Archbishop Martin calls for balance in treatment of abusers
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has warned that ostracising and "cutting off" those guilty of child sexual abuse increases the danger of them reoffending.
Archbishop Eamon Martin told child-safeguarding delegates from dioceses and religious orders: "In a society which demonises and clamours for permanent exclusion of such offenders, one wonders how to strike the balance between mercy and justice."
He made the remarks in an address to the National Child Safeguarding Conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly. The conference focused on some of the complex areas of child safeguarding and was addressed by abuse survivor 'Pauline', who told delegates how she felt the church's response to survivors could be improved.
The Archbishop stressed that those clerics guilty of the sexual abuse of minors "cannot minister again as priests" and he cited Pope John Paul II, who said in 2002: "There is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm the young."
Conference delegates were told that part of the dilemma for the church was how to seek redemption for the offender while not compounding the "lifelong trauma" of survivors.
"The church's response to those found guilty is one of the most delicate and controversial issues in safeguarding," he said.
Emphasising how abuse not only damages lives but is also "toxic" to faith and hope in God, the Catholic Primate said Pope Francis had encouraged church leaders "to meet with victims and their loved ones, to listen to those who have suffered so greatly and to ask their forgiveness".
Admitting that "mistakes have been made" in dealings with survivors, the archbishop admitted: "I have at times failed to realise how easily my own words and approach can unintentionally come across as hurtful or defensive to those who have been betrayed and let down by church leaders or other personnel in the past."
Last month, survivors of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, Jon McCourt of Survivors North West and Margaret McGuckian of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA), told a Stormont committee that they felt Archbishop Martin "belittled" them at a meeting last July.
The Primate of All Ireland said in a statement that he was "somewhat taken aback" by the comment.
Elsewhere in his keynote address, Archbishop Martin said responding to survivors on the issue of redress and compensation needed to be approached with "openness, respecting the right to justice for survivors, respondents and all concerned".
The conference discussed the needs of those against whom allegations are made and the challenges posed by the need to protect children, while also upholding the principle that the accused is innocent unless proven guilty.
The church authorities must remain open to constructive criticism about the implementation of its procedures, the archbishop said.