Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I thank the House for the invitation to speak in this debate on the Cloyne report. This debate is important because it allows this House to register and commend the bravery of all those individuals who came forward and told the commission of their experiences. Without their crucial input we would not have a report of such detail and quality. I hope they will find some measure of comfort in the response to the report to ensure that experiences such as theirs are never repeated, especially within an organisation that has preached and preaches love, friendship and respect, but, unfortunately, whose practices did not match that which it preached. This debate allows me to reiterate the sincere apologies for the failings of the State as expressed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter and me at the launching of the report.
This is the fourth full-scale investigation into the handling of allegations of child abuse by Church authorities. What is particularly grave about the Cloyne report is that it analyses practices of a Catholic diocese almost to this day. As recently as three years ago, unacceptable practices were being followed by a diocese that misled the State about its approach to the handling of sensitive child abuse allegations which means the damage continued long after it should have ceased. One victim of child abuse who recently wrote to The Irish Times referred to, “old feelings of insecurity, anger, mistrust and disgust”. Chapter 27 of the report bears reading again in this regard. Those words ring true for so many who held on to the belief that wrongs perpetrated against them in the past would surely never be repeated and that the organisation had learned its lessons.
My task is to move beyond examination of the past to a future where children are safe, whether in the family home, at school, in church or engaging in any other activities, formally or informally. The Government is acting with urgency and an absolute determination to bring forward a programme of decisive actions to strengthen the State’s child protection framework.
On behalf of the Government and in conjunction with my colleague, Deputy Shatter, I am engaged in a series of measures designed to enhance child protection. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has published the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Bill 2011. The week before last I published the Children First National Guidance 2011. The guidance provides a robust code for the protection and welfare of children, offering clear direction to individuals, organisations and agencies on what they need to do to keep children safe. I urge people and organisations to familiarise themselves with the guidance. In recognition of the importance of Children First,the HSE will publish an associated child protection and welfare practice handbook, which will assist front-line professionals in the conduct of their duties. These two publications will provide clearer direction and support to front line staff and organisations working with children. They will also set out the respective roles of the statutory agencies responsible for child protection.
I also recently received Government agreement to introduce legislation to require, for the first time, statutory compliance with Children First. This will include a statutory requirement on individuals to report to the relevant authorities in circumstances where, in good faith, they have reasonable concerns about the abuse or neglect of a child. However, as I have emphasised repeatedly, the scope of Children First extends beyond the narrow focus of reporting per se. We do not want to create a reporting culture solely. I propose a much broader-based and comprehensive approach to child protection, laying down the broader responsibilities of organisations which are in contact with or provide services to children. This will include a requirement on sharing information which is so important if we are to protect children. If we are to protect children we need organisations working cohesively and comprehensively together at local level. The need for such requirement was proven again on foot of reports of the Donegal case.
We learned of the shockingly inadequate and inappropriate response by the diocese of Cloyne to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse in the period between 1996 and 2008. The diocese did not comply with the church’s adopted guidelines, nor did it comply with Children First. It is therefore vital that guidance translates into implementation. We must have compliance without exception or exemptions. Never again should someone be allowed to place the protection of the institution or organisation above the protection of children. When it comes to child protection, the days of voluntary compliance are over.
The new legislation I will introduce will provide for a strong system of inspection and oversight. On the need to provide demonstrable evidence that the guidance is being implemented correctly across all sectors, we will also have an assurance framework, setting out the responsibilities of each Department and sector working with children. I will chair an inter-departmental committee to ensure this framework is implemented. We must focus on appropriate management, consistency of response and the creation of a world class model of child protection. In this regard the recruitment of 270 additional child protection social workers is continuing. We expect that 260 of these posts — exempt from the public service recruitment embargo — will be filled by the end of this year. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter and the Department of Justice and Equality, has today published the heads of a Vetting Bill, another very important part of the architecture of child protection and which has been requested for a long time. This Bill will be considered by the committee and the Minister will give more details about the Bill today.
I will soon be in receipt of the long awaited report of the HSE audit of child protection in Roman Catholic dioceses, which should indicate whether all allegations known to church authorities are being properly reported to the State authorities, namely the Garda Síochána and the HSE. I expect the first part of that report in September. In the meantime I have asked the HSE’s national director for children and family services, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, to engage directly with the national board for safeguarding children on a programme of action designed to ensure that the Catholic Church responds properly and comprehensively to all child protection concerns. The church has indicated its wish to co-operate with the statutory authorities and Mr. Jeyes has already made contact with the board.
The Government requires church authorities to evidence a decisive shift to a culture of transparency and public accountability. In that regard, I have called for the publication by the National Board for Safeguarding Children of the audit of each diocese. It is in the church’s interest and in the interest of ensuring child protection guidelines are in place that this be done.  I welcome the call by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, for publication of all audits. We await the response from the board and the bishops to these calls. There may be a preference to publish the reports into several dioceses together.
This debate affords us an opportunity to acknowledge the people who are doing good work in the area of child protection. These include the practitioners in the professional and voluntary sectors, medical professionals, gardaí, youth workers, teachers and coaches throughout the State who already passionately employ best practice in child protection. They understand their duties and do not need legislation to keep children safe. It takes an entire community to protect children, as we have seen from recent cases. There is an onus on everybody who has contact with children to act; it is not simply a matter for front-line social workers or any one professional group. There is a responsibility attaching to a broad sector of the community and all of those who have contact with children in a variety of settings, including voluntary and statutory settings, faith groups and Departments and State agencies. We must have clarity and action across the board. Many of those who are getting it right when it comes to child protection are working within the Catholic Church. In particular, I acknowledge the great deal of positive work done in recent years in the area of child protection by committed lay volunteers.
It is easy to condemn previous generations for not shouting “stop” in the face of the horrors visited on children. However, we can only guess at the spiritual and cultural pressures which led to the deadly silence that pervaded during a century of abuse. That has now changed. Earlier today I attended the launch of a report setting out young people’s own experience in care. This is another group from which we did not hear in the past, but we are now hearing directly about their experiences. The curtain has been pulled back. As we have seen in all of these reports, even when the information is in the public arena, we must continue to be vigilant.
The Taoiseach’s speech last week ended the deadly silence on the issue of child abuse within the church. It was more than a condemnation; it was a call on the church to respond with compassion, demonstrate openness and exemplify best practice. The manner in which the church responds to that call will be its lasting legacy and an indication of how it sees itself being a part of our children’s future. I thank Senators for the opportunity to speak on the report and look forward to their contributions. We have a major task before us to ensure children’s voices are heard and that we put in place a strong and appropriate child protection system which applies to all sectors.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the House and thank her for her contribution. The support for the cross-party motion in the House shows we are all supportive of the Government in its endeavours in regard to child protection. Both church and State must do everything possible to ensure children are provided with the protection they deserve. It is saddening to contemplate the necessity of introducing legislation to provide for mandatory reporting. As a father of a child of almost three years of age, my perspective on life has changed in recent years. Having one’s own child brings the horrors detailed in the Cloyne report close to home. This abuse was visited upon children by people who were trusted and held in high regard. It is sad that the State must legislate for mandatory reporting in order to ensure it happens. People should, in any normal course of events, report any instance in which they suspect a child or vulnerable adult is in danger or is being abused.
Children are central to the well-being of the State and it is to them we will leave our legacy. It is up to us as legislators to ensure they have the protection they deserve. The motto of the school I attended, St. Sylvester’s national school in Malahide, was “I measc na bpáistí a bhfuair mé thú a Íosagáin”. There are thousands of priests and lay people working within the church in Ireland and children are also central to their work. In all our discussions, we must acknowledge, as the Minister did, that as well as those who have let down their church, community and society, there are many good people within the church who have done their best to serve their communities.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, regarding legislation on vetting. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has indicated she will bring forward legislation to place the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, which is crucial. I acknowledge that the previous Government bears a responsibility for the delay in the long-awaited referendum on children’s rights. Will the Minister indicate when she expects to bring that forward? Enshrining child protection in the Constitution is perhaps the most important response we can make to the findings of this and any future reports.
This debate relates specifically to the Cloyne report. I join the Minister in commending the victims who have shown such bravery in interacting with the investigation. It must be terribly difficult for them to do so and we can only hope this is the start of a healing process. There are many people with strongly held religious views who trusted the church and who feel terribly let down by the actions of some of its members. Without taking from the church’s role in these matters, I welcome the Minister’s apology on behalf of the State and the recognition that we, as legislators, have had failings in this area. This is not a political issue; it is incumbent on all of us to work together to ensure these types of abuse never recur.
In that regard, I intend, in co-operation with my colleagues across the House, to keep a watching brief on the issue of child protection. I remain concerned regarding interagency cohesion and how the HSE interacts with the Garda and social support services. I propose that in the new session we might be able to agree, as we have in this instance, a cross-party motion on the State’s response to child protection issues. The church has an absolute responsibility in the matters we are dealing with today, but the State has an equal responsibility on the broader issues of child protection. I hope the Leader and the leaders of the various groups in the House will come together in September to look at these issues, particularly in the context of the proposed referendum on children’s rights. It is perfectly appropriate to examine how the church has failed, as we are doing today, but we must also examine how we, as State legislators, can safeguard all children into the future. I would be grateful if the Minister would give an indication in regard to the date of the referendum.
Senator Terry Leyden: I thank Senator Darragh O’Brien for sharing time. It is important that as many speakers as possible have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I commend the excellent work of Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy, chairperson of the commission of investigation into the Diocese of Cloyne, and her colleagues, Ms Ita Mangan and Mr. Hugh O’Neill, in producing this detailed and comprehensive report. I thank the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for coming to the House for the debate on this extremely important matter.
Members of this House have expressed their sympathy for the victims whose suffering is set out in the report. Nothing will ever compensate them for the sexual abuse they suffered during the period covered by the report, namely, January 1996 to 1 February 2009. Section 1.18 in the overview to the report outlines the reaction of the Vatican to the matter. We all have a responsibility in respect of this issue. The State also has an enormous responsibility. That is why it is extremely important, as Senator Darragh O’Brien indicated, that a date be set in respect of the holding of the referendum. The Minister formerly served as a member of the all-party committee and she took a very active role in its deliberations. Former Members of this House also served on that committee, which was chaired by the former Minister for Education, Mary O’Rourke. The recommendations made by that committee in respect of the vetting agency are being adhered to, in the main, and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is establishing this entity on a statutory basis. In fact, the Minister is complying with most of the all-party committee’s recommendations. The fact that Deputy Fitzgerald has been appointed as a full Cabinet Minister is an indication of the recognition by the Government of the role of children in society. Former Ministers of State previously held positions in the Government.
The leader of my party played an important role in respect of the Ryan report, particularly in the context of his contacts with the papal nuncio. That fact was placed on record at the time but I wish to highlight it again now. I hope there will be a positive response from the Vatican in respect of the Cloyne report. Ireland’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Noel Fahey — an old school friend of mine — has retired and a vacancy exists as a result. I hope there will be a continuation of direct ambassadorial links between the Vatican and Ireland. Such links have played an important role in the past. We should not forget the support the State received in the past — in the context of the international arena — as a result of its contacts with the Vatican.
This matter does not just relate to the clergy, it also involves lay people. The case in Donegal is a typical example of the involvement of lay people. I served as a member of the visiting committee of the Curragh Prison and I came into contact with many people who were in prison as a result of child abuse. I made the point to those individuals that they were charged with a particular responsibility above and beyond all others and that they broke the trust relating to that responsibility. That is why they are being targeted more than others. I am of the view that lay people, parents and anyone else who has been involved in any form of child abuse must serve their sentences. I hope that the cover-up which has obtained in this country for so long will be broken for all time and that children will be placed first.
The revelations contained in the Cloyne report are extremely disturbing. As the Minister stated, it was only possible for those revelations to be made because victims were courageous enough to come forward and relate their horrific stories of abuse. The Cloyne report is one of many that investigated the handling of allegations of child abuse by the church authorities. The Diocese of Cloyne did not implement the procedures set out in church protocols for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. It operated under a culture of unbelievable non-compliance with child-protection practice and reporting requirements.
The Catholic Church in Cloyne represented a danger to children. This could be the case in other diocese and that is why audits must be carried out and reports published as a matter of urgency. A timescale must be set down in respect of the latter. I welcome the Children First national guidance document, under which all organisations and individuals working with children will be required to share information with the statutory authorities where such information relates to child welfare or protection concerns. Failure to comply with aspects of Children First will give rise to a range of civil and criminal sanctions. This is a welcome development.
The behaviour of Bishop Magee, his disappearance and silence is disgraceful, particularly in view of the fact that serious allegations have been preferred against him. In order for the church to regain respect, Bishop Magee should return immediately in order to take the opportunity to explain to his congregation — and to the Irish people in general — the reason he did not adhere to guidelines laid down in respect of child sexual abuse. His doing so would also be of major benefit to the many fine priests in this country who have ministered, with humanity and care, to large sections of the community.
I compliment the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on dealing efficiently with the important aspects of Government policy. They have been put in a position where they can no longer accept the word of the church. The decision to recall the papal nuncio to the Vatican for consultations is a matter for the Holy See. I hope the papal nuncio, in his report to the Vatican, will explain how serious the people and the Government are about the dreadful way in which the church ignored warnings. When legislation is passed there will be no hiding place for bishops, priests or members of the laity of any denomination. Finally, I commend the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, on unequivocally stating the people’s disdain for what happened in Cloyne.
Article 19.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states “State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”. Ireland ratified this convention in 1992 and the Holy See ratified it in 1990. The Cloyne report covers the period from 1996 to 2009. This debate must focus on the role of the church. We can discuss the role of the State on another occasion. I hope we will have an opportunity to do so when the forthcoming reports to which the Minister referred, including that relating to the 200 children who have died in the care of the State, are published. I assure colleagues that I will have plenty to say at that time on the role of the State. Today, however, I wish to focus on the Cloyne report.
The people of Ireland are hurting and they are angry. Those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the Diocese of Cloyne and elsewhere are hurting, as are their families, friends, partners, spouses and others who love them. There is much pain among members of the wider community. Many Catholics, including me, feel betrayed by the actions of those priests who sexually abused children and the actions or inaction of those within the hierarchy who covered up those crimes. Many priests must surely feel that pain, that hurt, that sense of being so badly betrayed.
People are angry because this is the fourth report to deal with the neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse of children by priests or religious in this country. There is massive anger as a result of the fact that a great deal of this abuse was perpetrated by people whose actions were covered up by others. There is also outrage because so much of the abuse of children was carried out in an environment where many adults had knowledge but where they chose to remain silent. People are incensed because so much of the abuse of children about which we have read in these reports was totally avoidable. Something has fed the anger to which I refer, namely, the responses of those who bear responsibility for causing the abuse of children, for covering up such abuse or for remaining silent while others around them engaged in abuse.
The Christian Brothers apologised for the shocking abuse of children revealed in the Ryan report when it was published. Only days beforehand, however, the Christian Brothers had written to the Residential Institutions Redress Board rejecting any allegations of systemic abuse and stating that the only form of corporal punishment allowed was moderate slapping on the palms of hands. By that time, the Christian Brothers would have known that such denials were not borne out of honesty. When survivors of industrial schools and members of the wider public learned of those denials, the apology rang rather hollow. The reluctance of religious congregations to pay their fair share of the cost of redress did not reveal an appreciation of the revulsion many people felt on reading about the degrading and disgusting treatment of children that was related in the Ryan report, nor did it demonstrate an act of remorse or recompense which many would have expected as an absolute minimum.
This was followed by the reaction of the Irish Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican to the Murphy report. Irish bishops were collectively shamed by the extent of the cover up in the Dublin Archdiocese and said it revealed a culture of cover up that existed throughout the church in Ireland but individually they said they had done nothing wrong and insisted that there was nothing in the reports that should cause any of them to have to resign despite the wishes of so many of those who had been sexually abused as children.
In early 2010 Irish bishops went to Rome to meet Pope Benedict who, in turn, sent a papal letter to Irish Catholics. The voices of survivors were ignored and no one took responsibility. Instead of acknowledging that this was a Catholic Church problem on a global scale, everything from secularism, petty gossip, homosexuality and the media were blamed and all this time the anger of the people of Ireland was rising.
Apologists will also decry the lack of attention during this debate to the failings within the State and its child protectionism practices but that is nothing more than an attempt to divert the attention away from the Catholic Church as we discuss the Cloyne report. It makes me think of when I was young and had done something wrong and was caught out by my mother and I would immediately have pointed to my brother and say, “but he did it too”. My mother, who is a wise woman, would have said “wrong is wrong and two wrongs do not make a right”. Today we should deal with the role of the church and equally on other occasions, as we have done recently when we dealt with the Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, deal with the role of the State.
Two weeks ago the Cloyne report was published. It quickly became clear that the oft-repeated claim by Catholic bishops that all the revelations of the abuse of children and its cover-up by them was a thing of the past was seen for what it was, just another self-serving attempt to minimise the findings of previous reports so that bishops could remain in office and manage any loss of reputation to the Catholic Church.
The people of Ireland were rightly angered to learn in the Cloyne report that all the time the church was insisting that the application of its own child protection guidelines meant that such a cover-up could never happen again, the reality was that Bishop John Magee had no interest in those guidelines and he delegated their implementation to Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan who did not even agree with their content and, as a consequence, child protection practices in the dioceses remained dangerous for many years.
Apologists for the Catholic hierarchy, few and far between as they have become, pretend that instructions from the Vatican, like the 1997 letter from the Papal Nuncio sent to Irish bishops on behalf of the Vatican congregation of the clergy, did not contain explicit instructions not to follow civil obligations but it is clear what was intended for bishops was to follow Canon Law only and not the guidelines that they had presented to the Irish people. Wrong is wrong.
Few people in Ireland have had any time for the excuses that some choose to make to justify and explain away the blatant disregard of child welfare, their safety and protection. For many years the response of the Government has not reflected that hurt and anger that the people of Ireland have felt. This failure to properly articulate how the people felt ended last Wednesday in the Dáil when the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, responded to the publication of the Cloyne report. He said: “The rape and torture of children were down-played or managed to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its powers, its standing and reputation”. He went on to say: “There is little I or anyone else in this House can say to comfort that victim or others, however much we want to”. My understanding is that many victims or survivors are more comforted to hear the political leader of this country articulate very clearly their anger, disgust, revulsion and sadness that all of this has happened.
While our anger, disgust, pain, revulsion and sadness are all totally understandable, much more is needed. Many people who deeply care about advancing the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children had been advocating for a long time for many changes in administration, in practice, in legislation and in our Constitution where we need to strengthen the rights of children. I agree with Senator Darragh O’Brien that this rises above party politics and groupings. This is an issue on which we can find common agreement. In this regard, I acknowledge the plans outlined by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and also the plans that the Minister for Justice and Equality is taking on.
The Government, the survivors and the people of Ireland, not just Irish Catholics, await an appropriate response from the Holy See to the revelations of the Cloyne report and to reports which preceded it. What is required is an acknowledgement of their part in the long-standing cover up of the sexual abuse of children in this country by Catholic priests. That should be followed by an unconditional apology for that cover up and an unambiguous instruction to priests and the hierarchy to follow civil obligations, not just civil laws, and to always put children first.
Senator Aideen Hayden: Like the previous speakers, I was shocked, appalled and horrified by the contents of the Cloyne report. It has already been said many times that Cloyne is different because it did not happen 20 or 30 years ago, it happened yesterday or the day before when child protection plans were in place. Therefore, we must look upon it in a different way to some extent than we look upon some of the other more historical reports of what happened in Ireland of long ago.
If the Vatican is shown to have encouraged disregard of the rules, then the State’s response should go beyond any token gestures and should pursue the Vatican for liability. Bishop Magee should not be allowed to divest himself of any responsibility, escaping to America where he is hidden in some location unknown. The church cannot and must not be allowed to escape liability where liability can be established. Nor can the church avoid its obligations to guarantee the State and the children of Ireland that all of those currently in its care are given the concern and care they deserve.
The Vatican acts as a church when it suits and as a state when it is more convenient. I welcome the actions of our Taoiseach and our Tánaiste. Ireland needs to clarify and renegotiate its relationship with the Vatican as a state and the seat of the Catholic Church and this must and should be based on mutual respect, a respect that is not evident in the evidence of the Cloyne report.
In regard to an oft-quoted matter in the media in recent days, the confessional has been cited as a special tenet of the Catholic religion, however, there is a tension between the secrecy of the confessional and the culture of openness that is required to protect children. A higher bar of care is required from any organisation that requests or requires the State to give it a special status. There can never be absolute privilege where the welfare of children is at stake.
As has been alluded to by other Senators, the State itself has a responsibility. This is not an issue that has been specific to the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church, it extends into institutional care and even as far as swimming clubs. We must take responsibility upon ourselves as a society. The major defect in this report is that it is evidence that the voices of children do not count in Irish society in the way in which they should. All of those children were members of families and attended schools and yet their voices were not heard.
The Constitution does not provide the protection it should for children. Ireland and its Constitution need to be reformed in favour of a human rights approach. Rights should not be based on economic precepts but on civil and political rights and must protect the poor and vulnerable in our society.
I call for four things to be done. The first is for the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church to complete its audit of every diocese in Ireland. I also call for the Bethany Home survivors to be included in the Magdalene laundries inquiry. We can never go forward unless we draw an appropriate line under the past. I welcome the commitment to put the Children First National Guidance Document on a statutory basis with civil and criminal sanctions for those who fail to comply. I welcome the launch today of Listen to Our Voices, an essential part of ensuring the safety of children in the care of the State. If we are ever to protect children, we must commit ourselves to truly hearing their voices.
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: I thank those people who worked to produce the Cloyne report. I also thank those in the church who care about their congregation and who work hard to minister to them and look after them. I commend the joint action taken by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and by the Minister present, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on bringing in new legislation and on the Children First guidelines. I commend particularly the way in which they worked together to do that to show joined up thinking that has been lacking over many years.
Nineteen years ago this month I made a television programme called “Sins of the Fathers” and it was the first time that the matter of child sex abuse was brought to the public’s attention. What it showed clearly 19 years ago was that the Catholic Church hid its guilty priests and brothers or moved them on, or both. It looked after priests rather than victims and it ostracised those within the church who tried to speak out and encourage a different culture, and they were prepared to go to court to defend their priests against victims.
Here we are, on a hot summer’s day, 19 years later, and what do we know today? We know exactly those same truths, some of them in the Cloyne report and some in other reports. Make no mistake, many of the stories that contain other truths will never be recorded and can now never be recorded. It was clear from the outset what was going on with the church yet it has taken us 19 long and tortuous years to arrive at exactly where we were.
What the Cloyne report brings, however, is a dispassionate and detailed account of the failings of an organisation to discharge its duties that it knew it ought to discharge. It was and is no ordinary organisation. It is one that set itself up to bring the love of God, no less, to millions of people and to preach salvation through a certain morality.
There is one small sentence in the Cloyne report. It states: “Bishop Magee took little or no active interest in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008...”. Instead, the Catholic hierarchy has caused millions of euro to be spent on reports — the Cloyne report cost €1.9 million — while they failed to pay their share of the costs, and argued over whether they should pay at all. They have punished victims again and again by lying in private and public and by keeping quiet until investigation forced shreds of the stories from them, sometimes refusing to give information to people. They have hidden behind their power, their privilege and their education for years, and they are still doing it. They have ultimately twisted the core morality of the Christian faith, the one I was given as a child — love thy neighbour as thyself.
In the end we have seen individual priests rightly stand trial but the church hierarchy, those who run the organisation, the red hats, have escaped. They carry on behaving with the authority of a state. Indeed, they are a state with poison as its lifeblood. It is corrupt and malfunctioning to believe it still has those rights because they lost those rights a very long time ago the first time they covered up for a priest who abused a child. We did not know about that then, but we do now.
We must have the pursuit of proper accountability for our people. Those who rule and run the church, the executive of the church, must answer for what they have done because without that accountability this will remain a story of individual priests and individual pain, and that is a lie. It was far more than that.
I welcome the Minister to the House and commend her on what was a fine speech, which I have read. In moving my amendment I want to make it clear that I agree with almost everything in the all-party motion and I acknowledge there was much in the Taoiseach’s speech of last week made in support of the same Dáil motion with which I would agree.
Both the motion and the Taoiseach’s speech justly highlight the plight of the victims of child sex abuse, the disastrous and infuriating failure of the church in Cloyne to safeguard properly against clerical sex abuse, and the Vatican letter of 1997, which contributed to the undermining of child protection guidelines in Cloyne.
It is worth mentioning at this juncture that the Cloyne diocese may not be alone in its failure since 1996. We await the publication of audits into other dioceses, and I take this opportunity to heartily express my wish that any bishop or church leader who did not implement church guidelines on this issue since they were promulgated in late 1995-early 1996 should leave office forthwith and not wait for the findings of an audit to make their dereliction of duty clear.
The Government’s motion also points to the important and laudable strides made and being made by the State in strengthening protection for children against both predatory abusers and institutional torpor and apathy, yet I take issue with aspects of the motion, and hence the reason I submitted an amendment, and I thank my colleagues who have supported it.
A clear presupposition of the motion is that the church and the church alone is at fault in the area of child sex abuse while the State and the State only is making progress in regard to the protection of vulnerable children. Nowhere does the motion acknowledge church progress on the issue and nowhere does it acknowledge State failure. Despite what Senator van Turnhout and others have said, honesty and critical appraisal matters, and while a fair assessment of church and State culpability is of lesser importance than the justice due to persons sexually abused by clergy, facilitated by the gravely inadequate behaviour of certain church authorities, it still matters, and not simply because we as legislators have a duty towards objectivity, even-handedness and truth. It matters because a fair assessment of where both church and State went wrong and where they are going now is essential for formulating best policy, law and practice to protect children.
The pretence exhibited by the Government’s motion that failure in child protection belongs somehow exclusively to the church contributes to a culture of complacency within Government and State agencies and, in turn, draws society’s attention and media scrutiny away from the gross abuse of children currently taking place under the watch of the State and without its needed intervention.
Examples of State failure concerning child abuse include the lack of inter-agency co-operation, the failure of many Health Service Executive areas to implement the Children First guidelines properly, the Roscommon and Galway abuse cases, and the neglect motivating the current investigation into the deaths of almost 200 young people in the care of the HSE in the past decade, yet there has been nothing like the pressure on the State to get its house in order as there has been on the church. There have been no resignations, nor has there been a concerted media campaign calling for such recommendations. I do not remember any judge-led commissions established to report on the abuses overseen by contemporary State agencies. Instead, we get a self-congratulatory, all-party motion on the progress being made on the Government side. We get a motion deploring the Vatican letter of 1997 critical of mandatory reporting, a motion which ignores the fact that the State still has not legislated for mandatory reporting and expressed similar doubts in 1996 under the then Fine Gael Minister for children, Austin Currie.
That is simple hypocrisy. By unfairly imputing mala fide on the part of the Vatican by employing the term “deplore”, for the Cloyne report, which is what I rely on for the definitive version of events, it makes no such accusation, this motion conveniently side-steps genuine difficulties with mandatory reporting, difficulties the Government still seems to be vaguely aware of except when it is targeting the church’s own expressed doubts about mandatory reporting. That is why Senator Van Turnhout is wrong to say that our focus today must be on the church exclusively, if that is what she is suggesting. This entire motion extols what the State proposes to do and, therefore, that argument simply does not hold water.
The motion makes no mention of the strides being made by the church in regard to child protection, achievements the Cloyne report documents. It makes no mention of the current guidelines that according to the Cloyne report are superior to those of the State, and it makes no mention of the highly encouraging work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children.
This is not simply a matter of adding balance to the debate. By ignoring areas where the church has succeeded as opposed to failing miserably the State potentially blinds itself to valuable lessons. That again contributes to State complacency and shields it from its own failings. Church complacency on child protection, as the Cloyne report reminds us had, and in some thankfully diminishing cases continues to have, devastating consequences. That is no reason to assume that State complacency in the area of child protection is any more benign. We as legislators have a duty to guard against State complacency and we fail in that duty by passing this motion unamended.
The Taoiseach’s speech changes the context in which we are debating this motion, the same motion accepted by the Dáil. I would like to acknowledge that none of us can ever do enough to appreciate fully the horror of child abuse and the particular horror that is child abuse by ministers of the church. The writer Stephen Rossetti titled a book on the subject, “Slayer of the Soul”.
Part of the context for the Taoiseach’s speech and its reception by many in the public is the simmering outrage of many good people over the evil perpetrated by people in positions of responsibility in their church, and the failure of others to take hold of the problem and root it out. That is why many have returned to the Taoiseach’s assertion that he is a practising Catholic. Some of those who are most angry are sincere practising Catholics. I am conscious that many of us who will approach this issue today approach it as practising Catholics who are deeply angry over the evil in our church and the failings of some of its leaders.
The duty of Catholics is the same as that of any person of good will. We need to be unswervingly truthful in our analysis of the issues and we must approach them as legislators with a responsibility to respond to and lead public opinion. We have now arrived at a new and challenging moment in the relationship between this State and the Vatican. I hope good can come out of the current crisis.
I prefer to think of last week’s speech by the Taoiseach as the first of two. It was a speech in which he was unswervingly angry and gave expression to the anger that many people feel about the evils in our distant and recent past. The speech failed to acknowledge serious failures of legislators throughout the 1990s and the good work done in recent years in the church, especially at the level of the Vatican since 2001. In that sense, the Taoiseach could be said to have told the truth but not the full truth in his speech. The allegation about interference up to three years ago was, in the end, unsubstantiated and, therefore, may have been untruthful. We await further details. It is not unreasonable to hope, therefore, that there will be an even better speech in the future and that the forthcoming engagement with the Vatican will lead to acknowledgement on all sides of the serious faults in the approach of church and State and of the goodwill and constructive contributions on all sides in recent years.
In asking Senators to consider my amendment, I ask them to approach the matter in a spirit of honesty and realise that those of us who seek full clarity, to develop issues and add to the motion we believe to be deficient in some way are in no sense apologists, as has been implied. We simply believe the truth — the full truth — will set us free and that nothing should be said in this House today that will take from the anger we must all feel over any failure to protect children, be it at an institutional or hierarchical level or on foot of the ordinary failures of people to point out and report what they needed to report.
We face a better future on this issue but we will only have this if we refuse to instrumentalise this issue and use it to pursue other agendas, which we are sometimes in danger of doing. We need to demand nothing less than the highest possible standards for the protection of children and we need to demand them equally of all people, be it the Pope, bishops, lay people, gardaí, social workers or health care officials. Only if we approach the issue with unswerving honesty will be really do right by the victims of abuse and work might and main to prevent further abuse of innocent victims.
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): It is a practice that has evolved in the House that some Members might not necessarily welcome. The reading of scripts should be avoided, if possible, but it is not contrary to Standing Orders. While the Chair does not have an opinion on this, I suggest that the Senator’s remarks may provoke a positive reaction among some Members of the House.
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Senator Crown is entitled to ask any question, as is any Member. If Senator O’Donnell wishes to receive an answer from Senator Crown, I suggest she ask him for it outside the Chamber.
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): The Senator’s point is not a point of order. If she wishes to elicit from Senator Crown his motives for raising any question, or the motives of any other Member, I suggest that she ask them in the antechamber afterwards. I do not want to prolong this discussion because we are wasting the time of Members. There is a long list of speakers on the motion and, in the interest of facilitating every Senator, I suggest they proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible. I ask Senator Quinn to second the amendment.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I support Senator Mullen’s amendment. I welcome the Minister to the House. I listened very carefully to every word she had to say and am very impressed with what she has done and continues to do.
I have had two educational experiences in recent months, the first of which was when my local Church of Ireland asked me to commence the reading of the King James version of the Bible, which was published 400 years ago this year. I started reading and everybody did so afterwards. What I found interesting about this was not so much the Bible, although I should have read more of it, but the fact that for many hundreds of years, until 1611, church and state authorities tried to keep citizens in the dark over what was happening. They did so by removing information from citizens and by only allowing the Bible to be published in Latin. Therefore, they translated their own words in English. One may ask what this has to do with the motion. It seems to me there was a tradition for many years of church and state authorities keeping citizens uninformed regarding what was happening.
My second experience occurred some nights ago. Some of us had the opportunity to accept the hospitality of a Member of the Seanad and attend “Translations” in the Abbey Theatre. It was interesting to see a portrayal of the introduction of education into Ireland in 1833, and to see how this happened. From that year on, primary education has been very much in the hands of the church. We benefited to a very large extent from well-educated youth since then. The amendment attempts to introduce some balance in respect of the work done by the church over the years, not just in education but also in health. It is fair to say that when the hospitals were in the hands of the nuns, they were very effective and efficient by comparison with those that came later.
Power tends to corrupt. In spite of the wonderful work done by priests and nuns, some or, by the sound of it, quite a few, got so used to power and controlling through fear that they abused that power. Thus, the horrors we hear about in the Cloyne report were investigated and discovered.
The report on child sexual abuse makes for horrific reading. More shocking was the effort to protect the abusers from the law. It is very hard to understand the efforts made to keep the facts from the public eye. Therefore, I welcome this debate and the all-party motion that has been tabled, except for one part of it. I support the amendment to try to introduce balance into the debate.
Over the years, in business and other aspects of life, I have tried to find solutions to various challenges and to avoid confrontation. In trying to attempt to obtain solutions, I have tried to avoid using extreme language. I have a problem with the word “deplore”. It may well be that many agree with the use of the word, which Senator Rónán Mullen asks to be removed from the motion. I accept everything in the motion except one short paragraph that states, “deplores the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish bishops”. I am happy to support every aspect of the motion but believe the word “deplore” does not recognise the work done by various church bodies which I hope may result in full co-operation from those who have responsibilities. That said, I support the motion.
The third paragraph notes that the 2001 motto priori from the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith reformed the Church’s handling of abuse cases. It also notes that since, as evidenced by the approval of the United States bishops’“Essential Norms” document in December 2002, the Vatican has supported national church policies which require compliance with national civil laws on reporting these abuse allegations. It notes the commission of investigation’s acknowledgement that the standards adopted by the church in Ireland are “high standards which, if fully implemented, would afford proper protection to children” and that “standards set by the State are less precise and more difficult to implement”. I have a concern about the original motion because I believe it is not balanced and has not included that.
The last paragraph in the amendment “affirms the work of the national board for safeguarding children, established by the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union, and urges all the relevant religious authorities to co-operate fully with its work”.
Senator Feargal Quinn: We have experienced horrific stories, which we have heard once again today. We have also read them in the Cloyne report. It is essential that we take action, but let us get a balanced view on this. Let us take into that balanced view the fact that considerable efforts are being made on the part of the church.
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne is a deeply upsetting document that describes the handling of allegations, complaints, suspicions and concerns about child abuse in that diocese.
Yet again, following on from the Ryan report and the first Murphy report into the Dublin archdiocese, we have heard more harrowing stories and learned more about the terrible cost of child abuse. We have learned of more lost childhoods, more traumatised adult lives and more relationships deeply affected by the appalling actions of certain priests and their church superiors.
It is all the more upsetting that this report covers a period as recent as 1996 to 2009, during which we have learned the Cloyne diocese failed in large measure to comply with the Catholic Church’s own 1996 guidelines on clerical child sex abuse.
Despite their assurances to the contrary, their clear focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name and status of the institution and of the priests. How senior members of the church could in any way have reconciled their consciences with their stealthy suppression of such awful acts against innocents, is impossible to understand.
The report describes how the diocesan authorities handled abuse allegations and were effectively able to ignore the church’s own guidelines in respect of the handling of complaints. This failure by the church authorities to follow their own pronouncements and put children first was deeply immoral, shameful and indeed scandalous.
All of these children were human beings entitled to dignity and respect. The perpetrators of the abuse robbed them of their innocence and that entitlement. The church, as an institution, further abused and denied them their dignity when it ignored and covered up their complaints. We saw again in Cloyne, obstruction and obfuscation on the part of the diocesan authorities in dealing with complaints of clerical sexual abuse, and long delays in taking clearly unsuitable priests totally out of ministry.
The careful, conclusive and detailed investigation by Judge Yvonne Murphy and the commission is to be commended, but essentially this report is the victims’ vindication. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude and a huge respect for their courageous co-operation with the commission. In breaking their silence and bringing this shameful behaviour into the public domain, they have once again reminded us all of the absolute need to tackle this type of crime and not sweep it under the carpet, as has been the practice in the past.
Because it may not have happened to us personally, or in our own families, does not mean that we should not face it head on as if it had. We have a duty, as a society, to stand up in solidarity with the victims and their families and to deliver the message that child abuse is evil, wrong and will not be tolerated.
The shame and horror of this report must be noted by every citizen of this country, so as to ensure that every one of us puts the protection of children first. Child abuse is, and always has been, a criminal offence. Where the church has failed to deal with it as such, the State will fulfil its obligation to keep its children safe.
I am proud to be a member of a Government party that has shown decisive leadership and has taken swift action in this matter. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, pointed out last week, “the time for words alone and political rhetoric is long since gone.”
The appropriate authorities to deal with abusers are the Garda Síochána and the courts. No one is above the law of the land. Along with the review of the Cloyne report by the Garda Síochána to see if any further action can be taken against the abusers referred to in it, I am pleased with the development that the Garda Síochána is also setting up a special telephone line which victims of clerical abuse, or anyone who has information about it, can contact.
The establishment of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is a clear signal that our young people deserve attention and recognition, and to have their needs prioritised at Cabinet level. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has received Government approval to place the revised Children First national guidelines on a statutory basis. The intention is to place a statutory obligation on every organisation working with children to protect and safeguard those children when in their care, including statutory, private, community and voluntary organisations.
As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, mentioned in this House earlier today, he has published the heads of a Bill to place the vetting of persons working with children and vulnerable adults on a statutory basis. This Bill, which will be submitted for drafting with a view to enactment in the autumn, will provide a legislative basis for the existing arrangements. It is legislation that, I am sure, will receive the unanimous support of this House.
These actions are but part of a comprehensive range of measures, which have been outlined by the Government and the Minister, designed to address not only the problem highlighted by the commission’s report on Cloyne, but also to provide the foundation for an immeasurably strengthened system of child protection, which is so necessary.
I hope that in some way the publication of this report will help the victims and let them know that they are not alone in their suffering. They have the solidarity and support of all of us, while their abusers are only entitled to our condemnation.
Having read and listened to the stories of victims, it is my sense that the greatest help we can give those truly courageous people is to redouble our efforts to ensure that this will not happen again to other families and other children.
I would like to thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who will reply to the debate, for attending the House to discuss the report with us. I assure them of the support of this House as they continue their essential work in ensuring the safety and protection of children.
Senator Mark Daly: In 1987, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published a study entitled “The self-reported sex crimes of non-incarcerated paedophiles”. This study found that in a lifetime, a single child abuser will sexually abuse and rape, on average, 150 children. It is estimated by One in Four that only one in 100 victims of child abuse who come forward and report incidents of rape and sexual abuse to the Garda Síochána will see their abuser being successfully convicted.
With so few convictions, it is little wonder that so much abuse went on for so long. It was exacerbated by the silence and inaction of the church, as we see in Cloyne. In the former boarding school in Carraig Na bhFear, Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, a priest teaching in the school was convicted of ten sample charges of indecent assault in one case. Seven formal allegations of child abuse have also been made against another priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and a former teacher in the same school. Despite seven separate cases being reported to four different Garda stations between 1986 and 2008 about this priest, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to pursue criminal prosecutions. However, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart settled a civil case before it was brought to court with one of those who alleged they were sexually assaulted.
On foot of these original allegations and subsequent civil action, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart placed the priest under a restricted ministry order in 1996 which was intended to restrict the activities of the priest including limiting his travel, work and access to children. The priest, however, acted in direct contravention of this restricted ministry order and violated the safeguarding of children standards and guidance documents for the Catholic church. The religious order in question has also failed to enforce this order and guidelines.
For example, part of the restricted ministry order states the priest must inform his community leader of his movements in and outside Ireland. In March last year, the priest in question was advertised in The Irish Catholic newspaper, which also ran the headline, “Abuse Era at an End”——
The priest in question was advertised as a spiritual director for a pilgrimage to Fatima, a location where he could have unsupervised access to children. The head of the order did not know he had gone to Fatima until I told him.
Similarly the priest travelled to Rome in Easter 2011 without informing the designated person or Pope Benedict in his role as vicar of Rome. Only last year when I started to make inquiries into the issue at Carraig Na bhFear that the Missionaries of the Scared Heart wrote to the superior general in Rome asking for the priest to be removed from the priesthood. Only in the past few weeks did the superior general forward this request on to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is my information that the first allegation of abuse against this priest was investigated in the 1980s by Fr. Ciarán Mac Cárthaigh. I have grave concerns for the many victims of Carraig Na bhFear and Cloyne who have not yet sought help to deal with the crimes that were perpetrated against them. I met Cardinal O’Malley of Boston and following the Boston example, myself and Ian Elliot, the chief executive officer of the church’s national board for safeguarding children, met with the Missionaries of the Scared Heart, including the incoming provincial superior, Fr. Joe McGee, as well as Fr. Pat Courtney, on 23 June 2011. At this meeting, they indicated they would follow the example of Boston and contact past pupils and teachers of the Carraig Na bhFear school during the period in question. The order would also place advertisements in the Irish Examiner outlining that abuse had taken place and urged victims to come forward to get help. They have since told me they will not do this.
I have asked Ian Elliot to carry out a review into the Missionaries of the Scared Heart child protection policy as a matter of extreme urgency. The order should follow the example of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to employ a retired Garda detective to interview on a weekly basis all priests which the order has placed on restricted ministry order.
The laws of the statute of limitations for civil cases need to be extended for child abuse. The whistleblower legislation has to protect good priests and people who come forward. Mandatory reporting legislation, similar to that in western Australia, needs to be introduced. The Children First child protection policy guidelines need to be put on a statutory footing.
Parents need to be aware that while no charges were pressed despite the seven allegations of abuse reported to four different Garda stations against Fr. Donncha Mac Cárthaigh, the aforementioned priest——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is going down a very dangerous route. We have to be very careful. There are constitutional issues involved. I know there is parliamentary privilege but there is also abuse of it. I must protect somebody who is not here to defend himself. The Senator must be extremely careful he does not abuse his privilege.
The Missionaries of the Scared Heart imposed a restricted order which should control the priest in question’s access to children. Victims needs to know there is help and they are not the only ones who have suffered abuse. Nothing we say here and no words of mine can comfort them in their suffering due to a crime so outrageous.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I offer my sympathy to those brave survivors and victims of clerical abuse in the Cloyne diocese who opened a window on what happened there. I commend the team which prepared the Cloyne report which makes for compelling reading and provides succinct findings as to what happened in the diocese.
Along with previous reports, some common themes emerge around the denial of abuse by Catholic church authorities such as their primary concern often being to protect abusers rather than to protect children. There was also a lack of concern about children who were at risk of abuse.
Two particular features mark out the Cloyne report. First is the very recent nature of the allegations made. Complaints and allegations against clerics were made between January 1996 and February 2009. There can be no excuses for the covering up of child sexual abuse at any time. The fact that cover-ups and failures to act were continuing to occur until 2009 is a particularly disturbing feature of this report.
The second feature is the response of the Vatican to the church’s own framework document for dealing with child sexual abuse. As the report stated, it undermined the status of those procedures and gave support to those high up in the Cloyne diocese who did not support the policies and failed to take action to protect children at risk of abuse. I agree with the Leader of the House that it is appropriate this motion deplores the Vatican’s intervention which undermined the guidelines of the Irish bishops and the State’s. I am glad the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has taken up this matter.
Those who proposed an amendment to this motion should withdraw it. All of us should deplore the intervention of the Vatican. This motion, which the Labour Party is proud to support, also deals with failures by the State. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs gave a sincere apology for these. The Government is committed to taking steps to ensure child protection. I welcome today’s publication of the heads of the national vetting Bill which will contribute to the effective protection of children.
Senator John Whelan: I deplore the contents of the Cloyne report and do not know how anyone could do otherwise. We should stop playing with semantics and call a spade a spade. Child abuse is a heinous and horrendous crime against vulnerable children. The Cloyne report is not the first of its kind and will not be the last. There have been the Murphy, Ryan and Ferns reports. Unfortunately, a litany of further reports are awaited.
More unfortunately, the cover-up continues and those involved have not learned any lessons. If this were drug dealing, for example, it would be regarded as organised crime, such is the manner in which the prevention of investigations and holding culprits to account was orchestrated. Who needs guidelines to tell them child abuse is wrong? Does anyone know the whereabouts of Bishop John Magee? Are the Garda authorities looking to question him to see how he could help in their investigations of matters arising from the Cloyne report? If we want the full truth, we must have the co-operation of those who can assist us in getting it. Bishop Magee is either a fugitive or a missing person and it would be helpful if he, other bishops, the Papal Nuncio or anyone else how knows his whereabouts could make themselves available to the authorities. It is bizarre that he disappeared off the face of the earth only a fortnight before the report was published. It is all very well to cry crocodile tears and apologise but expressions of profound regret do not hold much water when the cover up of child abuse continues.
Senator John Crown: To answer Senator O’Donnell’s query, the reason I raised it is that when I started in the House, I was informed we were not supposed to read prepared scripts. I noticed Senator Mullen’s eloquent, powerful——
I will put my cards on the table. I was raised a Catholic, I served as an altar boy and I was a member of the Legion of Mary. I received a wonderful education from the Sisters of St. Joseph in New York, the Irish Christian Brothers and Carmelite priests. I never once encountered anything other than extraordinary kindness and responsibility from anybody with whom I interacted. I had a fine education and I was one of the three in four. The education I had gave me an ethnical framework which I carried forward in my life, I will admit, somewhat selectively but, on many of the issues I feel deeply about, I see inspiration in the stories that were told me.
This was the church of Mother Teresa and Fr. Damien who voluntarily exposed himself to leprosy and, ultimately died from that dreaded disease in pursuit of his work with the lepers of Molokai. This was the church of the kindest man in history, St. Francis of Assisi, and of Fr. Max Colby, who put his own life on the line for holocaust survivors but this is a church with a dark side as well. This is the same church that tortured and caused and tolerated to be burned alive Jews and heretics throughout much of its history. This is the church that condoned and facilitated slavery and colonisation. The kindness and abuses existed side by side because it was populated by the same frail humans that populate every other organisation. The abuses did not stop because the church reformed itself; they stopped because humane, civic power grew up around it and constrained its activities to the spiritualist sphere where they should be maintained.
Theocracies, in particular, do not give up power voluntarily. It must be acknowledged that over the past months representatives of the US diplomatic service had to serve civil litigation papers on the Vatican because of child abuse allegations and charges that had arisen in a school for the deaf in Milwaukee. These papers had repeatedly been refused by Vatican recipients and functionaries. When those trying to serve them arrived, they dropped their hands to their sides like a deadbeat dad refusing to take child maintenance orders and said they were not required or desired. Ultimately, those trying to serve them had to go to the diplomatic service to do so. Parenthetically, the lawyers came from a law firm in St. Paul, Minnesota; I love the irony.
In general, we must have rigid, unshakeable civic control over civic functions and the functions of church and State must be separate. There is a bigger lesson to be learned form this. I regret that good colleagues whose judgment I value in many areas have chosen to delete the word “deplore” from the motion. It should be reintroduced and the amendment withdrawn. No word other than “deplore” adequately characterises our feelings for the cover-up by people from an organisation, which despite the great good it has done in many ways, we have seen through history is capable, because it is populated by the same frail humans as these Houses and other organisations, of committing great evil.
I come from the diocese of Cloyne and, therefore, I am aware of the pain and suffering of many people in the community arising from the report. However, the pain and suffering of the vast majority of parishioners across the diocese does not compare to the ongoing pain and suffering of the victims of clerical sex abuse, not only in Cloyne but throughout the country. It does not require a motion or a debate for all of us to record our abhorrence at such activities. As previous speakers said, it would have been preferable if an all-party motion had been agreed. That may yet prevail but we must try to move forward and ensure a better place for children in our society.
Our State is more or less 100 years old, depending on which starting date one uses for modern Irish history but it must be acknowledged that while political independence was achieved, it was replaced with an authoritarian form of government, which created a harsh place for our children not only in churches but in our homes and schools. That is something we must deeply regret. Generations of children have been treated as third class citizens and that must never again be allowed. We have a great deal of rebuilding to do not just of lives but of the type of society we want to put in place. In the short term, we must demand of the church authorities in so far as we can and in the strongest fashion that civil law is fully respected and that church members who are a threat to children are reported to the appropriate authorities and dealt with. That is the absolute minimum.
We need a much more substantial debate to go through the Cloyne report and the broader societal problems and I hope we will have that in the autumn. I support the motion and I wish Ministers well in their renewed efforts to improve the lot of children. I acknowledge the pain and suffering of the victims and ask everybody to ensure this misery will never again be inflicted on any child in our society.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I join others in complimenting the authors of the Cloyne report. What is chronicled therein is appalling and shocking and I compliment the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs. The State is playing catch-up because this culture of covering up was prevalent throughout society, including in probably every church and organisation. We witnessed this in banking, business and everywhere else. We all need to condemn it.
I compliment the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on her contribution. I am well aware of the views of the Minister for Justice and Equality and I note the common ground between the Taoiseach’s comments last week and Archbishop Martin, who is a good man. There are good people in the church and it is terrible that so many people have brought the church into such disrepute. It will not be easy to repair this damage. Bishops, priests and anyone else in authority who violated or harmed children should be outed and resign. Archbishop Dermot Clifford owned up to the fact that he found Bishop Magee had told lies. He said it was indefensible that he had failed to supervise his own child protection delegate.
The issue regarding the confessional is a red herring. These people do not go to confession. Child abuse was known about and this knowledge should have been available through soft information. We do not have to do anything about breaching the secrecy of the confessional to get at these criminals. I am reminded of the story of the criminal and his son who went to confession one Saturday evening. When they came out the criminal asked the son what he told the priest. The son said he told him about the robberies they had committed in the preceding months. The father exclaimed that one goes to confession to tell one’s sins and not one’s business. These people will not go to confession to own up to their abuses and we need to wake up to this.
Over the years, the State has failed on the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation and on what was written in 1937 Constitution. However, I am glad we are now dealing with matters and I hope we are dealing with them adequately. I compliment the Ministers on their efforts.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún thar ceann Shinn Féin. Is é an tuairim atá againn ná gurb iad na daoine a déanadh an docair seo dóibh na daoine is tábhachtaí maidir leis an díospóireacht seo. An dualgas atá orainn ná deimhniú go bhfuil gach tacaíocht agus gach cúnamh le fáil acu ón Stát agus ón eaglais chun cabhrú leo. Is lá maith é, ar bhealach, go bhfuil an tuarascáil curtha amach ach is lá deacair é do na daoinesin.
The report is a damning indictment of the hierarchy, but also asks very serious questions of the State. We need to ensure that every help and support that should be given is given to the people who suffered at the hands of priests and anybody who suffered any form of child abuse. The State has neglected its duties by failing to put in place mandatory reporting requirements and I welcome the moves being taken by the Government to put them in place. However, this raises the issue of putting in place the resources required. In recent years, social workers have been grossly under-resourced. There is no point in having a wide and robust debate if the Government will not put in place the resources required so we do not see people who have suffered abuse of any type not having resources available to them. The most important issue is that they are helped.
I wish to raise an issue that has not been discussed in the debate so far. Last December, the Executive in the Six Counties announced the establishment of an inquiry into historical institutional abuse in the North. A cross-departmental working group was established to examine how an inquiry would proceed and it reported to the Executive almost a fortnight ago. A number of the 26 Catholic Church dioceses across the Border are being examined, including Raphoe, Derry, Clogher and Armagh. It would be useful to co-ordinate with the initiative under way in the Six Counties with regard to future inquiries. It would also be of benefit to members of the Northern Executive to learn about our experience in the Dáil and the experience of victims’ groups and civil society.
Senator David Cullinane: No Member of the House would choose to have to again discuss a report on child sex abuse in the State; sex abuse carried out by members of the Catholic Church; and the complicity of the institution of the church in what was the rape of children and the cover-up and protecting of paedophiles over and above the children of the State. My generation grew up learning about how children were abused in State care in industrial schools and how priests were moved from one parish to another. Priests, who were essentially paedophiles, were transferred from one village to another village. A paedophile priest is no different from any other paedophile. My generation grew up learning of these horrors but we understood it was not only about the Vatican or the institution that was the Catholic Church, but that the State was also failing in its responsibilities to protect children.
A number of weeks ago, we discussed the abuse of women in Magdalene laundries. There is a long history and legacy of abuse in the State in respect of children. The generation who learned of these horrors and who saw them as something of the past and of a different generation was absolutely outraged to read the Cloyne report which brought the reality of child abuse to as recently as 2009. This was a shock to many people who had hoped the condemnation we had heard from the Vatican and senior representatives of the Catholic Church, the acts of contrition, the promises of change and the guidelines being put in place would lead to better protection of children. Many people are appalled and shocked that this was not the case.
All of the words of condemnation and the acts of contrition, whether by politicians or members of the Catholic Church, will mean nothing if we do not introduce new guidelines and legislation that ensure we protect children. Above and beyond any of this is the need for the Catholic Church in the State to recognise the rights and protection of children must come before the rights and protection of the church. If only it understood that the failure to protect children and their rights is and was undermining the integrity and the future of the church in the State. I hope no future generation of Irish people will be confronted by the horrors of child abuse because of the actions of priests and the failure of the institution that is the church to properly safeguard and protect children.
Senator Mary Moran: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shatter, back to the Chamber. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I thank all involved in the preparation of the Cloyne report. The disturbing findings of the report, the inadequate and inappropriate response, particularly of church authorities in Cloyne, to the allegations of child sexual abuse and the intervention of the Vatican to pervert the course of justice has again shaken our nation to the very core.
Members of the clergy have always been revered in this country. The Catholic religion is a huge part of our culture. I remember as a child going to relatives’ houses where they had what was termed the “priest’s room”, namely, the best room in the house where only the priest was brought and children were not allowed in. Now we hear how a bishop misled a previous child abuse inquiry and lied about how he was handling the situation.
Like many others, I was educated in a convent school and brought up to respect the clergy. I brought up my own children in the same way. However, I also brought them up to take responsibility for their actions. I am disgusted at the terrible example being shown by Bishop Magee, who is hiding in the arms of the church. I ask that he be brought back to answer the charges.
It is time to remove the clergy from their pedestal and insist it is mandatory for priests, just as for all people working or likely to work with children, to secure clearance from the Garda. Priests can never feel the right to be above the law again. I find it completely unacceptable and very distressing to have read recently that a number of priests have resisted requests for them to be submitted to the Garda vetting procedure.
As a practising Catholic I feel shaken to the core by the revelations of the Cloyne report. As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors for these children and their families. We now realise that in the very heart of our clergy evil was present. The Cloyne report demonstrated exactly how much. Understandably, we have lost our sense of trust in the clergy. It is vital that we move forward and acknowledge the efforts of those members of the clergy trying to undo the wrongs committed by previous generations. We should not tar them all with the same brush and we should acknowledge the decent members of the clergy who are trying to provide answers while Bishop Magee remains in hiding. They are trying their level best to rebuild our trust and they publicly condemn the terrible mental and physical atrocities suffered by victims.
At mass last Sunday, the local curate gave a moving sermon in which he condemned Bishop Magee for his actions. He questioned his faith and his reasons for remaining in the church and revealed his disgust and disappointment with the findings of the Cloyne report. The priest received a deservedly warm round of applause for his honesty and humanity, something that has been absent from these offending priests for a long time. It is vital that we ensure this situation never recurs. I would welcome the publication of legislation to provide strict punishment measures for failure to comply with the child protection code. I commend the motion to the House.
Child abuse is physical and psychological terrorism. “Terrorism” rather than “abuse” is the word we should be using. Given that these children were terrorised, I agree with the Leader that the word “deplorable” is not strong enough. No one could find a word in any language that would be strong enough to describe just how these children were terrorised.
Like Senator Crown, I attended a Catholic school and was educated by priests in Letterkenny. I was also an altar boy. My experience was positive, but the one in four who did not have that privilege suffered at the hands of the church. I am from the diocese of Raphoe and I suspect the next report on it will be much the same as the Cloyne report. Many people in the north west are concerned about it.
The Patrick MacGill school is under way this week in Glenties. Anyone who has read The Children of the Dead End knows what the Catholic Church got up to 100 years ago when children were dying in houses while priests called around to collect money for churches and their own homes. That was terrorism of the family, but this report shows terrorism of the child.
Senator Maurice Cummins: No, I will not accede to the request. We will have ample time to discuss other reports when we return. We have allowed sufficient time for contributions and the Ministers have given of their time to attend.
Senator Jim Walsh: I compliment the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on a measured and sincere contribution. We owe it to the victims to take that approach at least. The rape and abuse of children are heinous and abhorrent crimes. In many instances, to deprive children of their innocence is to deprive them of their futures. I have seen the lifelong effects. They have had relationship difficulties, their sexual and personal development has been stunted, their faith has been undermined and, in many cases, they have committed suicide. Families have been sundered where these crimes are committed within the family. People in positions of trust in the church betray everything for which they stand when they abuse young children. Not only do they betray their responsibilities to the children, they also betray their faith, their vows of chastity and other believers. They are unfit to hold the sacred offices they have assumed.
I have reservations about the effort to lumber the Vatican with all of the blame. It is not without a degree of blame, as is the case with the hierarchy. However, if we are to resolve this issue in the interests of children and assuming there are no other agendas at play, we must focus on ensuring that the necessary cross-societal approach is taken.
The Ferns report was published in 2005. I was familiar with many of the victims and some of the perpetrators. The report recommended mandatory reporting and an underpinning of the exchange of information on an interagency basis. Neither has been enacted. Current practice in the diocese of Ferns is for allegations and suspicions to be brought to an advisory panel first, then they are brought to an interagency committee comprising the Garda and the HSE after which they are brought to the attention of Mr. Ian Elliott’s office, the National Board for Safeguarding Children. If they proceed subsequently, they are brought to the attention of the Holy See. If people are found guilty through the civil process, of which there have been a number of cases, they are automatically dismissed from the priesthood by the Vatican.
It is interesting that, when the State sought its records, it needed to ring the diocese to find out when the latter passed the information and to whom it was given. This shows the deficiencies within the system. I welcome the Minister’s commitment on mandatory reporting and the underpinning of the exchange of information, as both are essential. It is invidious of the State to allow to continue a situation in which the diocese of Ferns must act outside the law to get it right. If we are to put children first, we must get our own house in order. If we do, we can rightly and justifiably ensure that everyone else puts children first as well.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Where there is honest and open debate, it is often the case that illumination is provided by all those participating. Such has occurred in this debate. I welcome the announcement by the Leader that he intends to introduce a motion in September to broaden this discussion so that we might also take on board the State’s culpability. I also welcome the fact that both sides of the House have involved the State in the debate and generously acknowledged the church’s contribution. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. I was not expecting the tone of her contribution. It was a good start in itself. When referring to the Taoiseach’s statement, she stated:
The histories of Ireland and the church contain many dark episodes, yet the one our debate addresses is one of the darkest of all time. Not only have the perpetrators of such heinous crimes betrayed trust and faith, they have betrayed the very founder they profess to follow. The founder of the Christian faith clearly warned those who would corrupt or scandalise children. It is a basic tenet of our religion. We each have personal experiences of that religion through our education, the alleviation of poverty, health care and many other forms of help. This will not be forgotten.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: He was on the receiving end of abuse. In his missive, he states that the truth that will set us free is not words or deeds. It is when the soul that left a long time ago is nurtured back to its rightful place in a future republic, a true republic brought about by the people of Ireland, which will finally know the value of personal and collective responsibility and accountability. If we are to be genuine, this should also be the House’s aim.
Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell: When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope stated: “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church”. Fantastic. The word “deplores” as positioned in the motion can be applied. There is no language to outline what occurs when people abuse children. God is taken from them and they are condemned to a world where a child is without the idea of God and God without the idea of child. They are synonymous. I agree with the Leader that there is no word strong enough in this regard.
In his amendment Senator Mullen wishes to change the word “deplores” to “profoundly regrets”. The implication with the idea of “profoundly regrets” is the same as regrets in any way of life, which is that it is sad, we must move on and that in some way, what is regretted is forgivable. The events in Cloyne are beyond sadness, were unacceptable and can never be forgiven. The word “deplores” should stand.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I deeply regret that we have not been given the time for comment and debate which the report deserves. If I have to cut to the chase, like everybody else I deplore what is contained in this report, which comes in a long line of other reports dealing with disgraceful events. These include the Ferns, Murphy and Ryan reports, which detailed acts against our innocents and children. I ask the Senators tabling the amendment to withdraw it in the interests of those we are trying to protect. The State must take much blame but we have evidence that this is being changed by the leadership of our Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The Pope, or Cardinal Ratzinger as he was at the time, spoke about truth and argued that the truth must be pursued. There is a hierarchy in the Vatican which acted to cover up that truth and intervene in Cloyne. That was completely inappropriate. Words without matching action are hollow and hypocritical, and we have had enough of that.
I had much more to say but I now wish the State well in ensuring that never again can this happen to our innocents, our children. I deeply regret not having enough time to speak in that respect.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): This is an important debate and although I was not in the House until half an hour ago, I followed the discussion on the monitor. I am aware of the speech delivered by my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. There is nothing she said with which I disagree and since the Government was formed, she and I have been working together in the interests of protecting children. I have listened to the speeches and nuances and it would be a terrible shame if this House divided on today’s motion. I am conscious that the Dáil did not divide despite the nuances in the speeches delivered. This is too serious an issue to bring about a division. We should stand united in both Houses and focus on one issue, the protection of our children.
When I read the Cloyne report I said that in publishing it I felt a terrible sense of despair. That sense of despair derived from the fact that we have gone through two decades of promises that our children would be protected. The sense of despair derived from the personal stories told in that report of what happened to victims. It derived from the fact that up to the end of 2008, the promises made that systems were in place to protect children had not only been violated but there had been a terrible breach of faith. Individuals who made a public presentation of concern were engaged in a private agenda of cover-up and denial. That is unforgivable.
I come from a minority religious tradition and I have no ill to bear against the Catholic Church or any other tradition on this island. Senators will be aware that for many years I have been equally critical of the State in its failings with regard to child care. There are failings disclosed in the Cloyne report on the part of the State but the greater failings by far were on the part of the church. There was a terrible breach of faith on the church’s part which I know from communications I received is a cause of terrible concern and stress to many good people and parish priests within the Catholic Church, who themselves feel betrayed.
I am conscious that, like others, I am limited in what I can say because of time constraints. It is important to set the record straight in the context of debate which has occurred both in this House and outside it since the publication of the report. The framework document of 1996, referred to in page 48 of the report, recites what was understood to be the intention of the church. It states “In all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities.” From the perspective of the State it was understood that this would occur.
What the State did not know as we went through the 1990s to the early 2000s was that the Irish bishops, having sought recognition from Rome for the framework document, discovered that not only was it not forthcoming but the papal nuncio in 1997, writing to the bishops and detailing the view of the congregation for the clergy, essentially warned them against applying the provisions in the framework document. In particular, the papal nuncio noted “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.” He went on to say that “the procedures established by the code of canon law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against the bishop.”
The Cloyne report records “There can be no doubt that this letter greatly strengthened the position of those in the church in Ireland who did not approve of the framework document as it effectively cautioned them against its implementation.” It went on to record the view of Monsignor O’Callaghan, which was not just influenced by that document. There has been a misrepresentation of the history of this. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in May 2001 made a very specific statement that with regard to allegations of child abuse which reached the threshold of “a semblance of truth”, they should be first referred directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome so the body could advise on how it should be dealt with in Ireland.
There has been a misrepresentation to suggest that in 2001, that body agreed the framework document provision under which there was an undertaking to give a report to the civil authority. The reality is the body did not support the framework document and the Cloyne report records that Monsignor O’Callaghan’s view of the 2001 instruction, as expressed in a letter of April 2002, was that: “the subtext was the need for the procedures in canon law which will respect the rights of the accused priest.” The reality is the rights of the accused priests were put before the protection of children. It was not until 2010 that a different approach was referred to.
When it comes to dealing with this issue, our priority must be the protection of children. A moral theologian, in a recent article in The Irish Times, made a pretence that in 2001 the church had made a decision in the Vatican that there should be reports to the civil authority. The excuse for a lack of such reports was that the State had not introduced legislation in Ireland which made——
Deputy Alan Shatter: The State did not introduce such legislation because it took in good faith what was stated in the framework document. That was the failing. We must ensure that we have a structure of laws in place which truly protects our children and imposes obligations on those who learn that children have been abused or are at risk of being abused to report this to the Garda Síochána to ensure investigations take place and action is taken to protect children.
As a State, we cannot sustain a position where individuals are known to be abusing children and are left free to abuse children. The Taoiseach referred in his speech to the rape and torture of children. For some of us who have worked in this area for so many years and who use the phrase “child abuse”, the reality is that the description is too clinical. It does not tell the true story. The Cloyne report discloses a litany of rape, abuse and torture of children that should have been reported to civil authorities and was not. It is right that this House joins in expressing a view on it. It is also right that, with a new Government, we vigorously implement the new child protection guidelines and procedures that have been long promised and long required. More has been done in the past four months in that area than has been done in the previous 14 years and by the time we get to the end of the year we will have a robust legal system to address this area.
I hope that as a result of the Cloyne report, those genuinely concerned about this in the church will enable the guidelines to be fully implemented. I praise Archbishop Martin in this context. I wish Ian Elliott well in the work he is doing and it is an unfortunate error that Bishop Magee has failed to publicly respond to the report published. It is unfortunate he has disappeared and there is a serious misjudgment in the papal nuncio leaving this country. It is of great importance that, without further undue delay, the Vatican responds in substance to this report and gives the people of this country the assurance they require that in future the protection of our children will be the priority.
Senator Rónán Mullen: The tone of this debate in the Seanad was far better than the tone in the Dáil. While I disagree with the inaccuracies in what the Minister said, the tone of this debate is better.
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