Child sex abuse survivors issue cautious welcome to new pope

Humility and humanity of Francis encouraging, says One in Four support group founder

Colm O’Gorman, the founder of the One in Four organisation that supports clerical sex abuse victims in Ireland, said the emergence of Pope Francis on the balcony in St Peter’s Square had evoked ‘a spark of hope’ in him. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Colm O’Gorman, the founder of the One in Four organisation that supports clerical sex abuse victims in Ireland, said the emergence of Pope Francis on the balcony in St Peter’s Square had evoked ‘a spark of hope’ in him. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 


Colm O’Gorman, the founder of the One in Four organisation that supports clerical sex abuse victims in Ireland, said the emergence of Pope Francis on the balcony in St Peter’s Square had evoked “a spark of hope” in him.

“There was a humility and a humanity about it that was intriguing and encouraging,” he said.

“We don’t know enough about this man yet but one would hope we are facing into a period of more humility, more humanity and more openness – that’s what we should at least hope for.”

Describing the new pontiff’s task as “enormous”, Mr O’Gorman said that at the same time, what was required was “not complex”.

“What he needs to do is acknowledge the truth. We need to see a frank, open and honest acknowledgment of the global cover-up of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide and the Vatican’s role in that.

“The organisation must subject itself to appropriate scrutiny and oversight and put in place meaningful child protection practice that is enforced across the world with the same vigour as that with which the cover-up was enforced. That’s incredibly important.”

Tom Hayes, secretary of the Alliance Victim Support Group, established in 1999 to meet the needs of individuals abused as children in Ireland’s State-run residential institutions, said his initial reaction was a positive one.

“Jesuits are powerful thinkers,” he said. “They are very strong individuals and I believe that, hopefully, this man will be able to tackle the child sex abuse issue within the church and deal with the congregations who have borne the brunt of a great deal of criticism, particularly within Ireland.”

He said Pope Francis’s apparent reluctance to indulge in pomp and glamour boded well for the Catholic Church.

“He is someone who is quite frugal within his own living and that is something that will bring some new thinking into the way the church hopefully might look in the future.”

He added: “I am hopeful, however, that he will bring to bear strong views as to how the church should act and behave towards the issue of child sex abuse.”

Campaigner and abuse survivor Andrew Madden said he was surprised by the election of Pope Francis. “He wasn’t somebody on my radar in terms of somebody who had commented on child sex abuse within the church or the church’s handling of it,” he said.

“We have to wait and see how he handles the issue going forward and what he has to say. It would be very odd if he didn’t acknowledge the issue. How he handles further allegations and members of the hierarchy involved in cover-ups will be one to watch.”

Mr Madden was critical of the new pope on issues such as homosexuality and gay marriage. “He seems to have been very conservative around homosexuals and marriage equality, which is a disappointing attitude.”

Campaigner Marie Collins, who was sexually abused by a priest at the age of 13, said she would have to wait and see what stance Pope Francis adopts on the issue of clerical sex abuse.

“We will have to see if he will follow his predecessor or make bishops accountable for their actions. He has a huge task in front of him. The child abuse crisis is still ongoing even if people want to think it has passed.”

She added, however, that he “appears to be a humble man", which was “very welcome”.

“It will be his actions, however, that will be important to most people – and certainly to abuse survivors.”