Church versus State clash looms as orders dig in heels
A major Church-State clash loomed last night after 18 religious orders refused to budge from their hard-line position on renegotiating their 2002 child abuse indemnity deal.
In a statement issued after a meeting in Dublin, the orders failed to indicate any willingness to raise the cap on their €127m contribution in the redress deal sealed by the Government that will cost tax-payers €1.2bn.
It also emerged yesterday that Taoiseach Brian Cowen is to meet with the victims' groups on Wednesday.
Victims' groups reacted with anger to the statement and demanded an independent audit of the orders' finances.
Last night Christine Buckley, head of the Aislinn Educational and Victims' Support Centre, said the approach advocated by the religious orders was unacceptable.
"We need an independent audit of their money and we will not tolerate any longer their emotional control. They are incapable of understanding or accepting the true scale of the damage they have done."
Meanwhile, Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One In Four child abuse support group, said she was disappointed by the orders' response.
"It's very clear to everyone that the religious orders must now reconsider their position," she told the Irish Independent last night. "An apology would carry more weight if they were to agree to extend the deadline for the indemnity scheme. We also believe it's essential the State adopts a more robust approach to dealing with the religious orders. There seemed to be indications during the week that they would be making further reparations."
The orders said they were "committed as individual congregations to make contributions which can offer further support and assistance to former residents" -- a vague but carefully worded phrase signalling their refusal to reopen the 2002 agreement and the break-up of "the CORI [Conference of Religious Ireland] 18" group.
The statement fell far short of the personal statement made by CORI justice director Fr Sean Healy to an Oireachtas Committee recognising the need for substantial extra financial contributions.
Yesterday -- 10 days after the publication of the findings by the Ryan Commission that physical, sexual and emotional abuse was systematic in the religious-run institutions -- the 18 orders spent most of a meeting discussing the report rather than on how they would collectively meet their obligations to pay more.
Although the orders once again expressed "shame" and apologised to the victims of childhood abuse they did not commit themselves to accepting the Ryan report's 24 recommendations, saying they were still "examining" these.
However, a senior church source told the Irish Independent last night: " The semi-detached tone of the statement suggested that the 18 orders have still not absorbed the gravity of their crimes."
In a newsletter circulating to missionaries, the executive secretary of the Irish Missionary Union, Fr Liam Aylward, said yesterday the shocking revelations of abuse showed this was "undoubtedly a time of purification for the institutional Church in Ireland and the only way through it is for us to rediscover and proclaim in a new way, the authentic message of love contained in the Gospels, even if it leaves us penniless."
Last night, a spokesman for the Oblates, who ran the notorious Daignean reformatory for boys in Co Offaly, said they had informed the Taoiseach of their readiness to meet him and expedite their commitment to make substantial additional contributions to the victims.
Meanwhile, Survivors of Institutional Abuse in Ireland (SOIAI) called on the public to join a silent march on June 9 from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dail in support of the victims.
Bruce Arnold, Page24