The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has clashed with the religious orders involved in child abuse over the amount they are willing to contribute towards compensating victims. Eighteen Catholic congregations defied calls from Cardinal Sean Brady to be more generous in their dealings with those who suffered abuse.
Pressure has been building on the Catholic hierarchy to do something about the grossly disproportionate burden that the Irish taxpayer has to shoulder in a controversial compensation or “redress” scheme for thousands of victims. But the religious orders said last night that they would not renegotiate the deal after Cardinal Brady, who is also bishop of Ireland’s largest diocese, asked them to revisit the terms of the compensation.
Last week the conclusions of the nine-year Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, headed by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, were published, and Dermot Ahern, the Irish Justice Minister, said yesterday that a senior garda officer was examining the report to see whether criminal charges could be laid. The report identifies about 800 abusers, among them nuns, priests and monks, principally members of the Christian Brothers. Only a handful have been prosecuted and convicted.
Pope Benedict XVI will also be briefed on the report.
Under the 2002 compensation deal 18 religious congregations agreed to pay £127 million — most of it in the form of buildings and land — in return for indemnity against further claims against them. The Government agreed to meet the remaining costs, which have since spiralled to about €1.3 billion. (£1.1 billion).
Public anger over the deal has increased. Thousands of people have queued to sign a “solidarity” book at Mansion House, Dublin, with some signatories angrily declaring that the guilty priests, nuns and monks who raped and tortured children in their care for decades should be hunted down “like Nazis”.
Sensing the rapidly growing public mood of anger, senior members of the clergy have been urging the religious orders to do more. Those appeals appeared to have fallen on deaf ears last night, when the congregations issued a statement saying that while they “accepted the gravity” of the Ryan report they would not do what Cardinal Brady and others have urged.
A statement from the orders said: “Rather than reopening the terms of the agreement reached with Government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously while in our care. We must find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting them.”
The Conference of the Religious in Ireland (Cori), which represents 138 religious congregations and which negotiated the 2002 redress scheme, issued a separate statement last night, saying that it supports the 18 congregations in their efforts to find “the best and most appropriate ways forward”.
“All of us accept with humility that massive mistakes were made and grave injustices were inflicted on very vulnerable children. No excuse can be offered for what has happened,” the Cori statement said.
Earlier in the day Cardinal Brady said of the 2002 deal: “It should be revisited and take into consideration the potential of people to pay and above all the needs of the victims — we have to keep coming back to that.”
Ireland is still reeling from the horrific details contained in Judge Ryan’s report, which includes testimony from victims who were forced to lick excrement from the boots of Christian Brothers.
Clearly masking his disappointment at the refusal of the religious orders to heed his call, Cardinal Brady told RTÉ, the state broadcaster, last night: “Obviously more speaking will have to be done to clarify the reasons behind the agreement and what steps can be taken to revisit that.”
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin went much farther when he issued a thinly veiled warning to the religious orders that they did not seem to appreciate the depth of public anger. “The religious congregations should look now at what has emerged and ask themselves is that the picture that we understood nine years ago?” he said.
“If the thing is much worse than they admitted to at that stage, then they have to look at the consequences. Pointing, telling them what to do, won’t be the answer. They have to, themselves, own up and do some heart searching about the horrors that were there.”
The report that sparked a scandal
• The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established by the Irish Government in May 2000 after a television series revealed cases of abuse in Catholic children’s institutions across the country
• More than 30,000 children deemed to be thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families — a category including those with unmarried mothers — were sent to schools where the abuse took place
• Abuses also took place at 216 other church-run institutions for children — orphanages, hostels, non-residential schools and schools for the disabled
• The commission’s report ran to 2,500 pages and cost €10 million
• It included statements from 2,500 people who claimed to have suffered abuse. The cases dated from 1916 and only a few had a full hearing
• A government panel has paid 12,000 abuse survivors, who surrender the right to sue Church or State, an average of €65,000 each. About 2,000 claims are pending
Sources: Times Archive, The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse