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Abuse by Irish priest could be tip of iceberg

by Michael Bradley

It is over three years since it was revealed that an Irish Catholic priest had abused several children in Japan. His victims here are probably still unaware their tormentor was a serial offender.

Father Patrick Maguire worked in Japan between 1961 and 1974, during which time he has admitted to abusing at least 13 boys, 10 of them in 1973. The priest subsequently went on to abuse dozens more children in Britain and Ireland, and has been convicted (and imprisoned) on separate counts of indecent assault in both jurisdictions. He has never been held to account for his actions in this country.

“Bishop Hirata was most understanding but said that it would be best that Pat slip out of Japan quietly.” So wrote a fellow priest in Maguire’s Columban Fathers to the society’s head in Ireland in 1974. The reason for Maguire’s hasty exit was a “problem” involving “young male children” and “a danger that the weekly magazines would latch onto a thing like that and blow it up out of all proportions.” So, fearing adverse publicity, the Church spirited him back to Ireland. For his Japanese victims, that was probably the last they heard of Father Maguire.

Throughout his 40-year career, Maguire consistently exploited his position as a priest to create opportunities for abuse. He once told a therapist: “I thought of ways of meeting boys, engaging (them) in conversation. . . . I planned ways of seeing them with other boys, and eventually ways of being alone with them in places where they felt safe . I planned ways of getting them alone where no one else could observe and where undressing would not be thought out of place, like bathing together, changing at the pool, showering after a swim, and eventually ways of getting them to spend the night, and sleep with me in bed.”

A 2009 investigation into clerical sex abuse in Ireland, the Murphy Report, concluded that Maguire probably “abused hundreds of children in all parts of Ireland as well as in the U.K. and Japan.” He worked in three separate dioceses here: Tokyo, Yokohama and Fukuoka. According to his own testimony, much of the abuse happened in a parish in Kumamoto in 1973. The Murphy Report, which was released in a blaze of publicity in July 2009, led to enormous criticism of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Despite this, it seems Maguire’s Japanese victims have still not been made aware of his awful record.

“One of the huge impacts of Murphy (and other reports into clerical sex abuse) is that it helped victims in Ireland realize they were not the only people this happened to, and this helped to reduce the sense of shame and isolation that they felt,” says Maeve Lewis, the Director of One in Four, an Irish charity set up to help the survivors of sexual violence. She says that each of Maguire’s Japanese victims “may well believe he is the only person this happened to.” If they realized the truth, she adds, some of them would probably begin to speak out.

So far, the society to which Maguire belonged has not tried to identify any of his Japanese victims. Father Donal Hogan, the regional director of the Columbans in Ireland, said, “We only contact victims where they make themselves known to us.” None of Maguire’s Japanese victims has so far done so.

“The principle objective in not approaching victims is to ensure that no stress or further pain is caused by our actions,” Hohan said. “We deeply regret the trauma, suffering and irreparable damage Patrick Maguire inflicted on his many victims.”

The Missionary Society of St. Columban (commonly abbreviated to the “Columban Fathers” or simply “the Columbans”) was established in Ireland in around 1916 with the aim of sending priests to China to convert the country. After World War II, the society began providing missionaries to Japan, at the request of local bishops. For a number of decades the Columbans, rather than the Japanese bishops, ran the parishes where their members worked. The situation has since changed and all parishes in Japan are now administered directly by the bishops (although foreign Columban Fathers continue to work in this country).

While the Columbans in Ireland have not contacted Maguire’s victims, it is possible that the Japanese bishops may have done so. Years before the publication of the Murphy Report, the bishops of the three dioceses where Maguire had worked were informed of his convictions in Britain (1998) and Ireland (2000 and 2007). However, Father Leo Schumacher, the director of the Columbans in Japan, said “the presumption is that there has been no outreach” by the bishops. He added that it is hard to be definitive about this because “there have so many people in positions of authority over the last 40 years.” Bishop Hirata, who oversaw Maguire’s shameful departure from Japan in the early 1970s, died in 2007.

The current bishop of Fukuoka declined to answer any questions on this matter.

Maeve Lewis thinks it would be helpful if Maguire’s former congregations were made aware of his record, either through the media “or through information disseminated through church structures or networks — even things like notices displayed in church porches.”

Schumacher, who was only appointed Japan director earlier this year (and who had no knowledge of Maguire’s abuse here prior to my contacting him), says he intends to “speak to the communities where Patrick Maguire was assigned.” “My priority is to reach out to any victims who may need help,” he said.

Father Hogan, meanwhile, “invites anyone who has been damaged as a result of child sexual abuse by a Columban to contact us and/or the appropriate local authorities.”

The Columbans say Maguire, now in his mid-70s, has been laicized — removed from the priesthood — but continues to live with the society in Ireland “under strict conditions.”

Moving a priest in the face of allegations of sexual abuse was not unique to Japan. (Indeed after leaving Japan, Maguire was summarily transferred from his first parish in Ireland, following more allegations of abuse.) In the U.S., the practice resulted in a major scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. In 2002 Archbishop Bernard Law had to resign, and the church was forced to pay out $85 million, after it emerged that six serial abusers (among them, Father John Geoghan , whose victims numbered more than 500) had been systematically transferred from parish to parish to avoid exposure.

Coverups of a similar magnitude then emerged in dioceses right across the country, including Dallas, Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles. This same pattern — one or two high-profile cases precipitating an avalanche of complaints, many going back decades — has been repeated in Catholic congregations around the world, from Latin America to Australia to Ireland.

In 1994 the president of Ireland’s main seminary resigned after allegations of sexual abuse against him were made public. Around the same time, another high-profile case emerged against Father Brendan Smyth, who over a 40-year period indecently assaulted over 100 children on both sides of the Irish border. These cases opened the floodgates as thousands of victims began to speak out, forcing the authorities to launch a number of judicial investigations.

The 2009 Murphy Report, which dealt with just one archdiocese, Dublin, found that bishops had effectively turned a blind eye to 46 abusing priests, including Maguire, over a 30-year period. In the same year, another government-commissioned report detailed a horrific catalogue of rapes and abuse at children’s homes and borstals run by religious orders nationwide.

Maguire’s is one of the first cases of clerical sex abuse to come to light in Japan. There have been a couple of other publicized cases over the past decade, but neither involved Catholic clergy. In 2006 Tamotsu Kin, 62, the founder of the Central Church of Holy God in Kyoto, was sentenced to 20 years for sexually abusing seven girls aged between 12 and 16 over a four-year period. The previous year, also in Kyoto, an Epicopalian priest, Fumio Harada, was convicted in a civil court of abusing a young girl and forced to pay damages. He was subsequently defrocked.

The relatively small Catholic community here — there are just half a million members, less than 0.5 percent of the population — will be hoping that Patrick Maguire was an isolated rogue priest. Unfortunately, given the experience of other countries, that’s unlikely to be the case.

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