McAleese says abuses a 'millstone'


The abuse of children in some institutions run by religious orders is a “millstone of biblical proportions” in Irish history, President Mary McAleese said today.

Addressing a conference in Dublin organised by the Sisters of Charity, one of the orders under whose care children were abused, Mrs McAleese also paid tribute to the order for the positive work achieved by its members.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, a member of the order, delivered an apology today at the conference to those who were abused in the care of the sisters.

She said members were ashamed, shocked and horrified by the physical and sexual abuse of children. Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme, St Stanislaus said she had not personally been aware of any such abuses when she worked at institutions in Kilkenny where they took place.

The conference at Dublin Castle today celebrates the life of Mary Aikenhead, who founded of the Sisters of Charity in 1815.

“It would be impossible to fully do justice or to quantify the many people whose lives were enhanced and helped by the Sisters of Charity and it is important to acknowledge the contribution made over almost two centuries,” Mrs McAleese said.

“But there is a candle burning here today, lit earlier this morning when you held a minute’s silence in commemoration of those whose childhood experiences of institutional abuse are so graphically set out in the Ryan report [the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse].

“Some of that suffering happened to children in the care of the Sisters of Charity. It is a sad chapter in your order’s history and indeed in Irish history, a millstone of biblical proportions and one that calls for Mary Aikenhead’s resilience, determination, humility and focus in the journey of amending and healing which lies ahead.”

The president said today’s conference focused not on the foundress herself but on the “difficult time we are living through economically and the downstream consequences for issues of social justice”.

“There are those who have lost jobs, who face high levels of personal debt, who are terrified of tomorrow and the next day because of the bills they cannot pay and the hopes of their children that they cannot fulfil.”

She called for people to make a stand “in the name of justice” against the “scapegoating and stereotyping” of people who had come to Ireland in recent years from other countries to make a new life here and said they faced the same worries as their Irish neighbours.

Mrs McAleese also noted the work of those engaged in caring for the homeless, the poor and other marginalised groups.

“In these tough times the organisations which deal with the poor and the marginalised are seeing the emergence of a new poor who are often baffled by the sudden change in their fortunes and embarrassed by their inability to cope like they used to do.

“We know that this moment will pass, that we will return our country to a sound financial footing and to prosperity.”

“We will face down this testing period as we faced down many a crisis before but between the problem and its resolution there will be difficult territory to cross and there will be real suffering and hardship for some.”