Wednesday 21 February 2018

Pressure grows to reopen abuse deal

Orders 'must hand over more funds' to victims

Fionnan Sheahan and John Cooney

RELIGIOUS orders were left increasingly isolated last night amid mounting pressure to give more money to the compensation fund for victims of institutional child abuse.

The first signals of a significant change in the Catholic hierarchy's position came as senior Church officials called for a greater financial contribution.

The Government and opposition also spoke of the need for the 18 religious orders to increase their share of the redress fund's final bill.

Although the final payout to victims of institutional abuse was €1.2bn, the orders only gave €127m of this.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the religious orders "should contribute more", but he admitted the Government could not force them to renegotiate the highly contentious indemnity deal struck in the dying days of the first Fianna Fail-led government in 2002.

"We don't have a strong battery of legal armour at our disposal. The Attorney General will give definitive advice on Tuesday but the indications are not hopeful. Because, of course, when you sign an indemnity agreement, that is an agreement," he said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen declined to call on the religious orders to give more money, as he left it up to them to make the first move.

Adding to the pressure, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore both said there was an obligation on the religious orders to increase their contribution to the redress fund and the Government needed to take steps to ensure a larger sum was paid over.

But the real signs of a sea-change in attitude came from within the Church itself.

The aide to the Primate of All-Ireland said the orders "need to pay more".

And the Bishop of Down and Connor also weighed into the controversy by saying there needed to be a "morally and ethically acceptable solution".

It is understood the Catholic hierarchy will now back the calls for more financial assistance, but not until next month.

Pressure

The Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, is expected to put intense pressure on 18 religious orders to pay more than the agreed €127m to the State, senior Church sources said.

The 26 heads of dioceses in the Republic and Northern Ireland, who gather for their next scheduled three-day meeting on June 8, will review the immense damage done to the Irish Church's standing.

At Masses across the country yesterday special prayers were said for abuse victims and for the protection of children throughout society.

The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse found decades-long systemic and endemic sexual and physical abuse of 2,500 children in institutions run by religious orders.

Although the Conference of Religious in Ireland is a separate body from the hierarchy, the bishops have the power to summon the leaders of the congregations to a special joint emergency meeting.

The tensions between the bishops and the religious orders emerged yesterday when Fr Tim Bartlett, the personal assistant to Cardinal Brady, insisted that they had a moral obligation to look again at the 2002 deal.

"In my personal view they need to pay more. I believe personally there is no question but that this must be looked at again," he said.

"I think it is very clear where the moral duty, the obligation of natural justice and particularly the call of the Gospel draw this particular conversation."

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