US watchdog preparing report on child abuse

 

AN AMERICAN watchdog group says it is preparing an American version of the Ryan report to document the abuse of children and young adults in institutions run by religious orders in the United States.

It says it is also building a pair of databases that will name Irish priests and religious who abused minors in Ireland.

Officials at BishopAccountability.org, the Boston-based group that grew out of the scandal of the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by priests that rocked the US Catholic Church seven years ago, said they were inspired to compile evidence of institutional abuse at some 1,000 institutions across the United States after reading the Ryan report.

Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, said the Catholic Church in the US was modelled on the Irish Catholic Church. Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century, the vast majority of priests in the US were Irish. To this day, about two-thirds of American bishops are of Irish descent.

“The Irish story is our story in America, too,” said Mr McKiernan, whose grandfather left Leitrim for Harlem.

Officials at BishopAccountability.org said they doubt their report will be as exhaustive as the Ryan report. “We do not have the resources of the Ryan commission, but we will try to emulate what they did,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org.

“In the United States, there has been a lot of attention paid to the abuse carried out by diocesan priests and covered up by bishops. The Ryan report made us realise that we have not had a similar accounting of the abuse at orphanages, boarding schools and minor seminaries run by religious orders in the US.”

Mr McKiernan said the US court system and what he called the dramatic decline of official and societal deference toward religious institutions had led to far more information about the sexual abuse by priests and religious being put into the public domain. But he said Ireland was “way ahead of the United States” in compiling evidence about the abuse of minors in institutional settings.

Mr McKiernan said that, in addition to using court records, news accounts and the statements of victims to document the extent of abuse that occurred in those institutions, his group has two separate initiatives. One involves building a database to name priests and religious who abused minors in Ireland and later moved or fled to America. The other is building a database that will name and shame priests and religious.

“If there was one glaring weakness of the Ryan report, it was that abusers were not named, for whatever reason,” said Mr McKiernan. “When we are finished, Irish survivors and all Irish people will be able to see the abusers identified by name, and the enablers of those abusers will be known.”

Mr McKiernan said he hoped that Irish people, and especially Irish media, would use his organisation’s website, www.bishopaccountability.org, as a resource.

“As we saw in America, whenever abusers were named, more survivors came forward,” he said. “The victims had been told they were the only one, or they believed they were the only one.”

Ms Barrett Doyle said her organisation spends a lot of time doing the mundane work of compiling evidence, and sorting through reams of court documents, but she said it has a hands-on, human dimension as well.

“We have had hundreds of thousands of documents donated to us, but we also get contacted by survivors,” she said. “Just recently, we heard from two men who were at an institution near Boston but didn’t know each other.

“The abuse they suffered was similar. We’re in the process of having them meet each other, which they very much want to do.”