Saturday, May 30, 2009

Child Abuse Report – Stonewalling, Evasion and Obfuscation by religious congregations

cori Apart from the tragedy itself, I have been closely observing the unfolding events since The Ryan Report was published from the perspective of a crisis management’ process and the associated manoeuvres.

The presumed public relations mouthpiece of the 18 congregations cited in the Report is the umbrella Conference of Religious of Ireland, (CORI), a body on which the leadership of individual congregations are represented. CORI coordinated the €128 million contribution and associated indemnity against further claims in June 2002. The persons acting for CORI were Sr Elizabeth Maxwell, Sr Helena O’Donoghue, both of whom are members of the Sisters of Mercy and Br Kevin Mullen of the Christian Brothers. Maxwell had been secretary-general of CORI at that time. The bill is €1.3 billion so the perpetrators are providing 10% and the taxpayer 90%. A single High Court action could have had more severe consequences.

It also published a an apology on behalf of these congregations at that time., the text of which was

“We accept that some children in residential institutions managed by our members suffered deprivation, physical and sexual abuse. We regret that, we apologise for it. We can never take away the pain experienced at the time by these children nor the shadow left over their adult lives. Today the congregations with the State are giving a concrete expression of their genuine desire to foster healing and reconciliation in the lives of former residents.”

There was an announcement immediately after the conclusion of this deal that CORI was working with the Irish Bishops Conference and the Irish Missionary Union since April 2002 to establish an ‘independent’ Commission on Child Sex Abuse. “The Commission was seen as a further step on the road to healing and reconciliation with people who were sexually abused by some of our members”. CORI agreed to work with the Commission in a desire to establish the truth of the extent of child sexual abuse and how complaints were handled. Maxwell expressed her “profound regret” in 2002 “that even one person had been abused by a religious”.

When the 2002 Redress Fund was set up it was not possible to predict the number of victims that would come forward but the number who actually did – 14,584 victims.

Overcoming Procedural Obfuscation

The first Chairman of the State inaugurated Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (known now as The Ryan Report) was a High Court judge, Ms Justice Laffoy, who resigned as Chair of the Commission on 12 January 2004 because the Commission was not being given the necessary information and support. The Department of Education was to be cited in the Report as being deferential and submissive to the religious congregations. Laffoy was succeeded by Mr Justice Seán Ryan who was mandated to undertake his own independent review. He identified major impediments facing his Commission’s Investigation Committee.

If the work of the Investigation Committee were to continue unchanged, there would be no prospect of its work being completed within a reasonable time and at an acceptable cost. He suggested a number of changes that were needed to overcome the problems:

  1. Amendments to the 2000 Act so as to focus the Investigation Committee on its core function, which was to inquire into abuse of children in institutions.
  2. Changes to procedures which would enable allegations to be heard in logical units for hearings (Modules).
  3. Publication of interim reports as the work proceeded.
  4. Establishment of ‘trust’ between the parties as to the fairness of the hearings.

The work of the Investigation Committee was suspended from September 2003 until March 2004. Judgment was awaited in a High Court action brought by the Christian Brothers. This case sought judicial determination, inter alia, of the constitutionality of the Investigation Committee’s approach to making findings of abuse against elderly or deceased Brothers or those who could not properly answer the allegations

At a public meeting held in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, on 7th May 2004, the Investigation Committee announced its intention to make significant changes to deal with the obstacles to its work. The chairperson set out proposals for hearing selected witnesses in the investigation of institutions that had the largest number of complaints made against them; however, the larger institutions had far more complainants wishing to give evidence.

At that point in May 2004, the length and form that the hearings would take was difficult to assess. It was not known what, if any, objections were going to be raised. These uncertainties gave rise to some concern in the Investigation Committee, particularly in relation to larger institutions, and whether all hearings could be completed within a reasonable time. This would leave other potential witnesses out of the investigative process.

For most of the smaller institutions ( those against whom a small number of complaints had been made), the Investigation Committee believed it could hear all those who had notified the Committee of their intention to give evidence and who had then followed up with statements.

At the meeting on 7th May 2004, the Committee published and circulated a position paper on the question of ‘naming and shaming’ abusers, which stated that the Inquiry was not going to be able to complete its work if it proceeded on the basis of naming abusers. The document suggested that, because of difficulties of proof, there would probably be many abusers in respect of whom the evidence fell short. There were risks that people not guilty of abuse could be named. A further point was the disparity that would exist between people who were named – necessarily, a limited number – and the larger cohort of people who had indeed committed abuse (as a matter of probability) but who were not named. These and other points were made in proposing the policy that the Investigation Committee would not name abusers in the report, and would proceed with the investigation on that basis.

Time was allowed for submissions to be made, and all parties were asked to assist the Investigation Committee with suggestions that would allow the process to move forward. No substantial submissions were received in respect of the policies outlined above.

At a further meeting in June 2004, the Committee announced its decision to proceed on the basis of selection of witnesses for the hearings. This applied only to the larger institutions, which were Artane, Letterfrack, Ferryhouse, Upton and Daingean. The policy of not naming abusers was applied generally.

The Commission sought amendments to the legislation to incorporate these changes, and these were set down in the Act of 2005.

The Investigation Committee at this time wrote to all complainants/solicitors to ascertain the number of complainants who wished to proceed with their application to be heard. As a result of this, 143 complainants withdrew their request to give evidence to the Investigation Committee, while 174 other complainants transferred to the Confidential Committee.

The Investigation Committee then proceeded with the work of the Inquiry.

Obfuscation following publication of The Ryan Report

CORI stated on 22 May 2009 that it was not aware of any plans for the 18 congregations to reconsider their contribution to the Redress Fund. The Irish Government gave them succour by stating the the deal was watertight from a legal standpoint.

Public opinion pickup pace in the aftermath of the publication of the Report and there was a deep unease both with respect to the burden-sharing of compensation and the sundering of public trust. The Bishop of Down and Connor, in a robust interview stated that an inter-disciplinary review of the Report’s findings was in order and the compensation issue needed to be reviewed. The Bishops Conference concurred with this on Monday, May 25 but there had been no interviews with CORI on radio or television news by that stage.

Marianne O’Connor, the current director-general of CORI participated in a 17-minute interview on RTE Radio 1 on Tuesday, May 26. O’Connor stated in her interview that “CORI has no executive role” with the congregations, notwithstanding the 2002 deal and apology it issued on behalf of the congregations. She “acknowledged the awful horror of the Report” but that CORI was not a direct party to the deal and the congregations did not wish to revisit the deal and that she was not a spokesperson for the congregations. The congregations expressed a wish to engage directly with survivors of abuse but did not elaborate on the nature of any new resources. She did not want any additional resources to threaten existing services provided by the congregations. Her moral argument for not reopening the deal was that Redress was “not the best vehicle” to deal with the Report’s consequences because it could end in a legal quagmire. Atonement and restitutions was to be the basis of their response.

The previous evening Michael O’Brien, a former Mayor of Clonmel participated in the current affairs television programme ‘Questions & Answers’ on Monday, May 25th and his graphic description of being raped and buggered by the Rosminians in Ferryhouse, Co Tipperary. He was one of a family of 8 who was committed to this industrial school. He described being raped and buggered by several Rosminian priests who gave him Holy Communion the morning after such episodes.

They caved on the principle of further compensation on Wednesday, May 27th. The Government, recognising that public sentiment was outraged, were now adamant that additional compensation must be forthcoming from the congregations and that the State would administer it.

This morning, Saturday May 30, is a bright sunny day and the main news headline is a report from Maxwell that the religious congregations do not see a role for the broader Irish Church in examining their failures in their duty of care to children because they are autonomous – so much for transparency and ggod faith. The wheel has therefore turned full circle since 27 June 2002 when all of these elements of the Catholic Church were sharing the same bath in there relentless search for cleanliness and their journey along the pathway of healing and reconciliation. We are not seeing, once again, wagons circling and ranks closing even though the abuse and cover-ups revealed in the Report was much greater and the sex abuse much more endemic than ever suspected.

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