Church abuse should be a serious election concern
23rd February 2011
the general election now only days away, we ask whether the candidates
running for office are ignoring the Ferns, Ryan, and Murphy Reports and
their collective indictment of this nation’s treatment of its
children. It is a serious question, asked in light of the scant
attention afforded the issue of Church-State relations over the course
of the campaign.
even as the economy agenda dominates the political debate, we ask
whether the incoming government will complete the unfinished work of
making right the abuses suffered by women and children in residential
and other institutions? Simply put, does the financial crisis veto all
other social and political concerns for the foreseeable future?
you were expecting to find answers to these questions in the party
manifestos, you would be wrong. Reading these publications, it is
impossible to determine where the political leaders stand on these
issues. Social and child welfare is either ignored altogether or appears
peripheral to the various plans for government. The implications for
survivors of institutional abuse are deeply troubling.
before heading to the polls on Friday, we think it important to remind
the electorate of the June 2009 all-party Dáil motion pledging to
“cherish all of the children of the nation equally”?
Were we not meant to understand by that motion that the neglect
of vulnerable and/or socially marginalized children was a thing of the
of us were sceptical at the time. Within
months of the Ryan Report, the outgoing Minister for Children
characterized the 2009 Institutional Child Abuse Bill as
“premature.” That legislation would have extended the Residential
Institutions Redress Scheme to groups previously excluded. They remained
excluded. It would have removed the “gag order” from survivors who
went through the RIRB. And,
it would have wiped clean all criminal records for adults detained as
children in residential institutions. Survivors still wait for their
political leaders to deliver these reforms.
Murphy report was published in November 2009, and one year later its
full import was realized with the publication of excised material
detailing the heinous abuses perpetrated by Fr. Tony Walsh. We seem to
have forgotten Brian Cowen’s defence of the Papal Nuncio’s
non-cooperation with the commission of inquiry on terms of diplomatic
protocols? We didn’t know then, of course, that the Papal Nuncio
instructed Irish Bishops in a 1997 letter that the Vatican had
“serious reservations” about a plan for mandatory reporting of
clerical sex-abuse cases to the police. The Cloyne Diocese report
will likely arrive later this year, in the first months of the new
government. Will those political leaders have the courage finally
to hold the Catholic Church accountable for past abuses, and in doing so
prioritize the rights of survivors?
society has witnessed the HSE compelled to produce figures for the
numbers of children who died in its care over the past ten
years—estimated at 200. Likewise, we learned of the 219 infants who
died while resident in the Bethany Home, dispatched to an unmarked grave
at Dublin’s Mount Jerome Cemetery. Dare we ask that politicians
investigate the nature of the state’s involvement in these deaths?
And, what of the infants who died in Catholic mother-and-baby
homes like Bessboro, Sean Ross Abbey or Castlepollard?
Where are those infants buried?
November 2010, the Irish Human Rights Commission found sufficient
evidence of significant human rights violations in the nation’s
Magdalene laundries to recommend that the government institute a
statutory inquiry. The IHRC
Assessment report recognizes
the importance of restorative justice for a population of aging and
elderly survivors. The outgoing government refused to act, referring the
document to the Attorney General’s office for review. No action was
taken. Again, our political leaders failed the most vulnerable of our
doesn’t stop there. Irish society is still waiting for a
constitutional referendum on children’s rights. We are still
waiting for adoption legislation that recognizes the right of adoptees
to access their birth records. And, we are still waiting for emergency
social work coverage for vulnerable children during weekends and holiday
periods. Children left un-protected. Will our newly elected government
ensure their health and safety?
the final days of this campaign, we ask for whom does the political
system work in this country?
for our most vulnerable citizens? Not for those seeking to reclaim
their stolen past? Not for those seeking justice for abuses perpetrated
on them at the hands of Catholic religious orders and the State. Not
for those children of parents victimized by a culture of political
deference to the Catholic Church? Not for adult adoptees seeking
to know who they are and where they come from? Not for a
population of elderly and aging women desperate to know that what
happened to them in a different era was wrong and that they were not at
is elected to office next Friday, our political leaders must demonstrate
the political will to address the unfinished business of our nation’s
past—the business of Church-State collusion and complicity in the
abuse of tens of thousands of our citizens.
M. Smith, Associate Professor, English Department, Boston College
Steed, Director, Justice for Magdalenes
McGettrick, Adoption Rights Alliance
Doyle, Author: “The God Squad,” Moderator, http://www.paddydoyle.com
O’Rourke, Harvard University Law School Global Human Rights Fellow
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