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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Mark Vincent Healy

A year after my historic meeting with Pope Francis, progress in Rome has been achingly slow

During my audience with Pope Francis, I asked for support in providing services to survivors of clerical child sexual abuse and their families. I reissue that request to His Holiness one year on.

THIS DAY LAST year I arrived in Rome Fiumicino airport. I was invited to Vatican City as the first Irish male survivor of clerical child sexual abuse to meet with His Holiness, Pope Francis. I was accompanied by the first Irish female survivor. The gender balance was most appropriate. Four other survivors were included, two from the UK and two from Germany.

What seems little known or appreciated is that over 80% of Irish clerical child sexual abuse was same sex abuse perpetrated on male children, young boys by priests, ministers of God in the Catholic faith. I had been sexually abused from the age of 9 to 12 by two priests of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a.k.a. the Spiritans, whilst a student at St. Mary’s College Rathmines. St. Mary’s College has much to be proud of and it is such a pity that so few could tarnish the good name of others.

I took my papal audience with the greatest sense of duty and respect

I prepared as well as I could for this historic and initial meeting. I felt I owed that much to the many others who might have wanted such an opportunity. I was especially mindful of the traumatised 15,000 survivors of child abuse by 18 religious congregations following the publication of the Ryan Report of 2009.

In audits to date covering six tranches by National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), there have been 2,744 abuse allegations raised against 1,069 priests for which only 64 of them were held to account. Justice that demands acknowledgement and restitution of that wrong has eluded too many survivors and their families.

As you might imagine, I took my papal audience with the greatest sense of duty and respect. I presented my report on 55 suicides amongst Irish survivors of clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland, a summary of NBSC audits and a background to my own case including a criminal conviction, an admission of neglect and evidence of aggravating the processing of my case. His Holiness graciously received my reports noting how much work I had done for survivors and their families.

Progress has been achingly slow 

A year on and I feel I have failed survivors and their families. The published figures of abuse allegations only represents at best 5% to 10% of the total number of Irish children abused by the religious in Ireland, where over 80% was the same sex abuse of male children. This is at odds with statistics which would indicate that the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated on female children and adults.

Progress by the commission in Rome has been achingly slow over the year. A sketchy five point plan over five years to see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) hold bishops, guilty of misprison or whatever is the canonical equivalent in delicts, to account is not the sort of action which will alleviate any suffering in the Irish context it is believed. Certainly there is no instrument in civil terms to hold any Irish bishop to account since 1997 according to Senator Ivana Bacik in her Irish Independent article in 2002.

As the vast majority of Irish child abuse allegations were attributed to congregations (1,453) and not diocesans (1,291), the papal initiative ought to have included abbots, superiors and provincial also and not just bishops.

By the time any such accountability may ever be known, the survivor population will have gone to the grave, most likely. This is really not a question about such initiatives holding bishops to account as it is in having any meaning. Indeed can there be any restoration of those tempted by the scandal to find forgiveness from those who were so badly abused. Forgiveness is hard because the faculties (intellectual, emotional and psychological) of the abused have been severely damaged and perhaps their mental health status precludes them from calming their anger sufficiently to allow forgiveness to flourish.

A group in desperate need of continued support

In the recently published National Strategy for Suicide Prevention for 2015-2020 entitled ‘Connecting for Life’ on 24th June 2015, I was also saddened. I had specifically fought for inclusion of survivors of clerical child sexual abuse and their families in the five year national mental health plan as a ‘priority group’ but they are not given unequivocal mention once throughout the 130 page report. Consideration is given but it is not acceptable that a clear message was not published regarding this priority group in desperate need of continued support.

One in Four attributes a number of suicides this year to their mental health funding shortfalls. As I mentioned to the CEO of the National Office of Suicide Prevention, Mr Gerry Raleigh, money spent on suicide prevention and mental health care is one of the few expenditures which is known to have a considerable return on investment. The economic cost of suicide to Ireland runs at over a billion euro per annum.

Support for survivors and their families

I have so much work to do as a campaign survivor of clerical child sexual abuse and my hopes of seeing some shoulders come to push matters forward remains undaunted.

During my audience with Pope Francis, I asked for support in providing services to survivors of clerical child sexual abuse and their families. I reissue that request to His Holiness one year on and hope that he might give the matter renewed consideration. Perhaps he might contribute towards the seed capital, raised as part of my terms of settlement in my own case, agreed with the Holy Ghost Fathers a.k.a. the Spiritans who have made a €150,000 contribution to setting up services to survivors and their families of clerical child sexual abuse.

Mark Vincent Healy isSurvivor Campaigner seeking ‘Rescue Services’ and ‘Safe Space Provisioning’ for survivors of clerical child sexual abuse

Email: Twitter: @MarkVHealy

I became the first male survivor of Irish clerical sexual abuse to meet Pope Francis

Without meaningful action, apologies to child abuse survivors are just words

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