Bishop says report reveals church's 'shameful betrayal of sacred trust'


CONFERENCE SPEECH:THE CHURCH’s failure to protect those in its care, as highlighted in the report on child abuse at State-run institutions, was a “shameful betrayal of a sacred trust”, a conference on the role of the Catholic Church in primary education heard yesterday.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly was speaking at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick at a conference on Catholic Primary Education in Contemporary Ireland: Facing New Horizons.

In an address on the experience of providing Catholic primary education in contemporary Ireland, Dr O’Reilly welcomed the publication of the report.

“The litany of abuse perpetrated on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable makes for appalling reading. Children are to be loved and cherished and the church’s failure to protect those in its care was a shameful betrayal of a sacred trust. Establishing the truth of what happened is crucial and the report contributes to that goal. Victims deserve justice and support to help bring about healing,” he said.

An issue that had been raised in the media, he said, was whether society should “look to change a system where so much of the educational and care provision for our children is farmed out to organisations who are unaccountable”. This is not true, he said. “School patrons, whether Catholic or otherwise, are fully accountable to the law of the land.”

Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray also referred to the report when he said the revelations showed how the vision of hope portrayed in Catholic teaching can be “betrayed and deformed”.

“Enormous and lasting damage [was] done, not least the obscuring for so many children the vision of hope which Catholic education exists to share,” he added.

Dr Murray described the details of the report as “horrifying” and expressed his sympathy with all the victims. “We must try to offer hope and healing. However unworthy and broken these events make us feel, they do not weaken the truth of the vision of hope,” he continued.

Dr Murray described Catholic education in Ireland as a “precious heritage” but admitted there were challenges ahead. “Parents who want a Catholic education for their children should as far as possible have it available. Other parents should also have the choice of the kind of school they wish to have for their children,” he said.

“There was a long struggle to have any kind of Catholic education in Ireland. Generations of people invested time, money and energy in order that that would happen,” he added.

According to Dr Murray, population trends and finance were among the challenges facing Catholic education.

“Especially in large centres with several schools, there may be a painful recognition that some existing schools are no longer viable as Catholic schools,” he said.

Dr Murray also said that removing religion from education was not the solution. “I think sometimes people have the idea that if you take religion out it will satisfy everyone. It won’t. The idea that this is neutral is an illusion. It only suits those who don’t think religion has a place in education,” he said.