Posted tagged ‘Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’

Commission on Child Abuse

May 20, 2009

Today has not been a good day for Ireland. Or rather, what we have had to read today tells a painful, harrowing and terrible story about part of this country’s history. I am referring to the publication of four volumes of reports by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Commission was established in 1999 by the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to investigate child abuse over a period of time in institutions where children had been placed and were in care. Overwhelmingly these were institutions owned and managed by religious orders of the Roman Catholic Church. Eighteen such orders made contributions to a redress fund that was set up in negotiations with the state, and some of them offered apologies, though in very different terms between them. A general apology was offered by CORI (Conference of Religious of Ireland) in 2002.

The material contained in the report published today is harrowing, detailing physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. The volumes of the report describe a system of childcare that had ceased to consider the human dignity of the children in care, even where there were no examples of the more extreme abuse. But actual abuse itself was, we now know, widespread. And because nothing was done about any of this, even when it was known, the report describes a society that had allowed itself to be corrupted, and one in which tackling abuse and cruelty was seen as less of a priority than the maintenance of the established order and institutional deference.

I spent a good part of my youth and early adulthood in Ireland, and they were happy times for me. But even for me some of this now looks corrupted by what I am reading, at the very least because I was part of a society that did nothing to protect the most vulnerable. No doubt we will be able to reflect more positively on the country’s history again, but right now this is a terrible moment. And it is certainly not a moment for any equivocation or any attempts to defend the indefensible. Church leaders in particular must assess again how they believe they can or should exercise authority, and on whose behalf they believe they must act in the first instance. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has been a breath of fresh air in these matters; but others have shown far less understanding of the position they are in. But the church could not have done what it did without the complicity of society in general.

It is time for reflect on who we are and what values we hold.