From top: Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin outside the offices of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Maynooth, Co Kildare, last month as details were published for the World Meeting of Families 2018 and the visit of Pope Francis; Anne Marie Crean
The abuse of children within the Roman Catholic Church is a global pandemic. Pope Francis’s apology fails to acknowledge the “abandoned” children who experienced not only sexual abuse, but systematic physical violence, denigration, neglect and emotional abuse in a variety of residential institutions.
If the apology was to be wholly sincere, the Vatican should have considered that victims of institutional child abuse in Ireland, Canada and Australia who experienced multiple forms of abuse including violence and neglect which is not historical for them but a daily lived reality.
The Apology should have acknowledged the abuse and suffering of women who not only experienced abuse but also the loss of their children.
Ultimately, The Pope’s Apology, is not only inadequate it is utterly futile unless proper recourse, accountability and transparency are adhered to in dealing with all aspects of abuse within the Catholic Church.
Apologising for past untimeliness in dealing with child sexual abuse not only diminishes the experiences of victims of other forms of abuse but also the lifelong consequences of such experiences.
Pope Francis’s apology to victims of sexual abuse in Chile earlier this year for comments he made regarding their allegations of a Church cover-up, is indicative of a Church not ready to actively deal with sexual abuse or to emphatically and compassionately respond to victims.
Many victims have died without a credible apology from the Church.
For decades the Catholic Church utilised its own internal institutional policies and procedures with regards to allegations of abuse. It leaned on its own resources of authority, power and influence to ensure that allegations of abuse were denied, victims silenced, and abusers moved from diocese to diocese, institution to institution, community to community and even country to country.
The sexual abuse of children by clergy was considered by the Church to be a ‘moral failure’ rather than a criminal offence.
The same level of care and protection was not afforded to individuals the Church deemed to have ‘morally strayed’: women in Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene Laundries and children in residential institutions, for example.
Religious orders in Ireland, despite knowing the scale of abuse that took place in industrial and reformatory schools, were indemnified in the 2002 deal with the State.
For the most part these orders denied allegations of abuse made by victims at the Redress Board, resulting in additional hurt for many.
Some of the agreed financial contribution under the 2002 agreement between State and religious orders has still not been received by the State.
Moreover, religious orders still owe funding to the survivor support service Caranua.
The Catholic Church exercised its power with regards to the Ryan Commission when one religious order took High Court proceedings against the naming of alleged and convicted abusers, resulting in them being provided the protection of pseudonyms in the Ryan Report.
An investigative piece by journalist Michael O’Farrell concluded that a particular religious order had provided inaccurate information to the Ryan Commission, outlining that no allegations of sexual abuse were made prior to 1996.
The order also informed the Health Board that a particular brother was no longer providing services to children.
According to O’Farrell this was in fact untrue as one individual who had a number of allegations made against him since the 1980’s and who was involved in the Redress scheme, continued to operate a centre for children in Malawai until he was removed from his position in 2012.
The 2017 annual report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) notes not only an increase of 29% in allegations of abuse against diocesan clerics and religious of the previous year, but that three of the alleged abusers named were working with children at the time of said allegations.
While Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland creates a platform to examine Church abuses, let us not forget the role of the State, and in particular the Department of Education in the facilitation of abuse and neglect in the Industrial and Reformatory Schools through its abdication of responsibility for safeguarding children, and also its role in legislation that has resulted in a further level of protection for abusers in the Church.
Although it had the power to ensure mandatory reporting of all allegations of abuse disclosed to the Redress Board and the Ryan Commission the State ensured that neither the Redress Board or Ryan Commission were legally obliged to report alleged abusers to the relevant investigative authorities.
Reports by the NBSCCI conducted on religious orders regularly discuss legislative prohibitions in assessing information on alleged abusers as well as the action of the order in response to the abuse disclosed at the Redress Board and Ryan Commission.
Since 2011 the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) has repeatedly asked the Irish State to investigate allegations of abuse disclosed to the Ryan Commission and has queried why there has been only one prosecution to date.
There should be mandatory reporting of all alleged abusers regardless of the time and date of when the abuse occurred.
The State and Church together need to transparently examine child protection practices. This begins with the Church making available all files and information on all alleged abusers to investigative bodies and with the State removing all legal barriers to accessing information received by the Redress Board and Ryan Commission.