The Daily Star Opinion Piece
(Written July 2002)
In March this year the BBC broadcast the documentary “Suing the Pope” and there was a huge public outcry. Public opinion and The Stars “Tell us all you know” campaign demanded the truth. Suddenly after seven years of fighting for some kind of justice and struggling to get the Church to acknowledge their failures and their responsibility for what Sean Fortune had done to me and so many others I finally began to believe that the end might be in sight.
Now George Bermingham SC is due to hand his report to Micheal Martin, a report that will recommend the best form for the inquiry into just what happened in the Diocese of Ferns. So where are we now? What is likely to come from his report and what form should the inquiry take? Will The Church and State Agencies finally “Tell us all they know”?
It seems that public pressure has led to the Church finally agreeing to tell us what they did know about Sean Fortune and other paedophile priests. The upcoming inquiry will be the best chance we have ever had to finally uncover the truth and move forward. What is important now is that Inquiry be given the authority and scope to do its work properly. The Inquiry may well prove to be more of an investigation and fact-finding exercise than a full judicial inquiry with the ability to compel witnesses. If all the people involved, most importantly the Church, have given real commitments to handing over all relevant information and documents to the inquiry then this would be the most effective form of inquiry. What must be possible though is for the Inquiry to be able to refer back to the minister should it become clear that the promised co-operation is not being given or if it becomes clear that the inquiry cannot be effective without the power to compel and cross-examine witnesses. The Minster should then be able to put a full tribunal in place and use the power of the law to force all those involved to finally do the just and moral thing and tell the truth.
This inquiry should be able to avoid the pitfalls of investigations that have gone before it. It must not become a feeding frenzy for lawyers; it must not become so huge that it can’t ever hope to finish its work. This is why I hope that the inquiry will focus solely on Ferns. Not because I believe that the abuse we suffered in Ferns was worse that anyone else, I know it wasn’t, but because if we can finally prove what the Church did in a significant number of cases then we can see the way in which that organisation dealt with paedophile priests. We will finally be able to hold them accountable fully and publicly. If the inquiry attempts to look into all of the dioceses of Ireland the sheer scale of that job will make it impossible. In 5 years it will be yet another inquiry that we are all sick of hearing about and when we finally, if ever, get to the truth no one will care anymore.
What is also vital is that victims/survivors of clerical abuse be given an equal footing with the other groups involved. We all know that the Church will have its lawyers and press office on hand to advise them. Equally the Gardai and The Health Board will have the full mechanisms of their professional associations and the state available to them. It is important that the voice of survivors be given an equal presence. Survivor Groups must be allowed to play as full a role in this inquiry as possible. The charity I work for, One In Four, is due to open an Irish office in the coming months and I will be moving to Dublin to open that office. As an organisation run for and by people who have experienced sexual abuse we intend to ensure that the voices of the victims of Fortune, Grennan, Doyle, Collins and the other paedophile Priests from the Diocese of Ferns are finally heard strongly and clearly. We have been contacted by many of these survivors. Since March we have had over 3,000 e-mails, phone calls and letters and our Irish website, www.oneinfour.org, has had more than 30,000 visits. People have shared their stories, voiced their pain and many have taken major steps forward in their healing. We must ensure that our voices, which have for so long endured the horrific impact of rape and abuse in secret and isolation, are finally heard and acknowledged. For too long the abusers have been able to hide behind clerical garb and high palace walls. Survivors of these crimes must be finally given a voice; we must be put on an equal footing with those responsible for what was done to us.
This inquiry gives us a real chance to finally acknowledge what has happened. If we can get to grips with, if we can name it then we can do something to change it. We can never make it so it hasn’t happened and we can never make it OK but we can begin to take real steps forward to healing. The first step has to be getting to the truth and we all need that now. All of us, survivors, families, lay people and even the Church itself.
by ColmPosted by Colm at August 23, 2002 11:48 AM