone how to do their job, but I do want to warn them that anyone who undertakes an investigation of this kind faces at least two problems. The first is the numbers, the high number of complainants. You have to ask yourself, can I listen to each of the cases? We decided that we were going to listen to everyone. That, in court is impossible to do. So we started by meeting with all the parties to get their proposals and then we called a public meeting in a hotel. There were hundreds of people out there. We explained to them what were the problems we were facing and the proposal we had. We decided to choose representative people from each institution and from the decade in which they were studying there. In other words, not all of them appeared before the investigation committee, although they did appear before some of the lawyers. If he detected anything unusual, that witness would also appear before the commission.

All congregations keep records, reports, about what happens in the centers, including disciplinary measures for minors”

P. And the second problem?

R. The second big question was: do we name the aggressors? Our legislation did not allow it and we ended up giving them all pseudonyms, we had hundreds of random names. We also announce this decision publicly. The victims wanted their names to be made known, but the accused persons have the right to defend themselves, to demand evidence. In addition, there must be a balance between the need to listen to everyone and find a way to analyze the cases and produce a report. All this, knowing that there is no perfect research, you have to learn to live with it. Yes, I am pragmatic [se ríe]. We name everything that happened. The only thing we didn’t do was name the assailants individually, but we did warn that if it had been done to one survivor, it was likely done to another.

P. There were those who accused him of agreeing with the Church, specifically with the Christian Brothers congregation, so as not to make their names public.

R. During the first phase of the hearings, the Christian Brothers congregation announced that they had uncovered documents relating to the case and that they were going to present them to the commission. Some thought that they had only done it because the commission had agreed not to mention the names of the aggressors, that we had made some kind of pact. I did not do it. In any case, those documents reflected many abuses. They revealed that there were more people who knew what had happened and that there were what are known as “punishment books” where disciplinary measures were recorded. It was believed that each institution had a book, but nobody knows what has become of them. We found one or two that ended up becoming important evidence because they reflected very severe abuse.

R. How was each case investigated?

R. All congregations keep records, reports, about what happens in the centers, including disciplinary measures for minors. In one of them, let’s say it is mentioned that a certain brother Sean has done it again and that his transfer from one center to another has not worked. So we followed the trail. Unless we have evidence that he has stopped doing it, it is assumed that the religious continues to act the same. Then we ask the complainants: confirm the information, okay. However, the congregation alleges that there is no real evidence of what happened. Ok, I accept that there is no video of the brother violating a minor, but we have the man, the report and the testimonies. So we conclude that this man committed certain abuses.

P. His research lasted about 10 years. Do you consider it necessary to set a maximum time for the completion of the Spanish?

R. You cannot limit the time because depending on the number of complainants, it will not work. Also, keep in mind that, if you decide to name the aggressors, you have to guarantee their right to defense. It is the never ending story. On the other hand, you would have a lot of not guilty verdicts because the complainants can make mistakes remembering what happened. For example, on dates or locations.

P. Do you think that the investigation carried out by EL PAÍS and its database will be key to that of the Ombudsman or should you obtain them directly from the Church?

R. I can’t tell the Advocate how to do his job, but if I were him, the first thing I would do is go to the congregation and ask: Can I have access to your records? Nope? Okay, so I’m going to the Vatican. Again, can you give me access to those files? And if they refuse because it is a non-governmental institution, publicly denounce that a crime is being covered up, even more so when the Pope has already stated that the dioceses must help clarify these crimes. Furthermore, if the Church’s refusal to collaborate is published in any media, it will be increasingly embarrassing for the institution. At this time it is already very difficult for the Church and other large organizations or congregations to refuse because of the social change that has been generated. If the Church refuses to collaborate and the Ombudsman surrounds himself with good lawyers and journalists, the embarrassment can be enormous.

P. How should the Ombudsman deal with the Church?

R. We are thinking of a situation where a bishop might ask you, hey, why do you focus on abuse committed by priests, nuns or lay people when abuse is so widespread in society? Well, I would say to you, point one, my job is to investigate the abuse committed within the church, not the rest. Point two, are you defending the abuse? How can someone refuse to collaborate in clarifying an abuse that they know has occurred? In the end, although it is difficult, there will be a crack in the system, a small hole, and something will be found. Some story always comes out because it’s hard to suppress all of them completely.

If you know of a case of sexual abuse that has not seen the light of day, write to us at abuses@elpais.es

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