TIME TO LISTEN – CONFRONTING CHILD SEXUAL
ABUSE BY CATHOLIC CLERGY IN IRELAND
REPORT OF ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS IN IRELAND COMMISSIONED BY THE IRISH BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE
ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS IN IRELAND, DUBLIN
4 DECEMBER, 2003
MOST REV. SEÁN BRADY, DCL
ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH
PRESIDENT, IRISH BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE
I welcome you all here today to this launch, and I thank you for coming.
RESPONSE TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
In the early nineties it became clear that the dioceses and religious congregations needed to work together in responding to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and religious. The Irish Bishops, working with the Conference of Religious, set up in 1994 an Advisory Committee to frame a response. The resulting document, Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, was published in January 1996. For several years nothing has received higher priority from the Bishops than the effort to address the problem of child sexual abuse within the Church. That some priests have betrayed the sacred trust placed in them by offending in this way is abhorrent. The Bishops are committed, with the help of all within the Church and in society, to bring healing and hope to those who feel betrayed and hurt.
COMMISSIONING AND PURPOSE OF REPORT
As part of this ongoing work, two years ago the Irish Bishops’ Conference, through its Committee on Child Protection, commissioned an in-depth, independent study by the Health Services Research Centre of the Department of Psychology of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The purpose of the Study was to assess the impact of child abuse by clergy, its management by the Church, and to discover what lessons could be learned for the future. We are pleased that a body which is respected for its impartiality and objectivity, with considerable resources and expertise in this area, has carried out this work. This study, conducted to the highest international standards of scholarship is, we believe, the first of its kind. We hope that it will throw new light on the reality of child abuse for society as a whole, as well as for the Church, both in Ireland and further afield.
A broader perspective on the impact of child sexual abuse has been achieved by the authors listening respectfully to, and carefully documenting, the experiences of those who have suffered. The oft-times chilling impact of the experience on victims, as recorded in their statements, will help us all to a greater recognition of the pain that can be inflicted by even one act of sexual abuse.
We offer this study, Time to Listen – Confronting Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Ireland, to Irish society in the knowledge that child abuse – whether by clergy or by others – is increasingly recognised as a source of tremendous pain in our society – psychological pain, physical pain and also spiritual pain. We now know that the majority of child sexual abuse happens within the home or in the child’s immediate environment, and is usually perpetrated by a family member or by someone known to the child. The Church at all times tries to be acutely aware of the pain of all victims. Victims have a right to have someone held to account for what they have suffered. They legitimately feel the need to have their story heard and acknowledged. They want the abusers to acknowledge the harm they have done.
APOLOGY TO VICTIMS
Wrongs from the past cannot always be fully righted. Today gives me the opportunity to express once again, on behalf of all the Bishops, our deepest sorrow that some of our priests were responsible for the pain of child sexual abuse in society. We apologise once again to the victims and their loved ones for the hurt caused, the damage done, and the failures in pastoral responsibility on our part in the handling of these cases. This report on the horror of sexual abuse of minors tells a very complex and tragic story of deep hurt, and trust betrayed. It is a story that has taken a long time to tell. We hope that this Report can be a useful part of the telling of the story, and that it will help to ensure that the next chapters are of healing and reconciliation. We hope that someday those who have been abused and harmed will feel able and be ready to forgive. Until that day we will continue to work to restore people’s trust in the Church.
COMMITMENT OF BISHOPS
This study makes painful reading, not least for a bishop. It tells of mistakes made in responding to those who came to the Church seeking sensitivity and compassion. On the other hand, where a positive response to disclosure was experienced, that response played an important part in terms of healing. The Catholic Bishops are pledged to study, carefully and fully, the findings of this Report. We are committed to be guided by its conclusions and be informed for the future by its recommendations, some of which are already in place. We are confident that this commitment is shared by the priests of Ireland. We are happy that their fidelity to their priestly vocation has been acknowledged by several respondents to the surveys conducted for this Report.
Today, on behalf of the Bishops, I gladly salute the fidelity of the priests and Religious of Ireland. I encourage them to continue to serve the Lord and their people with the same loving dedication, despite the trials of this present age.
The Report will enable us to identify more clearly shortcomings in our handling of this problem in some cases, and will point the way forward to a more effective and comprehensive response. We now know that the effects on those abused, and their families, have been persistent and very serious. Their confidence in the Church and sometimes even their faith in God, have been greatly shattered.
PROTECTION OF CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
The launch of this research is another step on a long road. We have promised to continue to take all the steps required to protect children and young people from this kind of abuse in the Church, now, and in the future.
Children and young people are an integral and cherished part of Church community. It is the responsibility of all within the community to respect the dignity and rights of all children. We willingly pledge to work with all sections of society to ensure their greatest possible safety and wellbeing. Along with the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union, we have recently appointed a Working Group to review the 1996 Framework for a Church Response, and to develop a comprehensive and integrated child protection policy for the Catholic Church in Ireland. This Report will inform that work. We are hopeful that the Working Group Report and Recommendations will be available during the first half of next year, thereby enabling us to further the process of continuing our assurances in relation to the promotion of the welfare of children and young people in our communities.
PART PLAYED BY THE MEDIA
The Report documents the pivotal role the media has played in disclosing the reality of child sexual abuse. The lack of public awareness as outlined in the Report of the positive measures which the Church has taken in tackling the issue of child sexual abuse is disappointing, and something that requires careful examination. I hope that the Church, the media, and wider society, can all work constructively together to bring healing to those who have suffered in the past, and to ensure protection for children, today and in the future.
MAJOR SOCIAL PROBLEM
In recent years child sexual abuse has come to be recognised internationally as a major social problem. Last year the Health Services Research Centre at the Department of Psychology of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, published, on behalf of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the first ever national survey on lifetime sexual abuse in Ireland. That piece of research – The SAVI Report – Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland – is highly regarded and groundbreaking. It revealed a high prevalence of child sexual abuse in Irish society generally. I am inclined to think that this research has not received in any measure the kind of public attention which it deserves. If, as a society, we are to ensure the greatest possible safety of children, it means recognising the full nature and extent of the problem. The inadequate attention which The SAVI Report has received would seem to suggest that as a nation, we may still, sadly, be in denial of the scale of the terrible reality of child sexual abuse in our midst, and of its effects. Without confronting the issue in its awful fullness, as individuals and as various legitimate interest groups which comprise society, we can scarcely best protect our children or make amends to victims.
I believe that this Report will help us to better understand child sexual abuse and its effects. It brings us into direct contact with the experience of victims and their families, offending clergy and their colleagues. The chapter headings and subheadings as outlined on the contents pages point to the comprehensiveness of this publication. I repeat that the Catholic Bishops are fully committed to studying the findings of this Report, to be guided by its conclusions, and to be informed for the future by its many recommendations. The work of the Child Protection Office of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the Bishops’ Committee on Child Protection, and the Working Group on Child Protection, must continue with great determination and urgency.
This publication is, I think, an important milestone in the difficult journey which the confrontation of child sexual abuse is. The journey for the Church, as for society in general in this issue, has been an arduous one, through steep and rocky terrain. It would be wrong, from several perspectives, to think that this journey is nearing completion. I wish to repeat that this journey must be made from the perspective of the abused and their families, and from the perspective of the safety of all children and young people, both in the present and the future. The limits of what have often been perceived as an unduly legalistic response, attempts at “avoiding scandal”, and protecting the institutional Church, are already well documented. The mistakes of the past must be acknowledged, and must not be repeated.
I think it is positive that the Irish Bishops decided to commission this pioneering research, and that it is being published in full. The Bishops willingly share this Report with all who are interested in this issue, whether in the Church, or in wider society. I hope that this Report can make some contribution to the healing of all who have suffered child sexual abuse, and to the healing of their loved ones, and to ensuring the greatest possible protection for all children in the future.