Thursday 18 July 2019

Order must now pay for pain of the past, says Sister Stanislaus

I'd no idea of these abuse crimes, says campaigner

Sister Mary Christian, the congregational leader, social justice campaigner Sister Stanislaus Kennedy and Sister Miriam Hennessy, the Irish provincial leader, at yesterday's Sisters of Charity conference in Dublin Castle
Sister Mary Christian, the congregational leader, social justice campaigner Sister Stanislaus Kennedy and Sister Miriam Hennessy, the Irish provincial leader, at yesterday's Sisters of Charity conference in Dublin Castle

Breda Heffernan

SOCIAL justice campaigner Sr Stanislaus Kennedy has called on her religious order to face its financial responsibilities to the victims of institutional abuse with a "generous spirit".

Sr Stan also apologised for the "heinous crimes" committed against children at the order's two institutions in Kilkenny, but said she had no inkling the abuses were taking place at the time.

The Ryan Commission found there was severe punishment and physical and emotional abuse of children at St Patrick's and St Joseph's industrial schools while, at the latter, 13 boys were sexually abused by two men who were employed by the order as childcare workers.

Speaking at a Sisters of Charity conference in Dublin Castle yesterday, Sr Stan said she lived at the convent at St Joseph's during the 1970s. But she said she did not work with the children and had no idea of the abuses being carried out by the two "cruel and ferocious paedophiles".

"I did not know about abuse when I was in Kilkenny. I didn't know anybody who knew it and that is my position. There was one incident where a childcare worker told me about another man who was beating the children and I sent him to the resident manager, and I left it at that," she added. She said she felt ashamed, shocked and desperately sad and sorry about the revelations of abuse in the order's institutions.

"Our first duty as religious is to acknowledge the hurt we have collectively caused and this is being done. Our next duty is to do everything in our power to make reparation for the harm done, to alleviate their pain and suffering and to restore, as far as is possible, the dignity that was taken from them as children.

"This includes facing our financial responsibilities in a generous spirit and with an open heart," she added.

Sr Stan was unable to say what the current financial position of the Sisters of Charity was but said discussions were taking place within the order about the merits of establishing an independent trust that would determine how future compensation would be spent.

"We're very open to have our resources being made known, we're very transparent about it and then a decision will be made as to how much we have to contribute and we are open to that."

Danger

She said there was a real danger that the religious congregations might become "paralysed" by the Ryan report and withdraw from their good works. However, she argued it should instead push them to do more.

Also speaking at the conference, President Mary McAleese described the revelations of abuse as a "millstone of Biblical proportions" and a sad chapter in both the history of the Sisters of Charity as well as the country.

She also called on the public to take a stand against those "who would drag us down the road of scapegoating and stereotyping" of immigrants during the recession.

Christine Buckley, a survivor of the Goldenbridge Industrial School and director of the Aislinn support centre, said she would take the apology by the Sisters of Charity with "a grain of salt". She said she was sceptical about the timing of the apology and said it had only come about because of the publication of the Ryan report.

"They have been found out, not by us because we weren't believed. They have been found out due to the Ryan report and I believe it would have been much more fitting for her [Sr Stan] today to have issued a personal letter to the people who were under her care," she added.

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