News Analysis

Saturday 20 September 2014

For all his faults, Bishop is right – sexual abuse is not confined to Catholicism

Comment

Published 01/02/2014 | 02:30

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CHILDREN'S Minister Frances Fitzgerald may have been disappointed that the official launch of the €600m Child and Family Agency was overshadowed by the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the Louise O'Keeffe case.

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She should not be. The ECHR ruling, which exposed the failure of the State to protect its children from abuse in primary schools, goes to the heart of the new agency's mission and underscores the need for a multi-agency approach to child protection.

The minister may also be dismayed by remarks from Brendan Comiskey, the former Bishop of Ferns who still – it seems – has not come to terms with his management of paedophile priests in Wexford.

Bishop Comiskey (79) claims in today's Irish Independent that he did his best; that it wasn't good enough and "that's it".

He has also warned that an "extraordinary amount" of revelations concerning child abuse in the wider Irish society are yet to be exposed.

Sadly, that claim holds true – and bears proper scrutiny.

The activities of paedophile priests in Ferns such as Fr Sean Fortune and the failure by the church hierarchy to protect children in that diocese was grotesque.

But it was the courage of victims in Ferns such as Colm O'Gorman, and journalists such as Alison O'Connor and Sarah MacDonald who convinced them to publicly expose abusers – and those who protected them – that finally forced the Government to act.

The 2002 BBC documentary 'Suing the Pope' heaped extraordinary pressure on the State to formally inquire into allegations of clerical sex abuse in Ferns.

The facts uncovered by the Ferns Inquiry, set up by statute and chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Frank Murphy, were shocking.

Ferns was a landmark report in this respect and, as more allegations of abuse and neglect emerged, new inquiries replaced it.

The statutory inquiries that followed – including Ryan (institutional abuse); Murphy (Dublin Archdiocese); and the Cork diocese of Cloyne – all revealed a systemic failure to protect children as the church protected itself.

For all his faults, Bishop Comiskey is correct to note that the prevalence of sexual violence extends far beyond the high walls of Catholicism.

The landmark Sexual Abuse in Ireland (SAVI) Report, launched in 2002, revealed that one in five women reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood.

One in six men reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood.

If we are serious about child protection, we should be conducting SAVI- style studies every three to five years to monitor the prevalence of abuse and to encourage victims to take their cases to conclusion and punish abusers.

Ferns broke the mould, but the protection of children requires constant vigilance.

Irish Independent

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