Fumbling In The Church’s Greasy Till


Ruairi Quinn has written a column for today’s Irish Examiner criticising religious congregations for dragging their heels on paying 50% of the compensation costs to residential abuse victims.

Under the 2002 Indemnity Act, signed by 18 congregations, the church agreed to pay €127million to victims.

But this was before a true picture of the full level of abuse, which is still being uncovered, was laid bare.

Mr Quinn believes the total bill is likely to reach €1.47billion.

He writes: “There may be no strict legal obligation on the congregations to do so. But I believe there is a moral obligation. However, there has been no general acceptance by the congregations that they should meet a 50% share.”

In the same paper, Conor Ryan writes that some of the orders want the church’s costs to be split between the institutions – according to the level of abuse carried out by each.

However: “This has not been possible. Legal advice has been sought by the Government about the confidentiality clauses attached to the Residential Institutions Redress Board.”

The article also refers to a meeting between Minister Quinn and the orders from July 2011, before which Minister Quinn was warned “the unity that existed when the 18 orders signed the indemnity deal in 2002 was no longer in place”.

But how likely is it that the orders would allow for the compensation bill to be divided on the basis of the abuse carried out per institution?

This would require absolute transparency on behalf of the church?

And where’s the incentive as more transparency would likely lead to a higher bill?

A look at the volatile history between the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) and the church illustrates the church’s attitude towards transparency.

Last month Justine McCarthy, of The Sunday Times, revealed Bishop of Down and Conor Noel Treanor, who is tipped to take over from Cardinal Sean Brady, had made a complaint against the head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, Ian Elliott in the Summer of 2011.

The complaint centred on allegations that Mr Elliott engaged in negative spin about bishops, or gave “off the record” information to journalists, that was critical of the church.

The Sunday Times reported that a third party made the claims to Bishop Treanor, a formal complaint was made and a subsequent investigation carried out by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness found no proof behind the allegations and Bishop Treanor apologised to Mr Elliott.

A year before this, in May 2011, NBSC had released 2010 annual report, via the Communications Clinic, which was scathing of the church and found 272 allegations of abuse were made to the board between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011.

These included 166 allegations against members of religious orders and missionary societies, and 106 against diocesan priests.

The report showed the church withheld 219 allegations from the NBSC until the last minute.

Mr Elliott was very vocal about the non-cooperation on the part of the church groups involved – Bishops Conference, CORI and Irish Missionary Union.

The claims of non-cooperation also seemed to stem from the idea that the church was using a legal issue of data protection to prolong, delay and avoid, if not block, certain inquiries.

There were reports Mr Elliott had been on verge of quitting during the previous year because the Bishops Conference, CORI and IMU had brought up this legal ‘obstacle’.

The following month, it was reported Bishop Treanor released a letter to be read out to mass-goers to address the ‘negative’ coverage of NBSC’s criticism of the church in the media.

On June 30, Mr McGarry wrote that some senior figures within the church were still not co-operating with the NBSC.

On July 5, separately, Mr McGarry wrote another article about Minister Quinn’s battle to get more money from the church for the redress compensation scheme and noted how some church groups were putting properties into trusts.

On July 7, Mr McGarry linked the two stories wrote “Foot-dragging on the part of church authorities in contributing to redress costs for people abused in institutions run by them is reflected in those authorities’ lack of co-operation with their own internal audit of child protection practices”.

On July 9, Mr McGarry wrote another article about the NBSC but this time it centred on a statement from the NBSC, via The Communications Clinic, stating that the NBSC “has experienced no refusal to co-operate by bishops”.

Mr McGarry wrote: “Last night’s statement, issued on behalf of the board by the Communications Clinic company, said it “noted the news report of June 30th in The Irish Times, and subsequent article of July 7th, making the point ‘that some Catholic bishops were still refusing to co-operate with the Church’s own audit into child protection practices in its dioceses’”.

However, on July 16 – a few days after the Cloyne Report was released – in a complete U-turn, Mr McGarry wrote another article which quoted NBSC chief Ian Elliott as saying some bishops were still not committed to best practices when it came to child safety.

Mr McGarry wrote: “Ian Elliott, chief executive of the church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children, said “the vast majority” of Catholic bishops and religious superiors were very much committed” to implementing strong practices. But “there are still a few who have not yet arrived at that position”.

An editorial in today’s Irish Examiner notes: “The organisation seems to have a death wish and a desire to squander whatever little credibility it had left.”