This torture will continue until the Catholic Church is denied institutional access to children

Reactions from the Catholic Church to the Irish child abuse report have verged on the insulting. When one reads the so-called expressions of regret from the perpetrators of these atrocities, it isn’t difficult to understand the palpable fury of those victims who came to make a stand.

Take this from the Christian Brothers – one of the main organisations responsible for the reign of terror that traumatised tens of thousands of innocent children: “We are deeply sorry for the hurt caused. We are ashamed and saddened that many who complained of abuse were not listened to. We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long term psychological effects on children. As we have come to better understand the impact of such abuse, our goal and best endeavour has been to promote healing for complainants. We appreciate that no healing is possible without an acknowledgement of our responsibility as a Congregation for what has happened.”

“As we come to better understand the impact of such abuse “– as though it would have been fine to rape and brutalise very small children if it was thought that it caused no serious long-term damage.

Or take this from Vincent Nichols, the newly-installed Archbishop of Westminster: “I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage, and also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.”

Courage? They would never have “faced up to their past it” if they had been given a choice. They have repeatedly bought the silence of those victims who were determined to make the crimes public. Outside the press conference where the document was launched, one man waved an offer of £115,000 that the Church had made to him to stay silent. But so profound is the damage done to him that nothing would compensate but the bringing to justice of his tormentors. The Christian Brothers have tried to cover their tracks and intimidate those who wanted these crimes brought to light. They have gained anonymity for the abusers from the authors of this report.

As it says: “The Christian Brothers delayed the investigation for more than a year with a lawsuit that successfully defended their members’ right to anonymity in all references in the report, even in cases in which individual Christian Brothers had been convicted of sexual and physical attacks on children.”

 These miscreants, together with the laughably mis-named Sisters of Mercy who carried out this systematic regime of violence, both physical and emotional, were not suffering from some temporary aberration. It was not the work of a few perverts who should never have been employed. It was part of the system, it was the way the whole set-up operated, and it extended over generations, for nearly sixty years.

The state’s abnegation of its responsibility to these children was also grotesque. It was completely deferential to these religious institutions, labouring under the impression that priests could be trusted because – well, they were priests. And even when it became clear what temples of abuse these various orphanages and workhouses were, the state did nothing to stop it, reasoning that the violence was necessary to keep order.

This report should be a salutary lesson for the promoters of faith-based welfare. It shows clearly what can happen when a religious regime is given unfettered, unregulated power over the weak and vulnerable.

And the Vatican must also answer for its own shameful complicity in all this.

The foul exploitation in Ireland, and all over the world, was known about at the highest levels in Rome, and instead of intervening to stop it, the Vatican conspired to cover it up.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said that “the child abuse itself was bad enough but the Church made it worse with its claims that the victims were lying. The Church also aggravated its betrayal of children with its policy of moving priests who were known abusers to new dioceses where they could continue their abusive activities free from any suspicion.

“The present Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote to bishops as recently as 2001 stating clearly that a 1962 instruction called Crimen Sollicitationis was still in force. See a facsimile of the document here and a translation here. This document instructs bishops who are dealing with accusations of sexual abuse to observe strict secrecy and threatens those who speak out with excommunication. It states that the instructions are to be ‘diligently stored in the secret archives of the Curia [Vatican] as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries.’”

The document was in force for the twenty years after Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was uncovered only because the Texan lawyer Daniel Shea was doing some research on child abuse in Catholic institutions.

Keith Porteous Wood added: “The Holy See is making a mockery of its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the Vatican is the depository for this mass of incriminating information hoarded in obsessive secrecy, it certainly has a case to answer about its adherence to Article 34(b) (“take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent ... The exploitative use of children in ... unlawful sexual practices.”). It has also failed to produce three consecutive five yearly reports (1997, 2002 and 2007) required by the Article 44 of the Convention. They can hardly plead that there was nothing to report.

 “As a direct result of the undeserved deference shown to the Holy See, as far as we are aware, no influential body, including the UN, has had the courage to call the Holy See to account.

“We call on both national and international bodies charged with care for children to join in a demand for these apparent contraventions of the Convention by the Holy See to be highlighted and rectified.

“Perhaps the crowning injustice for Ireland is that the economically weak Irish exchequer is paying well over a billion Euros towards the victims’ compensation - while the body responsible, the Church, is contributing less than a tenth of the payments.

“Nor is there room for complacency in England and Wales. The Nolan Commission on child protection nominally took over in England and Wales from Crimen sollicitationis, and it called for a review in five years time.

“The recently retired Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Murphy O’Connor (who has his own unresolved history of cover-up) was the one who asked, and presumably selected, Baroness Cumberlege as Chair of the review progress by the Catholic Church in the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Confidence in the Commission might have been greater if the appointment had been made by someone demonstrably independent and without any vested interest in the outcome. Some concern about what seems to be the review’s powerlessness can be judged from the tone of her report’s concluding comment on implementation: ‘It is, of course, entirely a matter for the Conference of Bishops and Conference of Religious whether they accept the recommendations and findings of this report and, if they do, how they will chose to implement them.’

While there is a positive Church response posted on the Cumberlege Commission’s website to the Nolan recommendations: “We now commit ourselves to implementing the Final Report”, there is significantly no response posted on the Commission’s website to the Church’s response to the later Cumberlege recommendations. And, unfortunately, Lord Nolan concluded only that ‘These [Nolan’s] recommendations should be reviewed after five years.’ rather than ‘These recommendations should be reviewed every five years.’”

 The National Secular Society calls on the Church to post a response to the Cumberlege recommendations on the Commission’s website and to commit to a recurring five-yearly independent review.

And was it only last month that the Pope was expressing his “profound sorrow” to the 150,000 native Canadians who had been forced into Catholic Institutions where their culture and languages were banned and the usual regime of physical and emotional abuse was upheld by the various monks, nuns and priests who ran these hell holes?

These recent news stories show that the Catholic Church remains a deeply dysfunctional organisation and that no child can ever feel safe in its “care”.

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