Leo Varadkar says Government ‘cannot seize church lands’
‘It is not in the power of the Government to confiscate anyone’s property,’ says Minister
Leo Varadkar said several religious orders had “made significant contributions already” but others had not.
A referendum on giving the Government powers to seize lands owned by the Catholic Church in order to recoup a shortfall in payments for abuse victims would probably be lost, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar was speaking after Minister for Health Simon Harris said there would be “significant merit” in seizing hospital and school property in light of a report which showed shortcomings in the church’s contribution to a redress scheme for those abused in Catholic institutions.
Mr Harris called on the Vatican and Irish church leaders pressurise religious orders to pay half the cost of the scheme, which the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) found had hit €1.5 billion at the end of 2015, with just €192 million coming from the church.
Mr Varadkar said there was a constitutional impediment to seizing lands in order to try to make up the shortfall even though “the Government is really determined” to ensure as much as possible is recovered.
Cost of Child Abuse Inquiry and Redress report
“Governments can only operate within the law. In our Constitution there are enshrined property rights and it is not in the power of the Government to confiscate anyone’s property,” he said. “I don’t think if we had a referendum on that there would be any chance of it passing.”
Mr Varadkar said several religious orders had “made significant contributions already” but others had not.
He said the Government had moral authority to put pressure on the religious institutions, particularly those with assets and money “to hand over more and hand it over quicker”.
Meanwhile, the Association of Catholic Priests has declined to comment on the C&AG report about the contributions by religious orders.
A spokesman for the association said the matter was “outside” its remit. The association’s membership comprises mainly diocesan/secular priests, but it also includes priests who are members of religious congregations.
Such clerical congregations are among the 18 who have contributed to date to the redress scheme. They include the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who managed the St Conleth’s Reformatory School for Boys at Daingean, Co Offaly.
The Oblates said they had “honoured in full commitments to make a voluntary cash contribution towards redress, following publication of the Ryan Report” in May 2009. It had “immediately responded and committed to a payment of €20 million” with the amounts paid in cash in 2013.