Friday 18 January 2019

Church's priority isn't repentance for sins - it is keeping its assets

Then Monsignor Eamon Martin (left) and Fr Michael Canny in 2011, at the launch of a report into clerical abuse in the Derry Diocese. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Then Monsignor Eamon Martin (left) and Fr Michael Canny in 2011, at the launch of a report into clerical abuse in the Derry Diocese. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

It's bad enough the State has picked up almost the entire €1.5bn tab for the redress scheme; is it too much to expect politicians to learn any lessons?

There were the usual impotent howls of rage from ministers when a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed religious orders have contributed just €192m to the €1.5bn cost of the redress scheme.

Calling the 13pc contribution from religious orders "pathetic and paltry", Health Minister Simon Harris demanded that the Vatican get involved, while Education Minister Richard Bruton vowed that the Government would apply additional "moral pressure".

Have these men learned nothing in the last 14 years? Does anyone in Government honestly believe that any amount of "moral pressure" will open the tightly sealed purse strings of religious congregations?

After more than two decades of revelations of clerical abuse that have horrified and scarred a nation, why do Government ministers think the Church will succumb to moral pressure now?

Do they not understand, at this late stage, that the Church has absolutely zero interest in contributing its fair share to the compensation scheme set up for those citizens its members, raped, tortured and abused?

Its only interest all along has been money - how to pay the least amount for the gross violations and depredations meted out to little children, by its employees, for decades.

To that end, the Fianna Fáil government, in power when the redress scheme was set up, was very helpful. Then-education minister Michael Woods signed off on a deal in which the exposure of the religious orders was capped at €127m, with the State indemnifying these groups against all future claims.

And the Church was not slow to call in this indemnity. In 2006, for example, the State paid €745,000 to former residents of St Joseph's Orphanage in Kilkenny after they won awards in separate High Court actions.

Despite outward expressions of horror, the truth is the Church and the State have known for decades that institutions like St Joseph's were rife with abuse. For example, in 1954, Department of Education Inspector Anna McCabe reported that a painter employed by the Sisters of Charity had abused nine girls in St Joseph's orphanage in Kilkenny. At the insistence of a priest, who warned that the scandal would destroy the institution, an investigation into the matter was quietly dropped.

This sort of information makes the State's decision to sign a blank cheque for the religious orders, without first consulting its archives or doing any due diligence, even more infuriating.

It's impossible to even say the State has learned any lessons, because the ability of the Church to run rings around politicians has been evident throughout the intervening period.

In 2009, after the final Ryan report was published, public anger and revulsion was such that the religious congregations finally agreed to contribute more money to the redress scheme.

In total, they were supposed to donate a further €352.6m, but this was revised down to €225.6m in 2015 after the Christian Brothers reneged on an agreement to transfer property to a joint trust between the Edmund Rice Schools Trust and the Government.

Instead, they decided to transfer this property into the sole name of Edmund Rice Schools Trust.

To truly understand the breathtaking greed and arrogance of this decision it is necessary to first understand the origins of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust - which was set up by the Christian Brothers in 2008 as a vehicle into which its property could be placed. So, you see, instead of giving the State an additional €127m in property, in an effort to make amends for the rape and abuse of hundreds of children, the Christian Brothers have generously opted to give it to themselves.

Still, Government ministers don't seem to get it. They don't understand that the primary motivation of the Church is not reparation, or penance for its sins, but hanging onto its assets and influence.

Successive governments have tried their best to wring additional monies from the Church for the redress scheme, to no avail. Now, it's time to draw a line under that fiasco and learn some lessons.

Instead of wailing over the terms of a deal done nearly 20 years ago, ministers should instead be examining ways to remove the vice-like grip of the Church from the provision of public services, like health and education.

It's time for ministers to stop crawling to religious orders, imploring them to do the right thing. It's time to exert some influence and build a wall between Church and State.

Irish Independent

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