October 19, 2002
Enough is enough for abuse victims

From The Irish Examiner

IT IS close to a decade since the issue of child clerical sex abuse started to become as common a feature of public debate as the weather.

In that time we've seen Fr Brendan Smith exposed, had a Government fall over the scandal, been given the Laffoy Commission and watched the Catholic Church squirm, duck, dodge and, in the victims' minds, sorely disappoint.

Despite all that has happened in the past 10 years, it is this last feature of the period that sticks out most clearly.

Not for the first time, victims are saying enough is enough. Not for the first time there are demands for meaningful action.

The problem for all involved, however, is what exactly should be done.

Just as victims of sex abuse in Church-run orphanages and institutions have been divided over the workings of the Laffoy Commission, those abused by paedophile priests in the wider community also hold different views on how things should proceed.

There have been calls for Cardinal Connell to resign based on the argument that until he leaves, the Church will never fully acknowledge the extent of its wrongdoing.

Equally there are fears that if he goes to live out his days in a country manor retirement home somewhere, he will avoid facing the music and take with him vital knowledge and the powerful authority he has to influence the layers of clergy below him.

But if a criminal investigation is initiated and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has not ruled out the possibility of taking the lead in this regard it could prove painfully difficult both to gather evidence and successfully pursue prosecutions.

The burden of proof in criminal matters is heavy facts must be established beyond doubt and a combination of the passage of time, the relative youth of victims when they were abused, the advanced age of many perpetrators and the lack of documentary evidence could prove frustrating and unfruitful for prosecutors and victims alike.

Frustration is inherent in the alternatives, too.

The establishment of the Hussey Commission to conduct an audit of all diocesan records on paedophile or suspected paedophile priests was an unprecedented measure by the Church.

But the very fact it is a Church creation has lost it the confidence of many victims.

Cardinal Connell admitted in June this year there was no guarantee all complaints had been recorded nor all records maintained. Some, he conceded, may have been destroyed.

He also accepted the Commission would have to rely on the voluntary co-operation of the priests of any given parish and while he had instructed them to co-operate, he had no answer to questions of what would happen if it became clear an individual was unhelpful. Since then it has emerged the report of the audit will not publicly name offenders nor their protectors. As a result victims are asking what the point of the exercise is.

Another exercise offers potentially more hope or at least an insight into how best to proceed.

George Bermingham SC was appointed by the Government in April this year to inquire into the handling of paedophile priests by the Ferns Diocese.

This was in the wake of renewed controversy over Fr Sean Fortune following the screening of the BBC documentary 'Suing the Pope' and the subsequent resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey.

Mr Bermingham completed his report in August and it has been with the Attorney General since.

That hints strongly that there are legal difficulties with his findings, which in itself may be revealing.

If George Bermingham has reported that he faced too many obstacles to get to the bottom of the cover-ups in Ferns, it suggests there is little point in conducting similar inquiries in other dioceses without the added weight of garda involvement.

If, on the other hand, he was able to get a clear picture of what went on and who was responsible, his methods will perhaps provide the template for investigations elsewhere. The Bermingham report and the Attorney-General's comments on it are due to be discussed by Government any time soon the sooner the better, most would say.

But there are costs human and otherwise associated with every course of action. And with the Church facing financial bankruptcy and some saying morally its reserves are already cleaned out, it has to ask itself what it has to lose by investing in the truth

Posted by paul at October 19, 2002 12:35 PM
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