Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

3:00 pm

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his contribution last week on the Ferns Report. He obviously understands the problem and knows the actions that need to be taken.

Many people who read the report said they had feelings of anger and I can understand that. When I read the report I had feelings of profound sadness because of the abuse the children suffered. One must think of abuse in terms of the physical abuse that accompanies sexual abuse. One cannot abuse a child without being physically abusive as well. Most of all I am sad when I think of the violation of innocence. I feel sad also when I think of the priests who conducted this abuse and that the only way they could find sexual gratification was through the abuse of little children. It is said that 3.6% of sexual abuse is conducted by clergy and that the other 96% is conducted by other people but 1% is too much.

There was a very good article by Vincent Browne in The Sunday Business Post on 6 November 2005 in which he wrote:

The statistics of sex child abuse are absolutely shocking... These figures are extrapolated from Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI), published in 2002. The survey was conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons, and funded by the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. . . .

About 150,000 adults were shown pornographic material when they were children.

Around 40,000 were stripped naked and made to pose in sexually suggestive ways.

Around 450,000 people, while children, were exposed to someone displaying their sexual organs.

About 160,000 saw a man masturbate in front of them while they were children.

Around 350,000 were touched sexually by adults.

Around 100,000 were subjected as children to attempted sexual intercourse.

About 40,000 actually had sexual intercourse.

About 25,000 were forced to have oral sex.

More than 50,000 were subjected to anal sex.

More than 60,000 women had objects inserted into their vagina while they were children.

These are facts from the Ireland of today.

I only mention these appalling statistics to show that not just priests and members of the clergy abuse children but also teenage boys, parents and, based on my experience shortly before I resigned from the job I had, increasingly mothers. Relating some of the stories I have heard could make one physically ill. I hope the Seanad returns to this important debate soon.

The figure of 1% is too high. The abuse by priests was so shocking because they have a special place of trust. We go to priests to confess and open our souls by telling them everything. These are the people who seemed to abuse this trust. Many of the men who did this would never dream of breaking the seal of confession. They were compassionate at funerals. They cared for people when they were distressed. They did everything else a priest should do. However, when it came to sex they abused children. The terrible image of the priest who abused the little girls and had them between his legs on the altar steps in front of the blessed sacrament and in front of other little girls whom he told to close their eyes will live with me for many a day. It is a horrific image of abuse.

Why did it happen? As stated in the report, with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see that the church authorities, the medical profession and society in general failed to appreciate the horrendous damage caused by the sexual abuse of children. Some of the views at the time were peculiar. If a priest erred and confessed he was told not to do it again and forgiven. However, forgiveness requires not just that the person make a firm promise of amendment, but also that he make reparation. No reparation was ever made until these cases were highlighted and now reparation has been made. Reparation in hindsight is not much good.

I can speak with some slight authority on these matters in that I was professionally involved with some of the people mentioned in the report. I wonder why some of the psychological reports and psychiatric reports available at the time never came into the hands of the inquiry. For the past 30 years I have conducted psychological assessments of candidates for religious life for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. In the early 1970s, Professor Feichin O'Doherty, professor of psychology in UCD, established a group called The Group for Religious Psychology. One of our objectives was to conduct these assessments. We went to England to dioceses, congregations and orders. We went to Ascot, Birmingham and other places. The group included Des McQuaid who went on to become principal psychologist at the Mater Hospital, the Reverend Don McClatchie, who was living in the Church of Ireland establishment in Suffolk Street, Dr. Eithne Swan from the department of education in UCD and others.

In the early days some of the hierarchy would not listen to us when we produced our reports. They believed that it was God's will that if a person applied to enter the priesthood he should be allowed to do so regardless of the circumstances. Gradually they learned that we were right and they were not. A very good psychologist, Dr. Patrick Randles, whom I know, is quoted as stating that the church is now taking a more comprehensive view. The report states that there is no definitive test to assess a person's suitability for priesthood. However, I certainly know what would make a bad one. I have never been wrong in a diagnosis in 30 years.

Many of the beliefs that prevailed at the time beggar belief. For example, I met priests who believed that they would not break their vow of celibacy if they had sex with a male. When I used to visit one particular order to carry out psychological assessments if I was accompanied by a male assistant psychologist it was fine. However, a female assistant psychologist was not permitted to carry out a one-to-one interview with a young man because she would give him bad thoughts. I used to work with another order that took on people who could not be recommended under any circumstances in the hope that over a long formation they would get psychotherapy which would make them good people and then good priests, as if being a priest was not a hard enough life in the first place. Thankfully, nowadays the heads of orders, congregations and the hierarchy take the advice offered to them.

Paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which there is a preferential attraction to pre-pubescent children whereas ephebophilia is a preferential attraction to post-pubescent minors. Therefore, despite what is said, thank God there are very few paedophiles, either in the priesthood or in society at large. The unconfirmed figure is 0.4%. We should be very careful about labelling people.

Reference is made on page 32 of the report to Dr. Conrad Baars, a psychiatrist with many years experience in treating priests, who presented a research paper at the 1971 synod of bishops in Rome in which he identified emotional psychosexual immaturity which manifested itself in heterosexual or homosexual activity as a serious problem for ordained priests. This was also brought forward by Fr. Eugene Kennedy at the national conference of Catholic bishops.

I can confirm this from experience. The men I met at this time had no experience whatsoever of maturing, normal sexuality. They never had a girlfriend, or indeed a boyfriend. They never took a girl for a walk around the back of a dance hall. They never had any of the normal experimentation of a teenager growing up and had no idea of sexuality. They believed masturbation was a mortal sin. I do not care whether it is or not, but just point out the attitude they had towards these matters. In some cases their attitudes were exacerbated by alcoholism and, in some cases, psychopathic personalities. They began to use a child as an adult substitute. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that abuse is all due to celibacy. There are too many reasons and other factors involved.

Professor Patricia Casey says more or less the same, namely, that in light of the limited information about the pattern of child molestation by priests, the assertion in the Ferns Report that celibacy contributes to the problem must be viewed with extreme scepticism.

We cannot change the past, but can hope to change the future by being effective in the here and now. What must be done? Despite the protestations of Mrs. Carson about throwing the whole lot out in one go, there is much that can be done. As I said earlier, we must be careful about labelling people and calling them paedophiles when that may not be the case. We all have heterosexual and homosexual friends who never abused children. There are paedophiles and psychopaths, but many of the priests who abused children were sexually immature to a degree that one could not possibly imagine unless one met them.

One could not imagine the fact that they never had any experience of normal sexual maturing. They could speak Latin, Greek and French, do mathematics and play Gaelic, but when it came to relating to another adult on a sexually mature level, whether a homosexual or a heterosexual person, they did not have any experience and could not do it. I am not necessarily referring to them having sex but relating to another person on a one-to-one basis.

If we are to prevent something like this recurring the following must happen. The hierarchy must own up, admit to and acknowledge whatever happened, however harrowing this may be. The current practice put into place by Bishop Eamonn Walsh in Ferns must be installed in every diocese in Ireland. Every candidate for religious life must undergo a comprehensive, psychological assessment. Most important, during formation due emphasis must be given to the development of a mature adult approach to sexuality. Finally, the thousands of fine decent priests must be supported, affirmed and acknowledged for the lives they have dedicated to doing God's work in the way it should be done.

There is no way to totally prevent abuse happening, but we can go a long way towards preventing it by putting these steps in place. I hope and trust the hierarchy is listening this time, because there will not be another time.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House and I join Senator Lydon in congratulating him on his contribution to the debate last week. It was important, timely and very measured. The Ferns Report is something on which we can build. I have rarely found myself in agreement with Senator Lydon on issues relating to the church and problems within the church, but in the contribution to this debate he raised many issues which are important to me. I am not a student of the Bible, but I am aware of St. Paul's letter to Timothy in which he said many negative things which we rightly do not accept in this day and age. For example, he said that a woman should be subject to her husband. He also said something with which I agree - that priests should be married because if they cannot look after a family and a home, they cannot be trusted with a church. We should return to that position.

I agree with Senator Lydon that much of what happened in Ferns and is happening in other places relates to sexual repression and immaturity. It is hugely important that we distinguish between child sexual abuse and paedophilia. We need to consider where that brings us. When a young person is abused, that is abuse. That child is always abused and is always a victim. As Senator Lydon said, physical abuse and mental torture will always accompany the sexual abuse or mistreatment that takes place. Every paedophile who is active is a child sexual abuser, but not every child sexual abuser is a paedophile. In many cases, child sexual abuse stems from sexual repression and immaturity and a lack of sexual development.

Like Senator Lydon, I do not ask the church to listen to me. It will not listen to me because it has never done so. I am offering my view of what should happen. Decent, good and honourable priests should be allowed to take wives if that is what they wish to do. The clergy should grow up and recognise that there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual and being a practising homosexual priest. If married priests were recognised and gay priests were accepted, we would have identified and focussed the extent of the problem in this regard.

I would like to mention one respect in which I differ from Senator Lydon, who gave a definition of paedophilia in the course of his contribution. I am sure he will agree with me in this regard if he thinks about it. I believe that many of those involved in child sexual abuse, who should have been married or practising homosexuals, may not have been sexually mature. I have dealt with paedophiles in another role, as the House is aware. I have always found them to be organised, predatory and able to groom their victims over a number of years. They are able to get under, or take advantage of, the supposedly failsafe ring of responsibility that surrounds people in such positions. I differentiate between paedophiles and other child sexual abusers. That is an issue. I ask that we examine the issues I have raised so that priests are able to lead normal lives.

I remind Senator Lydon that I know some of those who have suffered under the church's rules. When a very good friend of mine, Fr. Kevin Hegarty, was editor of a clerical magazine called Intercom in 1989, he tried to start a debate on clerical sexual abuse in that publication. What did he get for his troubles? He was sacked by Bishop Comiskey. Fr. Hegarty, who is a man of extraordinary intellectual ability, now finds himself unable to contribute widely, although he contributes very well as a curate in a small parish at the most western end of the Mullet Peninsula, where he is dearly loved by his flock. He could be making a much greater contribution, however.

I am also aware of the case of a man who was a dean in Maynooth. I do not doubt that he could be a bishop or an archbishop by now, leading the church into greener pastures, but instead he finds himself without a career, trying to reinstate his professional reputation. Like many decent priests and clerics throughout the country, such people have lost out. When I meet them, they are deeply ashamed and embarrassed about what is going on at present.

I would like to mention the attempts which have been made by Bishop Willie Walsh over the past three weeks to try to put across the other side of the argument on the issue of celibacy. Senator Lydon made the important point that it would be useful to define the term "celibacy". To be celibate is to be unmarried. There is no problem if celibacy is a choice for people, but problems can be created if celibacy is a requirement and a compulsion. That is the platform on which we encounter difficulties.

I am interested in the response of the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic Church to the most damning report that has been produced, in terms of detail, about any diocese in the world. Questions have been asked and eyebrows have been raised about a number of dioceses in the United States. Given that the Ferns Report is the worst report on a Catholic diocese about the issue of child sexual abuse that we have ever seen, it is unacceptable that there has been absolute silence from Rome. As the leader of the Irish diplomatic corps in the Vatican, the Irish Papal Nuncio should recognise that he has a role to play in this regard. We need to hear from him on this matter.

In his previous existence as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope issued an edict of omerta from Rome in the 1970s or 1980s. The edict stated that all allegations of child sexual abuse against priests should be dealt with and investigated confidentially. That was bad enough, but the edict went on to say that anyone who broke the code of confidentiality — I do not refer to confessional confidentiality but to confidentiality of disclosure — did so under pain of excommunication. That threat was put in place to ensure that whistleblowers or people who wanted to take certain matters further would not do so. Senator Lydon mentioned that he has met such people.

Over the past 20 years, I have demanded on many occasions that disclosure and mandatory reporting be deemed to be essential aspects of the roles of people who deal with children, but I have never received the support of Governments of all shades on this issue. We need to reconsider this aspect of the matter, just as we need to insist that the Stay Safe programme be taught in every school in Ireland. I have said previously in this House that the two women who developed the Stay Safe programme were initially unable to get support from anyone. The INTO finally made the necessary funds available to the women to conduct their research over the course of a year, before they received some support from the then Minister, Senator O'Rourke. I was unable to convince the leadership in the Department of Education to give the programme its imprimatur so that it could be introduced in schools.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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That may be the wrong noun to use.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I know. I wish to give the then Minister for Education some credit for her actions at that time. If she had not supported the women in question, the introduction of the Stay Safe programme would have been delayed for many years. It is worth recalling that she stood with me, against some of her senior officials, by saying she wanted the programme to be implemented. Not too many people took an interest in the programme at the time. She may well have suffered at the hands of the hierarchy at a later stage — she was certainly not thanked for the stance she had taken.

I am sure Senator Lydon will disagree with my opinion on a case that he mentioned. I refer to the case of a priest who absolutely took advantage of some young people — he violated them — on the altar of a church. He brought further hardship on his victims a fortnight later when he insisted on performing the confirmation ceremony. He walked into the church in the company of the local bishop, to whom the allegation had been reported in the previous fortnight. The bishop decided to allow the priest to perform the ceremony despite having been told about his actions. When one of the children in question tragically died less than two years later, the same priest insisted on looking after the obsequies and funeral arrangements and rites in the church, against the wishes of her parents. I cannot think of anything lower in my life.

I am also concerned about what happened to the files in that case. The matter was very well investigated by the local Garda sergeant, who was obviously appalled by what he discovered. He put together some documents on the matter and presented his report to senior officials. The senior official in the area, the local chief superintendent, insisted on receiving the files. However, they were not available to the team which produced the Ferns Report because they have not been found since. I do not know why this is the case.

The chief superintendent, who has since died, was a major figure in the Knights of St. Columbanus. What role did they play in this affair? After his retirement, the chief superintendent was awarded the papal Bene Merente medal by Pope John Paul II. Every person in Ireland who has received this medal should ask questions about how it came to be awarded to this individual. Decent people, including neighbours of mine, have been awarded the medal for their contribution to the Catholic Church and the church is entitled to do so. However, these people are in a position to ask certain questions and should do so.

A range of organisations have introduced a malaise into the Catholic Church in various places around Europe and we need to examine how it happened here. The Knights of St. Columbanus have never been very helpful to me over the past 20 years so they cannot affect me any more adversely than they will probably do now. They are connected to the Ferns affair and should tell us their view on the matter.

Senator Lydon made the valid point that the percentage of clerical abusers is low. We need programmes for parents in addition to the Stay Safe programme if we are to protect children from abuse. We also need an agreed method of investigating allegations of child sexual abuse. When I regularly dealt with such cases approximately ten years ago, I contacted all the health boards but could not find two boards which had the same approach to dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. A significant number of health boards did not have any system for dealing with such allegations. Consequently, issues were either not dealt with or incorrectly handled and I discovered at least three cases where people were wrongly accused of abuse because of a lack of expertise in dealing with the issue.

Priests should have the right to marry and the church should recognise priests who acknowledge and act on their homosexuality. We should deal with paedophilia. Anyone working with children, including teachers and priests, should be vetted. Vetting procedures are used in Northern Ireland and in other occupations. A person who is offered a job in the Houses of the Oireachtas is vetted for security purposes. It is as important to vet a person working with children. The church should get its act together and we should recognise that the victims of abuse, regardless of their background, need our support.

We must insist that the Health Service Executive introduces a protocol for dealing with child abuse of which we are all aware. I would like to hear the Minister of State's opinion on this matter. There must be mandatory reporting of any allegation of child abuse and such an allegation must be dealt with clearly and properly. The Stay Safe programme must be introduced in every school in the country and there must be a nationwide system for vetting people who work with children. The Government should contact the Papal Nuncio and demand that the Vatican issue a view on the Ferns Report. If certain organisations, such as the Knights of St. Columbanus, have played a role in this affair, we need to hear from them.

4:00 pm

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his excellent presentation and the manner in which he delivered it. No Member was unimpressed or unaffected by the presentation and the manner of its delivery. We normally rise to welcome a Minister who is coming to the House to take a debate and we also welcome the subject of debate. Sadly, the Ferns Report cannot be welcomed by any of us. The report was published two weeks ago and made for the most horrible and sad reading. It turned my stomach. I was forced to read stories two or three times to take in the enormity of the abuse that occurred. Even then I felt a sense of incredulity that such abuse could have occurred but I realised that it could and did occur and that it could occur in the future.

The fact that such abuse took place beggars belief. Possibly, some abuse took place in an era when such matters were hidden and doors were closed in the faces of abuse victims. Nevertheless, the fact that this happened shames us all. Ireland is now a more open society and I hope what we read about in the past could never happen again.

I thank Mr. Justice Francis D. Murphy and his team for producing such a comprehensive report and the speed with which it was produced. The task cannot have been easy. What they discovered must have turned their stomachs. I thank the Most Reverend Eamonn Walsh, Apostolic Administrator to the Diocese of Ferns. It could not have been easy for him to enter the diocese and clean up the mess left for him. I also thank Colm O'Gorman from the One in Four organisation. He is a fine, articulate young man and Irish society owes him an enormous debt of gratitude. The firm manner in which he articulated what took place and his great work on behalf of fellow victims of clerical abuse would make any political party proud.

Child abuse is the most evil act a person can do. If an individual saw an animal being abused, it would have a terrible effect on him or her. I do not know the effect the abuse of a person's child would have on him or her. It is not just the abuse victim who suffers; his or her extended family also suffers.

Child abuse is not particular to the clergy and only a small minority of the clergy abuse children. We have been overwhelmed in recent years by stories of clerical child abuse. I spoke about the abuse of children in my own county of Sligo in this House. We have all read and know about the sexual and physical abuse of children by teachers, sports coaches, relatives and even parents.

However, we should not throw the baby out with the bath water and kick the Catholic Church when it is already on its knees. The common trend in child abuse is the position of power held by the abuser over the abused child. The major problem with the abuse of children by the clergy is the institutional cover-up and the disdain for the law of the land shown by those in authority in the church. The suggestion that Canon Law is superior to the law of the land is appalling. The fact that highly educated people in the church can hold such a view is mind-boggling. I do not believe they ever thought Canon Law did take precedence over civil law but it afforded them a means of covering up clerical child abuse.

The Minister, Deputy McDowell, spoke last week at the press conference establishing the investigation into the Dublin diocese's handling of child abuse allegations, of the necessity to learn from the past in order to protect the children of the future. The inquiry will be headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, a mother, whom I wish well in her dealings in that regard. If we were to take anything from what has been said in this debate, the Minister's sentence is a good one on which to work. It is important we learn from the past, as bad, corrupt and evil as it was, but we must move on and protect the children of tomorrow.

The important message underlining this debate must be that only 6% of clerics have abused. The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong. We should not kick them all when they are down. There are very good people among the clergy. I know that from first-hand experience. I received great support from the clergy at my hour of grieving when my late husband died. I know what it was for the clergy to come into my home and give me comfort. People get comfort from them and they are an important fabric of our society.

I was interested to read Mary Raftery's report on this issue in The Irish Times last week. She referred to the need for a nationwide investigation. The point of her article was that if the inquiry is localised, there will be great room for denial of that abuse. If the inquiry is nationwide, it will instill into our minds the enormity of that abuse — which we know is only the subject of allegations at this stage — if those allegations transpire to be well founded. In fairness to all those who have been abused, there is an onus on us as legislators to make sure there is an investigation of such abuse in every diocese. Some people in every diocese will say that their diocese is not Ferns and that such abuse could not happen in their diocese. However, it can happen anywhere. We should not say it cannot happen because we know it can. I firmly believe that the investigation must be nationwide and that is the only way to go forward. Irrespective of the cost, we should investigate the abuse and make sure the perpetrators of it in the church know there is no hiding place for them anymore and that they must face the full rigours of the law like everybody else in Irish society.

To follow up on comments made last week in the other House, I repeat my earlier comments that the church plays a very important role in all our lives. It is an important structure of society. It represents the beliefs and the social views of the majority of the population on this island. It should not be dismissed any more than we would dismiss the trade unions, the farmers' organisations, the GAA or any other sports organisations. We should not cut off all our links with the church. Happily we have moved on and the State and the arms of Government do not have the same link with the church that they had 20 or 30 years ago and society is all the better for that. The church is an integral part of all our lives and mostly that is to the good of society.

I agree with Senator O'Toole's point that we must ensure that the Stay Safe programme is introduced in all our schools. There were times when I felt that if I had a gun I could shoot those people who tried to block the introduction of such programmes. That was wrong, but sadly people like me were in a minority. I hope people like me are now in the majority and that people will open the doors and allow those programmes to be taught.

The church has a great need to change. Senator O'Toole said it may be time for the church to grow up. Perhaps "grow up" is the right term. There is room for change in the church. I was saddened a few months ago to note that when the Irish bishops met, the issue of celibacy was not to be discussed. It was pointed out that there was no need to examine the issue of whether priests should marry. We would be a far better church if we were to allow our priests marry. To have a physical sexual relationship with a member of one's opposite gender is the most human natural feeling. Why should priests and nuns not enjoy all the trappings that go with such a relationship?

I want to refer to the silence from Rome on this issue. It is sickening to the core that this issue was not mentioned. I am partly of the view that perhaps as a small State on the periphery of Europe our church is too small to be considered in this context and that perhaps Pope Benedict has not even thought about us. From visiting Italy and observing the vast wealth of the Italian church, I am aware that Ireland does not measure up to that wealth. The mother church in Rome owes it to those of us who are Catholic, whether mediocre or good practising Catholics, and more so to the victims of clerical abuse to apologise and speak about the issue of abuse. If the church is not going to say "sorry", at least it should recognise the Ferns Report and the level of political debate taking place here as a result of it.

The Vatican can issue statements on gay relationships and IVF treatment, to name but two issues. I am saddened when the church in Rome bashes those types of issues, yet it has very little to say on an issue which has appalled all right-thinking people. This is not a question of bashing our church — nobody wants to do that. We are all proud to belong to the church, but as politicians we must be able to say to the church that it is time for it to change. Society has changed immensely in the past ten years. We acknowledge that every day we meet, whether discussing economic or social change. The church must also change.

I went on-line after the publication of the Ferns Report to note what the ISPCC had to say on it. I was interested to note it indicated it would put great pressure on politicians to make sure that we legislate to implement the recommendations of the report. It also referred to the need to legislate against silence and that is very true. We really need to do that. We must make it a crime for a person who knows a child has been abused to keep that information to himself or herself because the person does not want to get involved. I hate the term "whistleblower", but people who have such information should reveal it. We who have power should make it a crime for people with such knowledge to conceal it.

We need Garda vetting of staff and volunteers who work with children. That should be part of the legislation on this area. We must legislate to ensure that where people are known to be a risk to children, they must never under any circumstances, regardless of the number of years in which they are in remission, be allowed work with children in the future.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter. Like other speakers, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House and commend him on his work on this issue.

Like Senator Feeney, I could not welcome the contents of the Ferns Report but I welcome that it has been published. Its publication and that of other such reports mark a watershed in the process through which we are currently going of, hopefully, eradicating and dealing with a history of sexual abuse of children. The Ferns Report is a limited report that only concerns itself with a certain part of the church in a certain part of the country. Like others, I would welcome a nationwide investigation. This issue is not limited by diocesan boundaries or a particular part of the church. The orders in Ferns or other parts of the country have not been looked at either.

The Ferns Report is welcome because like other reports it shows us that we are able and willing to look at something which for so long was hidden and allowed to continue behind closed doors. It occurred in a situation where those who tried to blow the whistle were punished for it and sidelined while those who carried out the abuse were protected and allowed to be on the altar on confirmation day. That is the kind of evidence which so hugely offended many of us who are members of the Catholic Church. As a practising member of the Catholic Church it is difficult to accept that a bishop, a leader of the church, would allow somebody accused of abuse to parade up the centre of a church and stand by him on the altar on confirmation day. The parents and children involved had no option but to leave the church. This offensive evidence is but one account of so many from this report.

It is a shocking report but we must get over our shock. It is important that it be spoken about and that it is in the public domain because this abuse occurred in a society where the power of the church was such that anybody who questioned that power by way of suggesting that a member of the clergy was acting in a questionable way was simply not allowed to be heard. That day must end and we are now at that point. However, let us not go so far the other way as to, effectively, throw out everything that is good about the church, as Senator Feeney and others have said.

We must closely examine the relationship between the church and civic society. We represent civic society in this House and many of us are members of the Catholic Church. That is absolutely fine. We should not come with a spirit of anger and vengeance against the church in an attempt to punish it, as is the case with some people. Some see it as an opportunity to, effectively, put the church in its place. I hope that does not happen because it would have negative consequences for society as a whole because, as Senator Feeney and others have said, it does not recognise the role of the church in communities in general where it is a force for good and an expression of who we are at many levels. This negative element of the church must be weeded out. As legislators, we must look at our role in making sure this happens.

While a conversation needs to take place within the church, of which I as a member of the church hope to be part, we must also examine the relationship between the church and civic society and look at how best that relationship can be expressed. The issue of accountability is important and how civic society ensures the church is held accountable in the civic and legal framework. It is not enough to say it is terrible and that we hope it never happens again. The fact that the matter is out in the open is not enough to ensure it never happens again. We must ask how reparation is to be made to those who suffered and what is our role in ensuring that happens. We must also ensure the perpetrators are held to account and, as leaders of civic society, we must put structures in place to provide accountability on an ongoing basis. The church must have a conversation with itself in this regard.

This kind of abuse has also happened in other places such as Newfoundland, Canada, the United States and other parts of the world. Let us not forget that what we are reaping is a history of extraordinary power by individuals within the church over their people. In effect, civic society allowed that to happen. Over the years the church was so powerful that we allowed it to do whatever it chose. Senator Feeney asked how anyone could say that Canon Law supersedes civil law. However, we know that has been the case. We need only look at hospitals, particularly maternity hospitals, where the lives of women with cancer were at risk but they were not given treatment because Canon Law said they could not have it. That is a fact. We know it happened. In recent weeks a situation arose in the Mater Hospital. Let us be clear, we have only now begun to debate what kind of society we wish to have and whether Canon Law or civic law is superior. In the past, people did not even ask the question referred to by Senator Feeney. The rights of minority religions were simply not allowed to be expressed within civic society. I hope that day is over. We must look at the context in which this abuse occurred and how we were all responsible for it. We now see how an all powerful institution — the Catholic Church — has abused its power over the most vulnerable in society.

There is a major issue around sexuality in the church. In a situation where there was a total division between church and State one could question whether we, as legislators, had any right or role in commenting on the workings of the church or how it does its business. However, there is such a crossover between the role of the church in civic society in terms of schools and hospitals that we have no choice but to do that. We must clearly define the relationship that should exist with the church as regards fundamental issues like health. Let us do that and not just say that the publication of the report is enough because that is not the case. Other fundamentals must also be put in place such as the extension of the Stay Safe programme, on which we are all at one. It was a shock for some people to discover that the Stay Safe programme is not available in all schools. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has a role to ensure that happens. The issue is far too important to be ignored.

I am not a theologian but a number of years ago when I first came to live in Dublin I did a course in feminist theology in UCD because I was very interested in the subject. It was given by a woman called Mary Condren who is now based in Maynooth. She has claimed — quite rightly in my opinion, although I am not a theologian — that there is nothing in church history to bar her from being a priest. I was discussing this matter with my mother on Sunday. She is in her 80s and takes a great interest in these matters. She has come around to the view that nothing should stand in the way of women being priests.

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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Look at Sinéad O'Connor. She has the same view.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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Exactly. Only yesterday I was discussing this matter with the Church of Ireland rector in Nenagh. I am not a theologian and as a lay person I could read up about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and so on. However, it is time for the church to look at itself and say that the repression of sexuality arising out of a decision taken somewhere that women would be excluded from decision making, power and so on has created a context for the abuse, the suppression of sexuality and its expression in such a warped — somebody used the word "evil" but I would not go that far — and destructive way. That needs to be cleansed from the heart of the church for it to move forward. Speaking as a lay person, the church should take on board the fact nothing should stand in the way of women becoming priests. When one looks at the contribution women could make alongside their male colleagues, it makes sense.

I have cousins who are priests and had an uncle who was a priest but who is now deceased. We all know priests, including young priests, and of the lonely life they are forced to lead because of this celibacy rule whereby they are not allowed to have intimate, physical relationships which are the expression of humanity and human sexuality. That must now arise as a major issue in this debate. I hope that debate takes place in the church.

It would not be a good move to simply dismiss the contribution of the modern church, in particular, to the community. If we throw out the church we are, effectively, left with a secular society with no great expression of spirituality. The Celtic race is very spiritual. One can see that in many ways, especially in the modern church. The modern church is allowing greater expression of spiritually in a much broader and more free context. That needs to be acknowledged and nourished because in that is the creation of a great future for the church.

We hope what we have read in the Ferns Report will never happen again but we need assurances from the Government on how we will ensure it does not happen again. We need to take measures in that regard. Our concern is the Ferns Report is only the start and that more cases will emerge. If that is so, let us get them out in the open which is where they need to be because only then will we fully deal with the issue. Let us have that nationwide investigation.

I thank all those involved in the Ferns Report for the work they have done on behalf of society as it is a major contribution. It is shocking and dreadfully difficult reading. However, it must be read and debated. I welcome this debate.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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While much of the contents of the Ferns Report were in the public domain, particularly since the charges against Sean Fortune in the mid-1990s, it would be fair to say that, nonetheless, it makes shocking reading. It is a sad and sorry chapter in the history of the diocese of Ferns which was founded in 598. It is a diocese with a proud history. During the rebellion of 1798, many priests made the ultimate sacrifice in support of their people.

I listened recently to the retired rector, Norman Ruddock, who has written a book entitled The Rambling Rector. In the book he acknowledges he was abused as a young boy. He made a statement in the review on radio that the rape of innocence is a most bestial crime. I do not believe anybody could do other than fully concur with that statement.

Many of those who were abused have got on with their lives but I would imagine reports such as this reopen old wounds for them. Others are still suffering the trauma and effects. This has been a life-changing experience for quite a number of the people involved. Unfortunately, some people committed suicide as a consequence of the effects of the abuse. That puts into perspective the consequences of this appalling period.

Like other speakers and the inquiry, I pay tribute to the victims who came forward and who showed such courage, despite the fact their wounds were being reopened. The inquiry acknowledges it was impressed with the dignity and clarity of those witnesses. One of them has shown tremendous courage, namely, Colm O'Gorman of the One in Four organisation. I was a friend and former political colleague of his late father.

It would be fair to say Bishop Eamonn Walsh has been acknowledged by all since the report was issued as having played a pivotal role in restoring and in ensuring that the protection of children has been the overriding priority in the diocese since his tenure in office began. The inquiry complimented Bishop Walsh on making privileged material available. The report states that this level of co-operation went beyond anything the inquiry could have required or which a court of law could have compelled.

As other speakers have done, I acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Justice Frank Murphy, Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce in preparing this report and George Birmingham whose initial report provided the basis for the inquiry. Along with other speakers, I too compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan. He has been very sure-footed and has handled this obviously alarming report in a safe way. His immediate response of implementing its recommendations was welcome and reassuring to all.

I knew some of the abusers and some of the abused and I saw the effects on those who were abused, in particular. Fr. Sean Fortune was curate in Fethard-on-Sea where I spent my summers with my children when they were young. We attended mass in Poulfor. I always found his sermons incisive and interesting. On one occasion when I was not there but which I heard about subsequently he gave a sermon on the need for parishioners to increase their contributions. When he knelt down at the altar with the soles of his shoes facing the congregation, there were two big holes in the soles. Anybody who knew the man would have known he was capable of being very manipulative. In that regard, I acknowledge the difficulties anybody, including Bishop Comiskey, would have had in dealing with and trying to control the situation. That is something Bishop Comiskey fully acknowledged in his resignation statement and apology. While Bishop Comiskey deserves criticism for his failure to effectively manage the appalling problems which confronted him, the inquiry states that he sought advice on Canon Law on a number of occasions to enable him to remove priests from their positions once complaints had been made but that the advice he got was not helpful to him in that regard.

I have no doubt Bishop Comiskey's failure to deal with the issue was compounded by his alcoholism. That raises an issue of the overall management and accountability of bishops in the church. It is a hierarchical structure and the church faces a challenge in that regard. I am not sure it is for me as a politician to tell it what it should do. In a private capacity as a Christian and a Catholic I might do so, but it is not for this forum.

While Bishop Comiskey has rightly come in for criticism for his management failures, he did a great deal of good work in the diocese, particularly in helping people in times of need and strongly promoting ecumenism. I recall his apology in the cathedral in 1998 for the Fethard boycott, which had occurred 40 years previously. That was very much welcomed by Bishop Neill, who was present, and other members of the Protestant community.

Bishop Comiskey also raised the issue of celibacy within the church and commenced a public debate in this regard. The Ferns Report states at page 36 that following consultations with a number of experts, the inquiry team believed the vow of celibacy could have been a contributory factor in the abuse. It is important to acknowledge this in the grand scheme of things. We all have our shortcomings and good points and these must be examined when assessing an individual. I refer to a prayer sometimes uttered by Christians in the vernacular: Dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. If we live by that, we will not go far wrong.

I am particularly sorry for the many good priests in the diocese, whose pastoral care of families in times of difficulty and bereavement is welcomed and appreciated by the public, as Senator Feeney said. They are readily available for support and their selfless devotion to the interests of others should be acknowledged, particularly at a time like this. Society needs their vocation and their ministry and it is important that they should not be totally demoralised. The House has debated suicide and many other issues that afflict society and those ministering all religions, particularly those in the Catholic Church, need encouragement and support.

The contribution of the Catholic Church historically to the State has been enormous. The church provided facilities for people in the areas of education and health, especially in the early stages of our independence, which would not have been available but for the selfless work of the many who served within the church. Ireland is evolving and the State's financial position is much different to that which pertained following independence and, therefore, the Government is investing heavily in both education and health. Given the reduction in vocations, perhaps the time has come to consider a more proactive role for the State in both sectors at local level. The centralisation of our health services may not be the best option but in education there is no reason to prevent county councillors from becoming members of boards of management. In addition, county councils could become the fora at which the chairmen of boards of management would be nominated in line with recent legislation passed by the House relating to the joint policing committees. That model could be usefully considered in this area.

As Senator Lydon stated, even 1% of abuse is unacceptable but this must be kept in perspective because abuse by religious comprises 3.2% of all cases. While I support the fulfilment of the commitment to hold a Ferns-style inquiry in the Archdiocese of Dublin, I do not subscribe to the view that such an inquiry should be held in every diocese. The Minister's proposal to establish the extent of abuse in other dioceses is probably the correct approach. However, the full implementation of the recommendations of the Ferns Report is needed and I welcome the Minister's commitment in that regard. Every caution should be exercised to protect children in all areas.

We must recognise the primacy of State law over Canon Law or other laws. I welcome the recommendation for an offence of reckless endangerment, thereby ensuring a legal obligation on people to report cases of abuse. Ease of access for those who are abused and who wish to make the violations known must be a priority. The PSNI has instituted positive measures in this regard, which should be examined. Public awareness of the crime should be increased and counselling for those who have been abused and those who have a predilection to abuse is important.

It would be a travesty to focus only on clerical sexual abuse to the detriment of a holistic approach to protect children in other spheres such as sporting organisations, the classroom or at home. This issue must be approached on the basis that the abuse of a child will not be tolerated by society. All steps and precautions should be taken to minimise and eradicate it.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I compliment him on sitting through the entire debate since it commenced last week. I also compliment all those involved in the preparation of the report.

We live in an era of accountability where the slightest hint of scandal leads to ministerial or other political resignations. An improper act by a supermodel results in cancellation of her contracts and sporting heroes fall from favour. We could be living in an era of Victorian morality, and this would be applicable if we lived in Britain. However, in Ireland, the picture is very different. Scandals hit the headlines, reports are written and the status quo is subsequently largely undisturbed, particularly if the finger of suspicion is pointing at the Catholic Church.

We have had the revelations of the horrors of the Magdalene laundries, Letterfrack industrial school, Goldenbridge, Artane, St. Joseph's, Ferryhouse, St. Joseph's, Summerhill and Daingean reformatory. The Kennedy report, which has been described as "one of the most damning indictments of the operation of any State system ever produced in this country", the Laffoy commission and the Ferns Report, which is not reading for the sensitive, as Senator Feeney stated, provide a record of appalling betrayal and abuse of innocent trusting children, on a scale beyond comprehension. The inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese is pending and will more than likely be equally horrific. I do not wish to pre-empt itscontent but media and other reports indicate a great deal remains to be unearthed in this diocese.

I used the words, "State system", when referring to the findings of the Kennedy report on industrial schools, which eventually led to the closure of these institutions, as it demonstrated the recognised collusion between the State and the Catholic Church and highlighted the ultimate responsibility which rested with the State. These institutions may have been run by the religious orders, but they did so on behalf of the State, which had ultimate control and whose head in the sand approach to the lives of young children reflects badly on us all. The collective guilt involves a number of Departments, health boards, political institutions and the Garda.

Thousands of wonderful nuns and priests work on behalf of society in Ireland and throughout the world with many engaged in charitable work. Like other speakers, I wish to acknowledge their immense work. I had three uncles who were priests and they worked both on the missions and here at home. I am aware of the effort they put into serving communities not alone here but also in foreign fields. I am also aware of the hardships they encountered as a result of their work. A few years ago when one of my uncles returned for a holiday, he attended a Dublin hospital for a check-up and died there. He never lived to enjoy a period of retirement, but passed away while still engaged in his mainstream pastoral activity. For almost his entire life he worked his heart out for the betterment of society in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The special relationship between church and State has not served the country, its citizens or the victims of abuse. If he were alive today, it would be interesting to hear the views on this issue of the former Minister for Health, Dr. Noel Browne, who served in the Lower House for many years. We know how Dr. Browne was victimised in a previous Government because of his views and what he was trying to do to improve society.

The Ferns Report spells out that complaints of sexual abuse against priests were not handled appropriately by the Garda Síochána and in some cases were not even recorded by a force which was reluctant to cross the church. In those years, many sections of society were reluctant to cross the church. I can recall being told as a young boy that if one said anything about the church one could be struck down. That fear was engendered in many citizens 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

For too long we, as a country, were tied to the church and in many cases continued to look away from child abuse. It is now time for the State and its associated authorities to cut the apron strings that held them to the Catholic Church. While the decision of any individual to be a member of the Catholic Church is a personal matter, any link between it, or any other religion, and the State is no longer acceptable.

It is extremely difficult to separate the actions of abusive priests from any other priests or bishops of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Some people, while not guilty of actual abuse, were often accessories to such actions by turning a blind eye and ignoring or bypassing what was under their noses in the interest of preserving the good name of the church, which was allowed to take precedence over any suffering of innocent children.

When we think of our own sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, it is beyond belief to imagine children dying in institutional care, being scalded with boiling water, beaten, starved and sexually and psychologically abused. The mind of the average citizen cannot stretch to encompass such horrors. As other Senators said, it was both horrible and sickening to read the Ferns Report. In fact, I gave up after the first 20 pages because it was so disgusting. I was ashamed to read that this could have happened in a society which was known as Catholic Ireland.

As the Minister of State is aware, such abuses occurred over and over again. It is important that they must not be allowed to happen in the future. This report must be the catalyst — the start of progress towards a new, secular Ireland. The cap-in-hand, deferential attitude with which successive Governments treated the Catholic Church, was extremely beneficial for both Church and State, but it must now end in the interests of fairness and accountability.

I am a Catholic by choice, but I have neither reason nor wish to impose my views on others. As a matter of faith, membership of the church is important to me. I see no reason, however, my religion or any other should have far-reaching consequences for today's Ireland, which is becoming a multi-faith society. Each religion deserves to have as much or as little influence as any other.

I recall that in the past whenever I inquired about my friends of other religious persuasions in the parish, my late mother always said, "think about it this way: we are all in different ships, but at the end of the day we are sailing into the one port". I remember her remarks which I still believe in today.

As a practising Catholic, I am horrified by the church's repeated failure to protect innocent, vulnerable children and the fact that there was no State or governmental structure to ensure they were protected. The State must take action to protect all children. The assumption that priests or nuns can be exempt from the rigorous assessment required of lay people working with children, must be fully and finally removed. The full rigours of the law must be applied to them. As Senator O'Toole said earlier, a nationwide vetting system must be put in place for all citizens dealing with children.

With 100 cases of child abuse found in one diocese, what other revelations remain to emerge around the country? I understand the Minister has set in train the report on the Dublin archdiocese. The Ferns Report is a wake-up call of monumental import but it must not be disregarded until the next scandal hits the headlines. The Government must take action now and make it clear to all, both at home and abroad, that our children are not pawns in a sick conspiracy between church and State. The Government must ensure that children are valued beyond any benefit that such an association may bring to anyone concerned.

I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. The Ferns Report cannot be disregarded and must be acted upon quickly. That is the loud and clear message from all citizens, whether they hold positions in the church or have no religion. They want action immediately to ensure that nothing of this kind ever happens again in our society.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Over the years on the Order of Business, when each new incident of sexual abuse came to light, we had some limited debate. Of course, it was not possible to have a full focus on the issue. When the Ferns Report was published we were dealing with a totally different situation. It was certainly one of the blackest days in the history both of the church and of the country. In a way, it impacted on every citizen and every home. It also impacted on beliefs that we have all had passed on to us from generation to generation. It would not be an overstatement to say that the nation was absolutely stunned by the revelations. The report's explicit outline of cases was horrifying. In the first instance, most people thought of the victims. One could easily envisage a similar situation involving one's own family, relatives, friends or people one knew within the community. That is what made the report most horrifying.

Invariably, when one contributes to a debate, one tries to do something constructive and hopefully helpful. Where there is hurt one hopes to bring some consolation to those who have suffered. In this case, because the debate has been so intensive — not just within the Oireachtas, but also in the community at large — it almost reaches a point of disbelief and denial. Worse still, it can reach a point of weariness, which is the worst thing that can happen in this terrible episode in the life of our country.

I listened to many of the contributions here, including the address by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the previous occasion. We were glad some people took time out to deal with this subject in a balanced way because it would be impossible to deal with it in an unemotional way. In so doing they helped those who have been hurt, and their families and communities, while ensuring this occasion is not used to settle old scores or mend a chip on the shoulder.

The contributions here were particularly balanced. Every contributor spoke out of a deep sense of responsibility to ensure that what happened could never recur. That is to the credit of all contributors because they were faced with a contradiction between loyalty to a church that has stood well with us and previous generations, and the deep hurt to innocent children. It is strange that young people are the victims of priests, whose church's founder warned of what would happen to them were they to scandalise innocent young people. We too have been warned, as members of the church. I do not intend delving too deeply into the theological or psychological issues because they are for professionals, some of whom have made helpful contributions to the debate.

The contributions of professionals, parents, community leaders and people involved in sports organisations have created a fabric. How can we take that forward from this Chamber? We cannot expect the media to treat it comprehensively because from the beginning of this sorrowful, terrible episode in our lives the media could have played a better role. It played a good role in revealing the cases but it could have done better by explaining, perhaps with professional input, how this could happen. That was the question we all asked. We are beginning to understand more. Senator Lydon touched on this in a professional manner. We realise now that all people are not the same, do not have the same orientation, and are not mature enough to distinguish clearly between wrong and right.

As the scandals started to emerge the bishops were left reeling. They did not know what to do. First, they took sanctuary, probably in a traditional method of the church, by closing down the shutters and hoping the problem would go away. We did not acknowledge that bishops do not have all the skills. They may have skills based on their academic training, and theological knowledge but they are not managers. They are not the best communicators because they have never really had to communicate but were veiled in a mystique. They took too long to react because they did not know what to do. Maybe there is a lesson there for the structures of the church, namely, that it needs to farm out responsibilities. It will never have people with all the relevant skills because the bishops are too protected and restricted by the church's structures.

Communities did not know how to respond when a difficulty was brought to their notice. Their initial sense of disbelief and denial should not have lasted so long. It should have been possible for the communities to act more quickly. Maybe they required leadership because after the first scandals came to light there were further victims who could have been saved had the community reacted too.

We need to consider the structures of the Vatican and the relationship between a diocese and the Vatican. The Vatican has no choice but to be more up-front on issues of this kind because it is beset with these problems, not only in Ireland but throughout the world. I recall talking to devout Catholics in the United States and Canada as the terrible stories there emerged and it was possibly more difficult for Catholics in that complex environment to take on board what was happening than it is in a small country. The Vatican must be more open on issues of this kind.

There may be some confusion over the issue of the relationship between Canon Law and civil law. No one doubts that a crime is a crime and the perpetrator is answerable to the civil authority. I am not even sure the church argued against that point. Several times in the past when moral issues were debated and referenda on them held, we touched superficially on the relationship between canon and civil law.

Canon Law can lay down for its members the requirements of the church and pinpoint their parameters for its leaders, based on tradition, theology and revelation. That should not change. If Canon Law conflicts with civil law, the civil law must take precedence. We should not, however, suggest that the church cannot have its own laws and regulations for its members. That applies not only to the Catholic Church but to any church or organisation. We must be careful in that regard.

The Government has acted wisely against the emotional background of this issue. All the Government spokespersons to whom I have listened in all the interviews so far have provided an anchor for us to ensure that we are not overcome by weariness, that we will respond to the seriousness of the situation, will think in terms of reparation and will ensure that the victims are helped, as well as the victims' families, because invariably, such a traumatic incident in a family impacts on the whole family. The whole family and even the extended family become the victims in such a case and must be helped.

There must also be interaction with the church and Government. I would not like to think that in some way we would suddenly decide that whatever good the church did in the past, whatever potential it has for the future, and despite the respected status it still has with so many people in this country, we would undermine all that simply to prove a point. We must be careful not to do so.

I gather from recent comments of the bishops that they may now to some extent have taken professional advice as to how they should respond to these issues. Listening to them, I believe they are willing to listen. There should not be megaphone diplomacy. There must be discussion across the table with the bishops. The bishops must accept that what has happened has no justification and that there will be greater expectation in the future for the bishops and the church to show they are open to interacting with the community, not just on these but on other issues. I will repeat a remark made by others, namely, that whenever we wanted help from the church in our family or community, it was always there. When we wanted education and could not afford it we got it free, from the ChristianBrothers in my case and from other religious orders in other cases.

Recently I spoke at a function attended by a 93 year old nun whose convent is now closed. I always remember what those nuns did for the town in question, and not just in education, which was so vital. I recall the manner in which the nuns were available for every difficulty and problem with which the State or local authority could not contend with or handle. The nuns provided an oasis at all times. I remember when the Christian Brothers were celebrating what I think was the 150th anniversary of their coming to Cashel. I was secretary of the past pupils' union at the time and we had a reunion. Past pupils attended from all over the world out of appreciation for the Christian Brothers. My knowledge may be limited, but I could never point a finger at any Christian Brother, nun or priest in my community. I am not saying no difficulties existed but I was never aware of them.

Bearing all that in mind, the issue is well and truly debated. The Ferns Report is a milestone in the history of the church and the country. Those who suffered and were so hurt must now feel they are being listened to and will be helped. We must look beyond that to the next milestone. The church has overcome many problems in the past, problems which impact on the country. I hope that a positive result will emerge from the debate.

5:00 pm

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Independent)
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Senator Ó Murchú is correct in saying the debate in this House has been very responsible. It has been reflective and has looked at the prospects of the future as much as the horrors of the past. It is important that we should be unanimous, and we are, in our utter condemnation of what has happened. There are no words for the type of activities involved, and I agree with Senator Bannon regarding what awful reading the Ferns Report made. There are no words to suitably express condemnation for the sort of activities which took place in the diocese of Ferns and elsewhere.

I do not believe that politicians should compete in the sort of condemnations which come easily to everyone's lips and which are heartfelt by all in both Houses. I am not sure what anyone can add to the words said initially in response to the Ferns Report, but to say that what happened was utterly horrific, stunningly unacceptable and something which we pray will never happen again.

We should ask many questions about those activities, particularly those within the church, about its culture of secrecy which clearly existed, and about the fact that some of the activities going on in the institutions were covered up for so long, which makes it difficult not to point a finger at the institutions. I do not know how widespread was the corruption, if it was everywhere or reasonably isolated. No doubt we will find out in time. It also makes it difficult not to point a finger at the church and say it is imbued with a rotten culture of self-protection, resulting in young people having to suffer and having been made to suffer.

One must ask if the church's omni-powerful position for a long time was abused, and if its power to instil terror into its own ranks and into other people involved some sort of omerta which ensured that much of the activity spoken of was covered up. I do not wish to go into that now in any more detail because this issue will run in the public arena for a long time to come. We will find out a lot more about it in the weeks, months and years to come.

I do not believe these awful events should provide a platform for people to launch wholesale attacks on the Roman Catholic Church or to paint it as all bad. There has been a tendency in the media and among some politicians and many prominent individuals to use horrific incidents and events of this kind to paint the church as an institution for evil of some sort. It is not. I do not believe that for one moment and I say that as a member of the Church of Ireland.

However, I have detected over many years, as each atrocity unveiled itself, a certain level of glee among certain sections of key and powerful places within Irish society and an effort to use these atrocities for the purpose not just of reducing the power of the church, which would be good, but to take revenge on it for some particularly awful things which it may have done in the past. Many in this country, including some in powerful positions, have good reason for antagonism and for believing that the church has been a reactionary and retrogressive force in Ireland. However, advantage has been taken of the great wrongs we have seen in the Ferns Report and elsewhere to vilify good people and positive parts of the institution.

I have been in this House for long enough to believe that the anti-liberal stance of the Catholic Church was wrong. It was unhelpful in the debates on divorce held here in the 1980s, reactionary in its attitude to gay people, antediluvian in its opinions on birth control and it interfered unjustifiably with the political process. However, those among us who believed it to be wrong have to remember that its views and positions were, in the main, sincerely held.

I have deep respect for the people and priests who made enormous self-sacrifices in their personal lives in order to respond to a vocation. Although celibacy was not always practised and I do not regard as serious any breaches of the law in this regard, this lifestyle represented a great sacrifice. Those who ridicule the vows of celibacy and the actions of priests in some instances should bear in mind that they are doing something they believe in and cannot be accused of opportunism in making their sacrifices. Genuinely held views in other areas should also be respected.

How do we reconcile the adulation which greeted the arrival in Ireland of Pope John Paul II and the sorrow that followed his death with the criticism that we make of the church in the light of the Ferns Report? These two matters can only be reconciled by recognising that there was an appalling lapse in practices and that an evil element existed.

However, there is also a church which does a huge amount of good and is led by people who may be old-fashioned but have good intentions. They do not intend harm on anybody and act according to their consciences. They may be misguided but at least they have consciences and do not always make decisions which are totally guided by self-interest. We should bear that in mind in this House because politicians tend to protect their own patches. While there is nothing wrong with that, it should be recognised that there are people who do not always act likewise. One has only to look at religious orders to understand that they do not necessarily act in their own interests. It would be difficult for most of us to live up to that.

Where lapses occurred, they tended to be high profile. I note the examples of Eamon Casey and Michael Cleary, both of whose sins appear to have been of the flesh and involved small beer, as far as I can see. However, the hue and cry that greeted the philandering by these men was absurd. The only reason for it was that many who bore grudges against the church exulted in the personal difficulties of these people. The discomfort caused to them was unfair and disproportionate.

The larger issue, which Senator Ó Murchú and others have addressed, is the separation of church and State. We have come a long way down that road although we have not gone the whole way, as was recently noted by prominent members of the other House. Ireland has recognised that we cannot continue to be umbilically attached to the Catholic Church or All Hallows. The church continues to have an important role to play because of the influence it exerts but, as Senator Ó Murchú pointed out, State law must take precedence in any conflict with Canon Law. No opportunities should exist for conflict between church and State law. There should be one law and code but, if two exist, one should be supreme.

The danger in terms of current events in Ireland is that the pendulum has swung so far to the other side that the church, some of whose members have done wrong, is losing influence for good as well as evil. The evil it has done made us lose sight of its good. The controversy which has blown up over education clouds the fact that all churches have done a lot to educate people in this country. The Church of Ireland, the Catholic Church and the Islamic religion have done significant work in the areas of health and education. This work saved the State effort and money, for which it should give thanks. While the nature of their beliefs has given rise to controversies with regard to hospitals, we should give credit to the churches for their positive influence on health.

I am sorry for those who have put a great deal of faith in the Roman Catholic Church, people whose lives and communities have revolved around the church. The Roman Catholic Church has done much good for communities in Ireland but people are disillusioned by the appalling actions of some of its members. I hope we can move forward to encourage them to rebuild this church and not use this report, and reports to come, as a platform for a generalised attack on an institution which, to a large extent, has been an institution for good, much of which has been forgotten.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Senator Maurice Hayes.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his contribution and all he has said and done in this area which is in the best traditions of this republic, this party and his family.

The report sets out in an objective way the background to and detail of the inquiry and the recommendations. I have heard very little criticism from any quarter of the report's validity. It is sad and shocking and one can understand, particularly for those more closely involved, the anger and the sense of betrayal. Betrayal has been, unfortunately, part of the Christian experience going back to the time of Judas Iscariot. It is right to put those who were children to the forefront because those type of experiences can scar people for life and hamper relationships they may subsequently enter into. The priority is protection and preventing a recurrence of these events. This is one of those cases, and we find this across all sectors, where self-regulation has unfortunately failed. Clearly it is a much wider problem than one church in one country. To a degree it is a matter that has cropped up in several different countries.

Like my colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, I have been reading the memoirs of the Reverend Ruddock in which he talks about the abuse he experienced. Clerical abuse amounts to just over 3% of total abuse cases. Some ask why people are picking on the Catholic Church rather than other sectors. The truthful answer is that the Catholic Church plays an enormous role in our society and had for a long time a relatively unchallenged moral jurisdiction. It is hard to reconcile, if one thinks back over 40 or 50 years, relatively poor married couples being told how often and for what purpose they might have marital relations with what we are seeing now. I do not believe for one moment that powers in the church not directly involved in the abuses in any way condoned, connived or colluded in it. This does not mean to say, however, that it was well handled. Unfortunately, when these incidents crop up, people feel their way and it is very easy to stumble.

I pay tribute from an ecumenical point of view to Bishop Comiskey of Ferns. He had an advanced attitude to the question of mixed marriages which, thankfully, has largely ceased to be a problem. He did apologise for Fethard-on-Sea. I recall being invited by him to launch a History of the Diocese of Ferns which goes back to the end of the sixth century. It was most unusual in that it dealt with churches other than the Catholic Church.

Priests and members of the church are obviously deeply upset. A parish priest in Tipperary said to me last week that the past week had been the worst couple of weeks in his life. I would regret any generalised attack on the churches, which play a vital role. I would be totally against rooting the churches out of civic life; that is not what people want. It would have serious implications for minority traditions if that were to happen. Some disastrous events are taking place in France where the route of widespread secularisation within a framework of the one and indivisible republic is being followed. That has not been working very well.

Some criticism has been uttered of the Taoiseach. In my opinion the Taoiseach is a model of someone who reconciles loyalty to his church with his duty to the State which has required him, in a number of instances, in the interests of society to take, defend and promote decisions at variance with the wishes of the Catholic Church. I see no incompatibility between loyalty and responsibility in that regard. I welcome the initiative he has taken for an institutionalised dialogue between Government and the churches. When disaster hits any of us, either individually or corporately, we have to brush off the dirt, learn the lessons, pick ourselves up and try to move forward again.

Maurice Hayes (Independent)
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I too congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his handling of the sequence of events which has been compassionate, sure-footed and responsible. I start from a position where I would not have had a secondary education had it not been for the willingness of members of the De la Salle order to dedicate their lives to teaching me for nothing. I am eternally grateful to them for that.

Enough has been said about the individual acts of evil outlined in the report. The cardinal error that the church hierarchy was more concerned with protecting the institution than in protecting the child is similar to Lord Denning's "appalling vista" translated into Canon Law. Since the events at the Kincora Boys' Home in the mid-1980s dioceses in Northern Ireland have been required to follow a series of safeguards, which seem to have worked reasonably well. Since some of those dioceses straddle the Border it seems odd that they did not they did not translate that usage. I am glad the report gives vindication to Dr. McGinnity, who was shamefully treated at the time and since for his effort at whistleblowing.

I will now turn to the report and focus on what we should do in future. There should be mandatory reporting by professionals when they come across clear instances of child abuse. The Catholic Church authorities in Northern Ireland found it necessary and advisable to introduce the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, which has the standing of an education board. It is a joint effort between it and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. It was introduced to provide management to ensure that parish priests and other clerical managers faced up to unpleasant tasks necessary to secure compliance and discipline. It supplies training in this regard. We should consider broadening and strengthening the school management and training for school boards of management. It gives a great opportunity to introduce the voice of women and mothers.

We need to allocate resources to screening people for employment in these fields. This matter goes beyond teaching, as children need to be protected in a variety of areas. This matter is very low on the list of police priorities in Northern Ireland and I am sure it is low on the list of Garda priorities, which means it needs to be provided with the resources in this regard. There should be an exchange of information with Northern Ireland, incorporating a common database and perhaps this should also include Great Britain. The capacity for people to slip across the Border and take various jobs makes this imperative.

It is comparatively easy to ask the Garda to deal with recorded events. It is much more difficult when they are just suspicions, making it very easy to do an injustice to people. In many cases notes of various rumours are filed separately and never come together. There needs to be a procedure for doing this in a responsible way, which does not turn the matter into a witch-hunt. The Minister of State should talk to people in the North who have developed many of these procedures and faced up to these problems. The worst thing we could do would be to create a situation in which nobody wants to work with young people thus frightening off all those wonderful people who train footballers and hurlers, teach swimming, and help children as youth leaders, scout leaders, etc. It would be damaging in the long run to frighten people away from such activity. This morning I heard of an interesting conference taking in place in Belfast, which addresses protecting children from cyber crime, in which people access them on the Internet. This is a new field which merits close consideration.

I applaud the decision to hold an inquiry into events in the Dublin archdiocese. I would not favour digging holes in every other diocese in the country which could go on forever. Where victimhood is established the Minister of State should ensure that dioceses, as well as having procedures for dealing with the future, have a procedure for allowing those hurt or damaged in the past to receive apologies and tell their stories.

The Minister of State should turn his mind to a broader issue, which may be unfashionable. Ultimately, what do we do with paedophiles in our society after they come out of prison? Sadly I have seen even in my own community that the community wants to do precisely what we have criticised the bishops for having done with errant priests, that is, it wants to send them somewhere else. Each community will need to come to terms with this issue. As professional knowledge of paedophiles develops, we may establish ranges of risk. Some people may need to be kept away forever and others may need to be registered and monitored. I will leave this matter with the Minister of State as a question that will arise and which compassion also requires us to address.

We should congratulate the judge on his report. I congratulate Bishop Walsh, the acting bishop of Ferns, and Colm O'Gorman and all those who had the courage to come forward. While some people are worried about the media, if it had not been for the "Suing the Pope" programme, we would not be discussing this matter at all. I wish the Minister of State well in his further consideration of these matters.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been very patient and has been here for a long time listening to this debate. Picking up on Senator Maurice Hayes's final point, I start by congratulating Mr. Justice Francis D. Murphy on his report. I also congratulate Bishop Walsh on the manner in which he handled the matter. The report was thorough and competent, as one would expect from such an eminent former Supreme Court judge. We now accept that the report's recommendations are being taken on board both by the church and the State. As everyone has said, the report's contents were horrifying and shocking. The victims who came forward displayed great courage and we do not forget the enormous personal trials they have endured. We congratulate them on their efforts in healing and getting over the hurt.

These are tough and difficult times for all the good priests in the church. They are genuinely deeply upset and have struggled with the issue. Many of us have heard the apologies through the letters from their bishops read at masses. They tendered their apologies to their flocks with great feeling and understanding. At one mass in my parish in Killarney, the priest struggled so much with it that the congregation fully identified with what he was saying and gave him a huge ovation.

We must not forget that the abuse was the work of a tiny minority. Undoubtedly some appalling abuses took place in the Ferns diocese. Abusers were simply transferred when discovered and pitched from pillar to post. Bishops did not seem to know how to handle the problem. That is understandable, because shocking and all as it was, they never had any training in how to deal with these matters and in some instances handled them appallingly badly.

Senator Maurice Hayes referred to a case crying out for redress, the case of Dr. McGinnity who was a senior dean in Maynooth, a position of great responsibility in the church. He handled the matter properly and when he became conscious of an issue that had become the butt of jokes among students in the college he conscientiously reported it. He thought it was wrong and should not be allowed to develop. It appears to me that the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich, a genuine sincere man, was bullied by his fellow bishops on that matter. The former bishop of Galway, Bishop Casey, seems to have been the only one who stood up for Dr. McGinnity. He deserves our thanks for doing so. Poor Dr. McGinnity got a sabbatical in Rome for his trouble and was removed from Maynooth and brought back to a diocesan office in Armagh, the diocese from which he came.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I will allow the Senator some latitude and give him some more time as he got in late with his contribution.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that. They say there are two sides to every story. I would like to speak about education and about the Dublin situation.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I cannot allow the Senator that much time.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I also wish to refer to a Deputy from the same party as the Acting Chairman. I read Deputy O'Donnell's speech in full. It attracted almost as much publicity as the Ferns Report. The media seemed to love it, or else they are in love with the Deputy. Her speech was an opportunistic cheap shot from the safety of the leafy liberal suburbs. It was riddled with inaccuracies and some outlandish statements. The Deputy certainly does not know her recent history. I am sure Senator Mansergh could give me the date we had the referendum which formally spelled out the special position of the Catholic Church.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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The Senator will appreciate that in my position as Acting Chairman, I am not in a position to respond.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am glad of that. I would like to have the opportunity to say more, but I do not think the Acting Chairman will give me the latitude to go on for another five or ten minutes.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Camillus GlynnCamillus Glynn (Fianna Fail)
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At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.