Monday 14 October 2019

Welcome move by Brothers

THE Christian Brothers' promise of reparation involving "all our resources above and beyond such accommodation and means necessary to maintain the members of our congregation" is an extraordinary attempt to meet their moral obligation.

Taken at face value, it represents a dramatic and welcome breakthrough in the increasingly sordid aftermath of the Ryan child abuse report.

The Brothers propose to hand over properties worth tens of millions of euro to a trust which will administer direct help to the victims of abuse. Their initiative appears to cut a swathe through the Government's assertion of legal intractability and the other religious groups' protestations of inability, or unwillingness, to pay.

The Christian Brothers are known to own many valuable properties apart from the 97 primary and secondary schools which are now run under the aegis of a trust. The Sisters of Mercy, who controlled the infamous Goldenbridge institution for girls, own some 47 properties around the country.

The Brothers' initiative and the language in which it is conveyed, are in marked contrast to the congregation's response on the day the Ryan report was published.

A spokesman then struggled to find words to convince us that the Brothers truly understood that their congregation had been found guilty of heinous offences, and that the abuse of decades had been found to be systemic and not just the work of a few bad apples, or an unavoidable symptom of a "dark time".

The report not only recorded multiple acts of gross abuse by individual Brothers but also showed how the order's managers cynically moved abusers around to cover their tracks. At one stage, as many as seven known sexual predators were in Artane industrial school, having been shifted from school to school.

The penny appears to have dropped.

Having examined their collective conscience, the Christian Brothers have accepted culpability and say they want to make amends and beg forgiveness.

The congregation goes further than acknowledging the terrible things that went on in its institutions in the past. It confesses that it extended the suffering of former residents who were either not believed or not listened to.

The language is extraordinary and it rings true. Indeed the language used by various groups in the wake of the Ryan report has revealed some interesting mindsets.

There was the abrupt rejection by the Conference of Religious Orders of calls to revisit the 2002 pact. Its bluntness contrasted sharply with the conciliatory tone of the orders' expressions of regret a few days earlier.

Bertie Ahern, the prime mover in the 2002 deal, chose to point out that not all children in the institutions were abused. "Let's be clear about that", he said knowingly. In fact, few children will have emerged from those places unscarred, mentally if not physically, whether raped or beaten, or not, and to suggest otherwise betrays an obtuse avoidance of the self evident. Mr Ahern has said that his intention in 2002 was to avoid bankrupting religious orders and has accused critics of his preposterous deal as "just anti-church". The party line, repeated by various ministers has been that the deal was primarily intended to spare the victims the trauma of court cases. Why then do victims declare themselves feeling empty and cheated?

The Minister for Education would be expected to choose his words carefully, so he must have meant it when he said: "There is no legal way that I can coerce the Church to renegotiate this particular deal." To coerce is to bully, pressurise or intimidate.

Yet, far from feeling coerced, the head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Brady and the Archbishop of Dublin have both acknowledged the inequitable nature of the outdated pact.

Moreover, the deeds of religious men and women who raped, beat and tortured innocent children went far beyond coercion.

The Christian Brothers have now gone beyond expressions of sorrow and regret and have offered the victims of institutional abuse something tangible. If the other 17 religious orders protected under the 2002 "little arrangement" are sincerely contrite they will follow suit, and offer recompense rather than empty words.

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