Congregations rule out revisiting abuse deal

 

The 18 congregations that signed the controversial deal with the Government in 2002 to compensate victims of abuse in institutions said this evening they would not renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

The move by the congregations comes despite increasing public pressure and a call this morning by the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady that the deal should be revisited.

The 2002 agreement between the congregations and the State indemnified the religious orders from all redress claims made by victims in exchange for payments and property transfers totalling €127 million. The total bill for the redress scheme is likely to be about €1.3 billion.

Following a meeting in Dublin this morning the congregations said this evening they “accepted the gravity” of the abuse detailed in the Ryan report last week. However, the statement added: “Rather than re-opening the terms of the agreement reached with Government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously while in our care. We must find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting them.”

The statement said the group would meeting in the coming days to “explore the detail of our responses”.

The Conference of the Religious in Ireland (Cori), which represents 138 religious congregations, said in a statement this evening that it supports the 18 congregations in their efforts to find “the best and most appropriate ways forward”.

“All of us accept with humility that massive mistakes were made and grave injustices were inflicted on very vulnerable children. No excuse can be offered for what has happened,” the Cori statement said.

Meanwhile, the Standing Committee of the Irish Bishops' Conference welcomed the publication of report from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, desccribing it as a significant step in establishing the truth and enabling the voices of survivors of abuse to be heard.

The bishops issued an apology to those who had suffered abuse while in Catholic-run industrial and reformatory schools.

"To properly address past failures, and to safeguard children today, the whole Church needs to analyse how and why such an abusive environment was allowed to develop and become endemic. Our ongoing response must support survivors of abuse and promote a civilisation of love for children so that they can receive the best possible care and protection," the statement said.

"We will carefully reflect on the report and discuss its findings and recommendations more fully at the June general meeting of bishops."

Gardaí are to investigate whether charges can be brought. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern told RTÉ that the assistant Garda commissioner will go through the report to see if there is anything further that can be done.

Cardinal Seán Brady had earlier said the 2002 deal should be revisited and said any new deal should bear in mind the needs of victims.

"It should be revisited and taken into consideration the potential of people to pay and above all the needs of the victims - we have to keep coming back to that," he said.

Cardinal Brady was speaking in Maynooth where bishops are meeting to discuss plans for their three-day summer meeting next month and to consider their response to the report of the Commission on Child Abuse published last week.

His comments echo those made by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, who has called on Catholic religious congregations to make a “new gesture of recognition” of the abuse carried out in institutions they ran.

In today’s Irish Times, Dr Martin described as “stunning” the fact that implementation of a redress agreement made with the State seven years ago has yet to be fully completed.

Labour Party spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte said the congregations' decision was a "calculated snub" to public opinion and a "further insult" to those who were abused, neglected and exploited in the institutions controlled by the organisations.

"It is now clear that there is overwhelming public support for reopening the irresponsible deal concluded on behalf of the then government by Dr Michael Woods on his final day in office as Minister for Education in 2002," he said.

"The Religious Congregations are already out of step with the Diocesan Bishops and it is clear that if they persist with this attitude they will find themselves isolated from the rest of Irish society."

The former Labour Party leader said the Government could not accept the decision and called on the Taoiseach to publicly invite them to meet and discuss the deal.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley today hinted that progress could be made on increasing the amount of money the church will contribute to the compensation scheme to victims of abuse.

Speaking this morning, Mr Gormley said “I think that if the contracting parties both agree to reopen, then we can make progress”.

He said: “In relation to legalities it’s not clear yet because the AG [Attorney General] has to brief the Cabinet and he will do so tomorrow.

“We do need to bring closure to this very difficult chapter in our history.”

Mr Gormely said he welcomed Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin’s comments in this morning’s Irish Timesas “a new development and a sign of progress”.

“It sounds to me from what Diarmuid Martin and others have said there could be some movement and I would welcome that.”

Mr Gormley was critical of the 2002 deal and said it seemed the State was left “carrying the overwhelming burden of it”.

Addressing the religious congregations who ran institutions criticised in the Child Abuse Commission report, Dr Martin said: “The fact that the mechanisms of fulfilling your side of that agreement have not yet been brought to completion is stunning,” he writes.

“There may have been legal difficulties, but they are really a poor excuse after so many years.

“Whatever happens with regards to renegotiating that agreement, you cannot just leave things as they are.

“There are many ways in which substantial financial investment in supporting survivors and their families can be brought about, perhaps in creative ways which would once again redeem your own charism as educators of the poor.

“In many ways it is your last chance to render honour to charismatic founders and to so many good members of your congregations who feel tarnished,” Dr Martin writes.