Vatican’s envoy accuses Irish government of mishandling compensation

Archbishop claims religious orders have paid $450m to Magdalene compensation fund

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi: Accused the Government of “mishandling” money paid to Magdalene laundries victims. Photograph: EPA/Salvatore Di Nolfi

In what may have been a moment of confusion, the Vatican’s permanent representative at the UN in Geneva yesterday accused the Government of “mishandling” money paid by way of compensation to Magdalene laundries victims.

Appearing before the UN's Committee Against Torture, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was asked by US human rights activist Felice Gaer if any such compensation had been paid.

Archbishop Tomasi replied: “With regard to the Magdalene [victims], we have already answered this question at the Committee for the Rights of the Child [four months ago], but just for your information, you should know that the four religious orders of nuns involved have contributed $440 million to the [Irish] government to take care of the victims of that situation.

“In part, the government has mishandled that money and they came back to ask for more money, so some of the orders then said, ‘We don’t want to pay any more money because it is not going to be used properly’. That is what I know at this point.”


Archbishop Tomasi may have confused contributions made by a number of religious congregations to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (industrial schools for children) with non-existent contributions to a Magdalene compensatory scheme.

Department of Justice
Last night, the Department of Justice confirmed that the four orders involved in the running of the Magdalene laundries – the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Charity – had contributed in relation to institutions and industrial schools run by them for children.

“To the best of our knowledge,” the department added, “these contributions were committed before the McAleese [Magdalene] committee even started its work and it has never been suggested to us by the congregations concerned that such contributions were in any way linked to the Magdalene scheme.”

Furthermore, the four orders have all at different times publicly declined to contribute to any proposed Magdalene compensation scheme.

After Archbishop Tomasi had made similar comments about compensation payments to the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child in January, Minister of Justice Alan Shatter wrote to the Holy See seeking further “clarification”.

If a certain confusion between one Irish church scandal/report (Ryan) and another one (Magdalene Laundries) is understandable, it is remarkable that, at a distance of four months, the Holy See has repeated its (albeit genuine) error. In theory, two United Nations committees now believe the Magdalene victims have all been well compensated – whereas this is not the case at all.

Vatican line
Also asked yesterday about the alleged failure of "an Irish papal nuncio" (Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto in 2006) to co-operate with the Murphy commission, Archbishop Tomasi repeated the oft-used Vatican line that the request for information had not been made "in a proper way . . . through diplomatic channels".

In his submission, Archbishop Tomasi also admitted the vast scale of the clerical sex abuse problem, pointing out that since 2004, 848 abuser priests had been defrocked and another 2,572 had been subjected to “disciplinary sanctions”.

Since 1950, he added, the US Catholic Church alone had paid out $2.5 billion in compensation to sex abuse victims, saying there was no data available which would indicate the average worldwide compensation payment to victims.