The Catholic church in Ireland yesterday formally apologised after a damning report on their handling of child abuse scandals was unveiled. Roman Catholic bishops expressed sorrow yesterday and promised to improve systems for protecting children from abuse by priests.
A survey, commissioned by the church, showed four out of five people felt it had not dealt adequately with the problem. The research, by the psychology department of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, reported that abused people and their families felt a lack of awareness by the Church of the effects of the abuse, and that the handling of complaints often lacked compassion. It made 19 recommendations for the protection of children, the handling of complaints and the training of priests.
Archbishop Sean Brady, president of the Irish Bishops Conference, expressed his "deepest sorrow" for what had happened, saying the report made painful reading. He admitted: "It tells of mistakes made in responding to those who came to the church seeking sensitivity and compassion." The archbishop promised the church would aim for "the greatest possible protection for all children in the future". Bishop John McAreavey added: "For what has happened we are truly sorry and, while we cannot undo the wrongs of the past, we can use this research to help us deal with victims of abuse with understanding, compassion and sensitivity."
Researchers made more than 1,000 telephone interviews and met seven victims of abuse and eight convicted clergymen.
Professor Hannah McGee, one of the authors of the report, said: "Truly effective management by the church is absolutely necessary. The path to restoration of confidence has to be systematic and transparent. It is by necessity going to be a slow process where trust, to be reinstated, will have to be earned."
The Irish Catholic church, in common with those in many other countries, has been buffeted and seriously damaged by a flood of revelations of clerical child abuse. More than 100 priests and others have been convicted and many more face charges. Serious cases appear in the courts almost every month. A Christian Brother was last week jailed for 12 years for a 14-year reign of sexual terror in a Connemara reformatory for boys whose parents were deemed unfit to care for them.
Maurice Tobin, now 71, admitted the buggery or indecent assault of 25 boys between 1960 and 1974. He was in charge of the kitchens at the school, which was described in court as "an extremely harshly run institution". Boys from the school said he would attack them in the kitchens, one saying: "I was speechless with fear." Those who would not co-operate with him were stripped and beaten with a leather strap.
Many of his victims later suffered broken marriages and dysfunctional families. After the hearing, one said he had seven children but had never hugged any of them because he associated touch with sexual abuse. The Church is struggling with related problem which include a severe shortage of potential recruits to become priests and nuns. Many priests feel huge guilt about the issue, believing the church has failed hundreds of its parishioners.