Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

1:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)

I welcome the publication of the Ferns Report and compliment those responsible for its compilation. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is to be commended on taking a proactive stance in the aftermath of its publication. It is hoped that the inquiry into events in the Dublin diocese will be completed in 18 months. What of the other dioceses, however? Let nobody be fooled that abuse is not widespread. One might contend that some small dioceses have had only one or two cases, as published, but the hidden reality is that there are far more. Those who believe abuse is or has not been widespread are deluding themselves into a false sense of security.

As a consequence of such abuse, the lives of many young people have been destroyed. Victims may get on with their lives but there is no denying the hurt and pain they must endure. Nobody who has not experienced it will ever understand such pain. Any person reading the fourth chapter of the report can only respond with revulsion and anger.

I have formed a particular idea after reading the report. Will the Minister of State investigate the relationship between abuse, from whatever source, and suicide? Why is suicide such a major affliction in this State? Those most likely to die through suicide are young adult males. There must be some connection with the incidence of child abuse. I ask the Minister of State to allocate whatever resources and expertise are necessary to examine this matter. Such an approach might represent an initial step in finding some answers to the tragedies endured by so many families. If the incidence of abuse is seen to have been a factor in such tragedies, we must pursue an investigation.

There is no doubt that there has been some degree of denial and cover-up in the past three decades. The report mentions cases where somebody was assigned to "keep an eye on" a priest who was known or suspected to have sexually abused a child or children. In one such instance, the person assigned this responsibility was not informed of the reason the priest in question required supervision. There was always somebody withholding information. I concur with Senator Henry's observations regarding the comments last night on a television programme that other clergy may not have known of the activities of their abusive colleagues. I cannot understand how adults of academic standing could be unaware of what was involved in child sexual abuse. It seems clear there was some level of endeavour among the hierarchy to conceal what was happening.

All of us must commend Fr. Gerard McGinnity. His efforts to assist the young seminarians who asked for his help exacted a great personal cost. His efforts were stamped on at every juncture by those, including some in the highest ranks of the hierarchy, who wished to prevent any investigation of his concerns. Individual bishops and other religious people decided that abusive priests should be moved around to other ministries. Fr. Sean Fortune, for example, was sent to a new position in Westminster. He might not be known there. No report was sent to the new bishop who had taken him into his diocese about the background and the circumstances under which he was transferred. That was endemic throughout the country.


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