Public turns against holy orders over abuse
Public turns against holy orders over abuse

A call for those responsible for child abuse in institutions run by the religious orders to face criminal proceedings has been led by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

The report of the Child Abuse Commission, published last week, precipitated an unprecedented public backlash against the orders such as the Christian Brothers.

The religious orders were responsible for industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions where rape and brutality towards children was “endemic” and went largely unchecked, the report found.

Numbering 2,500 pages, the report records the physical, psychological and sexual abuse that took place over 60 years. It includes disturbing and distressing contributions from more than 2,000 people who suffered as children in institutions across Ireland. Important questions are also now being raised as to who in Irish society knew about the abuse and why nothing was done to stop it.

In particular, suspicions have been raised over a deal forged with the orders by the last Fianna Fail government. The compensation bill for the abuse victims is expected to reach up to two billion Euros, but in what has been described as a “bail-out for paedophiles”, the deal indemnifies the orders to a total cost of just O128m in cash and property.

Pressure is mounting for the holy orders to agree to pay much greater compensation for the victims of abuse in their institutions, and if necessary, to have their assets seized.

There has also been anger that the perpetrators of the abuse have still not been named and the report cannot be used for criminal prosecutions.

The controversy has raised a division in Ireland between the congregations and the Catholic church hierarchy. While the orders have been reluctant to accept the need for greater restitution, the diocesan bishops have called for action.

The Bishop of Down and Connor Dr Noel Treanor said the Church cannot wash its hands of guilt “like Pontius Pilate” with regard to the child abuse scandal. He said he would support criminal prosecution of the members of the clergy and holy orders who were involved in the abuse.

Proposals by the orders to channel more of their resources directly to the former residents rather than re-open the terms of the controversial 2002 compensation deal were rejected by groups representing the survivors of abuse.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) described the refusal by the holy orders to revisit the issue of redress as an “aggressive act of self protection”.

Speaking during a visit to Boston, the President, Mary McAleese said the report showed crimes had been committed and that the people behind them should face prosecution.

“I think that part and parcel of what comes out of the Ryan report is they are brought before the proper authorities,” she said.

“I think that now what we can do is show ourselves, show the victims and show the world how we respond to this.

“Do we respond to this by being overwhelmed by silence?

“Or do we engage in a massive debate about our responsibility and the opportunity that we have to make amends?”

She said criminal proceedings might not bring closure to survivors but would bring justice.

On Monday Cardinal Sean Brady added to the pressure by calling on the orders to “revisit” the compensation agreement.

The Christian Brothers then finally bowed to the pressure and pledged to give extra money to the survivors of child abuse who had suffered under their care.

Breaking ranks with the other religious groups, the order promised “dramatic change”, which would see them hand over almost all their property and assets to help compensate abuse victims.

The order said that they accepted, “with shame”, the findings of the Ryan Report and deeply apologised for the hurt its members caused in the past and through their “inadequate responses” over recent years.

“We have extended the suffering of former residents who were either not listened to or not believed,” the statement read.

“As a congregation we want to make amends and to beg forgiveness.”

Sinn Féin Dail leader and spokesperson on Children Caoimhghin O Caolain TD, has urged full disclosure of the assets of the remaining culpable religious orders amid reports of accounting manouevres which were placing valuable lands and properties outside the state’s jurisdiction.

“There needs to be full disclosure of all of the assets of these orders,” he said. “This should include assets held abroad. The Taoiseach should seek such a full disclosure in his meeting with the congregations next week and if it is not forthcoming should initiate a mechanism to secure it.

“The relevant Ministers should also agree to consult with the groups representing the victims and survivors of institutional child abuse in framing the substantive motion which will be debated over two days in the Dail the week after next.”

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