Bishops express shame over awful litany of abuse


THE CATHOLIC bishops have expressed shame and repentance over “a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long”.

Speaking at a press conference in Maynooth last night, as the summer meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference was coming to an end, Catholic primate Cardinal Séan Brady asked for forgiveness.

“We are ashamed, humbled and repentant that our people strayed so far from their Christian ideals. For this we ask forgiveness,” he said.

In a joint statement the bishops said: “The Ryan report represents the most recent disturbing indictment of a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long. Heinous crimes were perpetrated against the most innocent and vulnerable, and vile acts with life-lasting effects were carried out under the guise of the mission of Jesus Christ. This abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust which was placed in the Church.”

They spoke of their “heavy sadness” at the suffering of so many for so long and invited survivors to engage with them “to see how we can assist those who have been abused”. They also wished “to respond as pastors despite the inadequacies at times of our previous pastoral responses”.

Cardinal Brady said the bishops did not want to presume what would be said when they meet victims’ groups, until they had met and listened to them. “We want to chart a way forward,” he said.

Bishop Eamonn Walsh, auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, rejected suggestions that in negotiations prior to the 2002 redress agreement between the State and 18 religious congregations, the bishops had sought to extend that agreement to cover altar boys.

He said the bishop had discussed with State officials the possibility of extending the redress scheme to include those abused at schools and Magdalene laundries, but that “a certain individual in the Department of Education made the outrageous suggestion that we intended that they include altar servers”, he said. This was not the case. A report on this matter appeared in The Irish Times on March 8th, 2003, based on documents released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

As regards the future of the relevant congregations Archbishop Dermot Martin said “they belong within the church”.

What they now needed, he said was “a process of discernment, repentance, conversion and renewal, and why they drifted away from their [vocation]”.

There was also a need “to look at what Irish society was like then . . . how is it that we treated huge numbers of children who had no other fault than perhaps being born out of wedlock? How did we do that and where were the investigative journalists of day”?

Asked about a recent description of some Christian Brothers as “the dregs of society” by Fr Vincent Twomey, former professor of moral theology at Maynooth, Archbishop Martin said: “I don’t use that language . . . truth doesn’t need polemics.”

He continued “the church has to look at its responsibility in the context of the culture of the time . . . all the children passed through the judicial system”.

He recalled the Ryan report’s account of how Artane chaplain Fr Henry Moore had been badly treated by a Dáil committee. The priest had prepared a damning report on Artane in 1962.

Department of Justice official Peter Berry was quoted in the Ryan report as having said he had never seen a citizen of Ireland treated so badly by a public official, Archbishop Martin said.

The bishops also discussed the role of Catholic schools in society in the wake of the publication of the report, noting that “there have been calls from politicians and in the media for the Catholic Church to be removed from the provision of primary education”.

Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chair of the Bishops’ Education Commission, reiterated the church’s commitment to the provision of Catholic schools. Emphasising that the church was also prepared to engage with the State and other partners in education when it came to addressing diversity in education, he pointed out that it was parents and communities who wanted Catholic schools.

Reports yesterday addressed the intransigence of Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) representatives in negotiations with the State prior to the 2002 redress agreement. Details of how tough those negotiations became were reported in The Irish Times on September 29th, 2003, based on documents released under the FOI.

It was recorded then too that at a meeting with State officials on February 7th, 2001, Cori expressed the view that as a low burden of proof was being sought prior to redress, this should mean a lower contribution from them.