Abuse survivors "deserve to be believed, loved and cherished – not isolated or seen as a threat", the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Eamon Martin, has said, speaking on the eve of a meeting in the Vatican on child protection.
The archbishop said he knew nothing he could say could “undo the terrible wrong” abuse survivors had endured, “but I once more commit to doing all I can to ensure that church activities are as safe as possible for children and vulnerable people”.
“As I journey to Rome I realise that you are precious members of the body of Christ – you always have been and always will be,” he said.
As president of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Dr Martin will be attending this week’s four-day meeting at the Vatican on the protection of minors in the church, from Thursday to Sunday. Its purpose is to draw the attention of up to 200 bishops and religious superiors worldwide to the necessity for child safeguarding.
As part of his preparations for the Vatican talks Dr Martin has been meeting many abuse survivors face to face throughout Ireland in recent weeks. He has also received feedback in writing from survivors and the laity on their expectations of this week’s meeting.
‘Hurt and violated’
In a message to survivors as he set off for Rome, he said he had “heard about how you were hurt and violated, and about how your young lives were turned into a nightmare by people who betrayed the sacred trust that you and your families had placed in them”.
“I am truly sorry for what was done to you.”
He “learned also about how abuse devastated your confidence in yourself and others, your relationships, your family, and in some cases your spiritual, emotional, mental and physical wellbeing”.
“Abuse broke your heart and spirit and sometimes you couldn’t tell anyone for years,” he said.
“And then – when all you wanted was to be believed and supported by the church, and your abuser to be stopped from harming others – there were too many failures to listen, to understand and to do what was right and just. I am truly sorry for these failures.”
He continued: “No wonder many of you find it difficult to forgive.”
“You are still shocked by every new revelation which reopens your wounds and makes you feel the church still hasn’t learned or fully understood.”
Some survivors he met asked “for prayers, and for the church to openly express atonement and say ‘sorry’”.
“You rightly demand complete transparency and prompt co-operation with police and statutory authorities,” he said.
“You expect us to maintain robust efforts and standards for the protection of children, to continue to fully involve lay women and men in deciding and overseeing best practice, to independently audit our progress so that we never become complacent.”