The Oblates, the Minister, and the Redress Board

As I’ve said so often here in this space, the last few decades have been an absolute nightmare for the Catholic Church in Ireland. From the revelations about Fr. Brendan Smyth to the Dublin, Ferns, and Cloyne reports, right through to the present controversy about the Mothers and Babies Homes, the enormity of the abuse suffered by so many has surfaced a great wave of emotion and retribution as our Church has apologised time and again both for the abuse and the way it has been handled. There’s no denying, no excusing, no pretending.

As a result the Church has been left bruised and battered, exposed and embarrassed. And so we should.

As a result too we’re less inclined to enter the public forum because we know that no matter how persuasive or important our message may be, we feel the current of public opinion is running against us. Once a victim relates his or her story, nothing else really matters. In that context even reasonable comment can seem like making excuses.

In a sense the experience for Catholics has been one of trauma, a shocking and startling experience that has a dramatic effect on our ability to react, respond or recover. For many, including bishops, priests, religious and church-going Catholics, the response has been to pull the duvet over our heads and to wait until it all goes away, (it won’t), or at least until the dust settles (it won’t). But sometimes despite an understandable reluctance to say our piece, situations develop which compel us to address our position.

I’ve often wondered why the 18 congregations responsible for Catholic institutions in which abuse of some kind occurred have for years left the field spectacularly open to those who sought to condemn, lecture, insult, revile and bully them. And for years they’ve been a soft target for anyone with a gripe against priests, nuns, bishops and even God.

Recently, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, in reacting to what he perceived as an unacceptable level of compensation for victims from the 18 congregations, pointed out that it was government policy that the congregations would share equal liability with the State, that the congregations had a moral obligation to increase their contribution and he piled up the pressure on the Church by suggesting that many ordinary Catholics were dismayed that ‘organisations with stated missions to serve the public and uphold moral codes apparently place so little importance on these values’.

Normally such lectures from politicians struggling to hold their feet on the high moral ground are greeted by the congregations involved with a deafening silence. But Bruton’s speech, patronising and insulting as it was, provoked a reaction from the Oblates, one of the congregations, but a reaction with which it seems the other congregations are in agreement.

The Oblate statement spelled out clearly
(i) that the campaign to pressure congregations into paying half the cost of compensating those abused was itself immoral and unacceptable:
(ii) that the congregations have no moral obligation to pay a share of the costs of the commission of investigation and the redress board (and that such a demand has no precedent):
(iii) the State alone has responsibility for the high costs of the redress scheme because the bill setting it up in the Dáil was the business of the State and the congregations have no bench-making responsibility for it.

Suddenly, as Marty Morrissey might say, it’s game on. For years we’ve been used to brick-bats from everyone with an axe to grind against Catholicism, from anti-Catholic individuals and groups who enjoy every opportunity to put the boot into the Church, but the recent lecture from the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton has provoked a much-needed response.

Let me explain the background.

When the Laffoy (later Ryan) commission of inquiry into homes run by Catholic religious congregations was first mooted, victims’ groups threatened not to cooperate unless a redress scheme was first put in place. The popular mood was such that the government rushed into a decision, even though wiser heads could see that making awards before the commission had completed its investigation was putting the cart before the horse.

However, the government made it clear that the redress scheme would go ahead regardless of the involvement of the 18 religious congregations and agreement was reached in 2002 whereby the congregations would pay €128 million and the State would indemnify the congregations against further claims.

The first estimate was that around 3,000 would have to be compensated. Then it seemed 4,000 was a more likely figure. Later the estimate rose to 5,000. To date over 15,000 people have each received an average of €62,250. It’s quite clear now that the government got it spectacularly wrong, not just in estimating the numbers but in the wide definition of abuse and the low burden of proof involved.

Once it became clear that a figure in excess of €1.5 billion was needed to service the scheme, further pressure was put on the religious congregations to increase their contribution. From early on, when it became clear that the cost of the redress scheme was escalating, the government suggested that the congregations and the State might fund it on a 50-50 basis.

This was rejected by the congregations on the reasonable grounds that
(i) the redress was a State scheme and
(ii) that an agreement had already been reached on what the congregations would contribute.

For some time now, every effort has been made to force the Catholic Church to keep increasing their contribution, as if there was a bottomless pot of gold available and without any regard of the consequences for the ongoing responsibilities congregations have for the work they do and the members they support.

Full marks to Patsy McGarry, and the Irish Times, for saying that the congregations have got it right.

Can we hope that the biased and completely lop-sided coverage to date in the rest of the media given to this issue, reflecting an obvious secularist campaign to rubbish the Catholic Church and all it stands for, can now be balanced by a justified respect for the integrity of thousands of priests and religious still working away and for the thousands more now being cared for by their congregations after lifetimes of service to God and to their country.


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  1. I provided the late UK cultural historian Richard Webster with material that formed the basis of his essay on the Redress Board. Published on 24 December 2005, he called it “The Christmas Spirit in Ireland” and it includes the following passage.

    …For if a government body publicly advertises its willingness to pay sums of up to €300,000 to those making claims of abuse, and simultaneously makes it clear that there is no requirement to produce evidence to prove that the events alleged did in fact take place, it should not be surprising if the response is a mixed one.

    Unless Ireland proves to be a country whose citizens are entirely immune to the laws of human nature, it is almost certainly the case that a significant number of those now claiming money from the government are quite genuine victims of abuse who suffered in the manner they have claimed.

    But it is also likely to be the case that a very large number of the claims received, perhaps as many as 90%, would prove, if it were possible to investigate them fully, entirely false.

    If that is indeed the case then the Irish government has committed a protracted act of folly on a scale unprecedented in the entire history of sexual abuse compensation schemes….

    Mainly I provided Mr. Webster with the statistics re number of claimants and amounts (as published in the Irish Times etc at the time) but I also sent him the quote from the Sunday Times with which he concluded the article:
    As the former bank robber James Gantley put it a year ago, the Redress Board is ‘The Good Ship Lollipop, lots of dosh for everyone’.

  2. I also provided Richard Webster with much of the text of his essay “States of Fear, The Redress Board and Ireland’s Folly” which itself forms part of his book “The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt”

    The following is an extract from the essay/book:

    ..In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church. The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home.

    The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches. No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim. The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department.

    Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate. [3] …

    [3] Sunday Times (Ireland), 28 April 1996, citing the views of the surgeon, J. B. Prendiville.

    One of the “atrocity stories” referred to above, was the claim that a nun had murdered a baby by using a hot poker to burn holes in the girls legs. The text of the Daily Mirror article of 11 October 1997 entitled
    Hot Poker was Used on Little Marion; No Cash Will Get Her Back; I Think My Baby was Murdered at the Orphanage Says Payout Mum
    is readily available on the Internet to the present day. The Mirror executives were well aware that the Sisters would make no attempt to defend their colleague who was still alive at the time of publication. The same was NOT true to the same extent of Bishops and leaders of MALE Religious Congregations during the 1990s. Remember the spirited defence put up by senior clergy of the Dublin Archdiocese in 1999 to preposterous allegations against John Charles McQuaid? I recall one journalist who REGRETTED that the false allegations might create sympathy for the late Archbishop!

    Fr. Brendan Hoban writes that
    As a result the Church has been left bruised and battered, exposed and embarrassed. And so we should.
    One of the main reasons you should, is that the Hierarchy and leaders of male Congregations are now behaving as the Sisters of Mercy did from the very beginning i.e. failing to defend falsely accused colleagues!

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    April 27th, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Rory Connor @2

    “Fr. Brendan Hoban writes that
    As a result the Church has been left bruised and battered, exposed and embarrassed. And so we should.

    One of the main reasons you should, is that the Hierarchy and leaders of male Congregations are now behaving as the Sisters of Mercy did from the very beginning i.e. failing to defend falsely accused colleagues!”———————————-

    Rory, recently we communicated with each other on this link

    you replied with reference to my post but quite shortly afterwards the Comment box was closed and I could not respond to your post. The paragraph above relates to the Religious Sisters of Mercy which is more or less a continuation of the original post in the link above.
    Your comments with inverted comas Taken from the link

    “Some Religious Sisters in particular, seem to take the view that the Catholic Church is (or was) Patriarchal and Clericalist and therefore bad”.

    It is the culture of cover up rather than individual sins committed, that gives credence to “victims” ” even where such accounts are either exaggerated or demonstrably false.
    As this culture (collusion) is intrinsically evil and not to acknowledge (deal with) it openly is compounding this conspiracy of silence before mankind.

    “Some Religious Sisters in particular, seem to take the view that the Catholic Church is (or was) Patriarchal and Clericalist and therefore bad”.

    I think that this is probably a fair comment on how some may think/feel as many through obedience and trust have colluded with the hierarchy to protect the Church from these scandals, the fruit of this misplaced trust is now before all mankind and in their sincere felt shame and guilt they know that they have lost credibility.

    “I believe that the (comic) tragedy here is that these Sisters imagine that they are transcending the Old Testament attitude to Justice whereas in fact, they are failing to rise to it!”

    No they are bowing down before it, in their humility. And it appears “Fr. Brendan Hoban is also doing so.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Over the years I have spoken to several members of male Religious Congregations and priests and others in an attempt to discover what motivated the Sisters of Mercy in their treatment of the late Sister Xavieria and of Nora Wall – formerly Sister Dominic – and the late Pablo McCabe. (Note that McCabe was a homeless schizophrenic layman who had no money and was accused simply to make the rape allegation against a nun seem more plausible.) I had to gather this type of “circumstantial” evidence because the Sisters themselves are not willing to discuss the issue.

    Most of the people I spoke to were “moderate” or perhaps not willing to say too much to an outsider like myself. The main explanations I received were that (A) the Sisters were originally naive and (B) they are now too terrorised by a hostile media to speak out. I find both explanations inadequate. What kind of “naivety” could have survived the claim in 1996/97 that one of their colleague had used a red hot poker to murder a child? Yet the Sisters continued to pour out apologies and large sums of money for many years to come. And as their their “terror”, Nora Wall won a libel case in 2002, had her conviction declared a Miscarriage of Justice by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2005 and won her decade long case for damages against the State just last year. What kind of “fear” was it that prevented the Sisters from withdrawing their apologies to the accusers of Wall and McCabe on any of those occasions? Could the media really have attacked them for so doing?

    It also seems strange to me that there was no period between the time the Sisters CEASED to be naive and STARTED to be terrified – when they might have spoken the truth. In fact it reminds me of the saying about a certain country that “went from barbarism to decadence without passing through an intervening period of civilization”!

    Nobody is helped -least of all REAL victims of child abuse – when false accusers are indulged and/or paid large sums of money. This goes beyond the Church. Apart from Pablo McCabe, I am aware of at least three other men who were falsely accused – and subsequently cleared – of child abuse in the year that followed the broadcast of the “Dear Daughter” documentary by RTE. One was a teacher, one a farmer and one a businessman. There is a link here
    Teachers in particular have to take special precautions against false allegations – including not comforting a distressed child and never being alone with a child. Thus, for example a child may wish to speak privately to a favourite teacher about abuse at home but cannot do so because the teacher must protect himself! Who benefits from this insane scenario?

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Rory Connor @ 4

    It is impossible for me to give an explanation to the inadequate explanations made to you by the Sisters, as there could be many reasons for their behaviour.
    I can make one assumption, the whole truth is not be revealed and I believe that the reason for this is self-protection as something other than naivety or fear of a hostile media, is at play. This self-protection can also be seen in the action of Hierarchy in regards to the culture of cover up, in not been transparent with the laity.

    On the “surface” we appear to be seeing unity of purpose in that

    “If a kingdom is divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand”

    Many years ago during a homily a parishioner in front of me turned around and said in “terror” “may God help us” and then walked out of the Church, been an outsider and looking in so to say I perceived that the church is like a Chess board next to every white, one is a black one, in a game of Chess it is not possible to pretend that the opponent does not exist, to do so would be like playing snakes and ladders without the ladders been seen on the “surface” of the board, ultimately you can only be taken in one direction. The innocent within the flock have paid the price, as it could be said self-protection is what is sort, dereliction is what it bought.

    You personally are fighting an uphill battle and you appear to be doing a good job, but credibility is continually been undermined as
    (Taken from last my post @ 3)

    “It is the culture of cover up rather than individual sins committed, that gives credence to “victims” even where such accounts are either exaggerated or demonstrably false. As this culture (collusion) is intrinsically evil and not to acknowledge (deal with) it openly is compounding this conspiracy of silence before mankind”

    Have you any response to these points from my last post?

    The problem of credibility of the Church is not just an Irish one
    KIERAN TAPSELL. A Response to Francis Sullivan

    “This avoidance of the truth is just another example of an “institutional culture hell-bent on self-protection and self-preservation”, and in this case to protect the reputation of every pope since 1917.

    Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the Royal Commission: “However great the faults of the Australian bishops have been over the last thirty years, it still remains true that the major obstacle to a better response from the Church has been the Vatican.” That is the true version of history”.

    The Church has been given the means by our Lord Himself to restore credibility, but to do this the elite will have to embrace a reflection/image of themselves before mankind, in an act of true humility.
    Unity of purpose can only be achieved by serving the Truth in humility; this includes showing warts and all.

    “May God help us”

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  6. Kevin.
    I will try to deal with one issue you raise – that of the alleged “culture of cover-up”or “collusion”.

    Let us suppose that today the parents of a teenage girl (say 15 years old) feel that their daughter is becoming unduly intimate with a neighbour’s son who is over 18. They COULD report the matter directly to the police or child welfare authorities. But they don’t want to create a big scandal -and indeed the teenager herself may be very much against the idea of a criminal trial. So instead they go to the parents of the young adult and request them to take action in relation to their son’s behaviour. So the parents send their son away to another city (thus allowing him to offend again ??) and/or they refer him for medical/psychiatric treatment.

    Would anybody expect them to report their son to the police – against the wishes of the girl and her parents? Does this really represent a “culture of cover-up”?

    Mandatory Reporting of suspicions of child sex abuse was first considered by the Irish Government in the 1990s (after the Fr Brendan Smyth scandal) but shelved amidst protests from social workers and child care workers that they would be overwhelmed by a flood of false or frivolous allegations – as was already happening in other countries.

    Thus on 8 May 1998 the Irish Times published a letter from the PRO of the Irish Association of Social Workers headed “Mandatory Reporting of Abuse” that included the following:

    ….Throughout the debate on mandatory reporting, the Irish Association of Social Workers has expressed a strong view that mandatory reporting is not the best and most effective way to protect vulnerable Irish children. The cornerstones of good child-care practice are professional judgement and responsible, informed reporting.

    Experience in other countries has shown that a legal obligation to report child abuse creates a system dominated by fear and one which is swamped with vague, ill-informed reports. ….[My emphasis]

    NEVERTHELESS the Children First Act 2015 – which only came into force recently – provides for mandatory reporting of suspected child sex abuse. Does that mean that over the past two decades, other countries have overcome the problems associated with this policy? Well not according to the Irish Association of Social Workers – as per an Irish Times report of 16 July 2011 by Carl O’Brien headed “Mandatory Child Abuse Reports Could do More Harm than Good”

    Social workers have expressed alarm that plans to introduce mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse could push over-stretched services towards breaking point. …….

    The Irish Association of Social Workers yesterday warned the new laws could end up doing more harm than good. “As it stands, the child protection system is not functioning properly. There are significant numbers of children without social workers or care plans,” said association spokeswoman Ineke Durville. “I don’t see how putting additional pressure on child protection services will improve the situation.”

    The group points to jurisdictions such as parts of Australia where mandatory reporting has led to services being “overwhelmed” by reports of suspected abuse. Last month the deputy director of Australia’s centre for child protection at the University of South Australia urged Irish authorities to think carefully about introducing such a system, which could lead to children “not getting the services they need”. ……[My emphasis]

    Australia is not the only country in which child services are being overwhelmed by the problems caused by Mandatory Reporting and the associated issues of false or frivolous allegations of child sex abuse. *** So why has our Government gone ahead anyway? The following sentence from Carl O’Brien’s July 2011 article, gives a good indication:
    The Government has moved to strengthen child protection measures in the wake of the publication this week of the report on the handling of child abuse complaints in the diocese of Cloyne.

    So Irish children – and Irish social workers – are going to pay the price of a Government policy that is based on hysteria and anti-clericalism!

    *** For example see the Wikipedia article entitled “Mandatory Reporting in the United States” and in particular the section headed “Statistics”.

    1. Kevin Walters says:

      Rory Conner@ 6

      “Would anybody expect them to report their son to the police – against the wishes of the girl and her parents? Does this really represent a “culture of cover-up”?”—————————

      Rory the scenario you have put before me is simplistic and is fundamentally dishonest as it is a deflection rather than a sincere response, as it does not deal with the established reality of the situation, that is the abuse of power and this abuse will not be touched and treated as long as no one takes personal responsibility for maladministration.

      From the link below

      The bishops’ silence has irked some Catholics. “We don’t need any wishy-washy guidelines from bishops for such heinous acts. As citizens, it is our incumbent duty to report a crime and not aid or abet it,” said Chhotebhai, a former president of the All India Catholic Union who goes by a name meaning “little brother.”
      kevin your brother
      In Christ

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