As the Murphy Report noted, church discipline in Ireland was almost totally neglected in Ireland. In thirty years only two canonical trials were held, and these were held in opposition to the chief canonist.
The Roman Catholic Church sometimes suffers from legalism, to which voluntarist moral theology and casuistry contributed. But law has a place in any society, as Paul explained in I Timothy: “Now we know that the law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murders of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” In this category defilers of children certainly belong.
Despite all the claims that bishops were only concerned with orthodoxy, there has been almost no action against either practitioners or preachers of sexual immorality such as Paul Shanley or the Catholic Theological Society, which has never disowned its infamous book Human Sexuality that advises that until society accepts the full range of sexual practices, “enlightened and well-integrated individuals might well free themselves of conflict by simply reflecting on the relativity of their society’s sexual ethic and proceed discreetly with their sexual project.” Bishops may have been personally orthodoxy, but they never did anything to assure that only Catholic morality was taught under Catholic auspices. In fact (as I know from extensive personal experience) they deeply resented anyone who pointed out the gross heresy that was being taught under Catholic auspices. Not the preachers of immorality, but the ones who asked the bishop to act against those preachers, were the objects of the bishops’ ire.
At best bishops issued documents that were quietly filed away; the bishops thought they had done their duty and let the chaos in the Church continue unchecked. Only annoying the bishop would provoke his wrath; raping children did not concern him. The children and parents who begged for justice were the ones the bishops disliked – they inconvenienced the bishop, and there was no greater sin in the bishop’s mind than to inconvenience a bishop. This was as true in Ireland as in the United States.