Published Online: May 26, 2009

Archbishop Slams Irish Catholic Orders Over Abuse

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin slammed Irish Catholic orders Monday for concealing their culpability in decades of child abuse, and said they needed to come up with much more money to compensate victims.

The comments from Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat, were the harshest yet by a Roman Catholic leader following last week's report detailing widespread abuse in scores of church-run industrial schools from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Martin said the orders of nuns and Catholic brothers who ran the workhouse-style schools must drop their refusal to renegotiate an intensely criticized 2002 agreement with the Irish government over compensation for victims.

At that time the orders agreed to pay €128 million ($175 million) to the government to be protected from victims' civil lawsuits. In return, the government expects to pay approximately 13,800 victims of physical, sexual and mental abuse and their lawyers more than €1.1 billion ($1.5 billion).

All those who accept the state settlements, which average €65,000 ($90,000), must waive their right to sue both the church and the government. Their abusers' identities are also kept secret.

Scores of alleged victims have refused the offer and sued church and state authorities, with mixed results.

The archbishop — whose archdiocese contains more than 1 million of the island's 4 million Catholics — said in an Irish Times column that the church in Ireland has lost credibility because of its weak response to 15 years of revelations of chronic child abuse within its ranks.

Martin said many church leaders remained "in denial" following a nine-year investigation by a commission, which published a devastating 2,600-page report five days ago.

He said the report documented beyond any doubt "church institutions where children were placed in the care of people with practically no morals." The last of those schools for Ireland's poorest children closed more than a decade ago.

Ireland's national police force, the Garda Siochana, announced Monday that a senior detective, Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, would study the report to see if it provided any new evidence for prosecuting clerics for assault, rape or other criminal offenses. The report, however, did not identify any abusers by name because of a right-to-privacy lawsuit by the Christian Brothers order.

Martin accused the orders of falling short on the €128 million amount they promised to the government. He said their failure to complete transfers of cash and property worth that much over the past seven years "is stunning."

"There may have been legal difficulties, but they are really a poor excuse after so many years," he wrote.

The Conference of Religious in Ireland, the umbrella body for the church's 138 orders of Catholic priests, brothers and nuns in Ireland, said its members were open to the idea of increasing funds for counseling and educational services for victims and their families.

But the conference said the 18 orders that ran industrial schools did not want to surrender the existing financial and legal agreement.

"Rather than reopening the terms of the agreement reached with (the) government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously while in our care," the 18 orders said in a joint statement.

The government declined to comment. It previously has reported receiving about €62 million in cash and church-funded counseling services for abuse victims, while the outstanding €66 million was coming in the form of 64 church properties — many of which remain in church ownership today.

Analysis by independent experts indicates that the offered properties are worth much less today. Ireland's 2008 property market collapse and plunge into recession have slashed values by between 25 percent and 50 percent.

One of Ireland's most prominent abuse victims, Colm O'Gorman, said the orders could not reasonably claim to be too poor to pay more. He noted they still owned hundreds of properties and several hospitals, and had profited handsomely from Ireland's property boom of 1994-2007.

He said the church should be forced to pay half of Ireland's compensation bill — the government's own original position in negotiations seven years ago.

"If accountability means bankruptcy, then so be it," said O'Gorman, who founded a group for abuse victims, and authored a book about his efforts to sue the church for the rapes he suffered as an altar boy. "Let the Vatican, one of the wealthiest institutions on the planet, come in and underwrite this awful lack of accountability."

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