Fr Sean Healy, the ubiquitous spokesman on justice matters, wrote an opinion article in The Irish Times yesterday, Thursday 28 May. He states that he uses Gospel based principles to validate what he has to say. His stated posture is typically one seeking to alleviate the distress of ‘the vulnerable’, but I think, at this stage, there is nobody more vulnerable than the author. But we also discovered that the organisation he represents, CORI, has no executive function so that begs the question his speaking platform is a mere badge of convenience for him to describe the elusive ‘desirable future’, almost a decade into the future. But who is bothered if in fact he says absolutely nothing?
His response to The Ryan Report is almost like the all-purpose approach that a technician might have towards any technical blip, such as clearing a blocked drain. The prescription, or pathway forward, he tells us is to be based on additional compensation or restitution, adequate apologies, and a period of refection of humiliation and everybody is back in business - ‘two of sand, one of cement’. But will this prescription cure the patient or kill it?
It very noticeable how public sentiment has so briskly outpaced Government opinion with respect to this issue. The dignified radio interviews with many victims were really most compelling. Some succeeded in enjoying stability and security but were unable to fully reveal the circumstances of their background, their shattered lives and that awful sense of shame and guilt by attribution that was inflicted on them by those who maintain that their core principles, as stated by Fr Healy, are based on “justice, human dignity and compassion”.
Money is only an element of the response to this debacle. It is convenient because it is tangible and finite. It is transactional in nature and recordable for posterity. But in this instance, it will never adequately reciprocate the fatal damage done to public trust. No amount of blarney, bluster or acceptability through association with nice ideas and aspirations will turn the clock back to the time that religious congregations were trusted and respected.
This Report only deals with a subset of a much more pervasive crisis on confidence in religious personnel. Child sex abuse has been proven in so many dimensions over the past 25 years, or so. Unfortunately, there are more reports of abuse pending.
It has been interesting from the perspective of due process unfolding to observe the Church reaction to the many crises that have occurred in Ireland and elsewhere. The typically begin with apologies, regrets and sympathy before inertia sets in. The second phase is a closing of ranks and is frequently characterised by differences of opinion among Church leaders. But the wagons circle and the ranks close until the next controversy and the inevitable humiliation that ensues.
I have the impression that society, rather than Church or Government are now in pole position and their patience and tolerance is past breaking point.
The congregations currently cited and others were inaugurated in another era, to meet quite different circumstances. But, like the former manager of the Cork hurling team, they have ‘lost the dressing room’ and many now question whether the humility that Fr Healy refers to is actually their disbandment.