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Visitation criticised for not addressing Vatican role in abuse cover-ups

Support groups and abuse survivors are disappointed with a six-and-a-half page document which “doesn’t say much at all”.

Image: Plinio Lepri/AP/Press Association Images

ONE IN FOUR, a support group for those who experienced sexual abuse in Ireland, has said the Vatican is still not accepting responsibility for its role “in creating the culture of purposeful cover-ups” in the Catholic Church.

Responding to the findings of the Apostolic Visitation, the organisation said it was disappointed the Vatican did not acknowledge that its interventions in the abuse scandal had allowed individual Catholic Church leaders in Ireland to ignore guidelines.

In a statement, executive director Maeve Lewis said, “While we welcome the findings of the Visitation that the Irish Church now has good child protection practices in place, we feel it is a lost opportunity to address the role played by the Vatican in perpetuating the policy of protecting abusive priests at the expense of children.”

Lewis specifically welcomed the recommendation that the Bishops and Religious Superiors should devote time to listening to survivors and attending to their needs but survivors met the suggestion with some scepticism.

“In the past year at One in Four, we have noticed a hardening of attitude on the part of the church authorities to the question of compensation for survivors,” explained Lewis. “We have had grotesque situations where senior Churchmen meet with survivors, assure them of their remorse for what happened while at the same time instruct their legal teams to file full defences in relation to civil compensation suits.

This only compounds the pain and hurt of survivors. It brings into question the authenticity of the Church’s repentance.

A text that doesn’t say much at all…a document for history

Andrew Madden, author of Altar Boy, A Story of Life After Abuse, said that continued calls for forgiveness are meaningless if the Vatican continues to refuse to take responsibility for its role in facilitating a culture of cover up.

Responding to the visitators findings, Madden said that the report had given him no reason to believe that members of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and in the Vatican would stop “repeatedly disrespecting and ignoring the voices and views of those who have been abused”.

His sentiments were echoed by One in Four founder and director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman.

O’Gorman told TheJournal.ie that he had met with one of the group, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, and anything he had to say to him was “not reflected in today’s text”.

“In fact, it is six-and-a-half pages of text that doesn’t say much at all,” he said.

“The role of the Vatican is totally absent from the document and there are elements of it that are misleading to the point of falsehood,” he told TheJournal.ie.

He said that the report detailed “progressive steps taken in the 1990s” to broaden awareness of sexual abuse cases. ”That is just deceitful,” claims O’Gorman, as the Catholic Church was still denying the reality of sexual abuse.

He also claimed that the recurring theme, or excuse, that priesthood was corrupted by society continues to run through this report.

To say segregation of priests and seminarians should be part of the solution is bizarre, he added. The Vatican report urged the separation of seminarians from the general student body at Maynooth university.

“We’re meant to believe that a step back to the 1950s and rule from Rome is the answer?” he asked. “It is hard to believe the Church has moved very far. This certainly doesn’t move forward their position or reassure anyone that the Vatican is taking this seriously.

This is a document for history, a Vatican record of it all as opposed to an effort at honest, frank and open engagement.

Abuse survivor Madden took a similar view, stating he did not participate in the exercise as it did not think it would serve any “credible purpose”.

“I was of the view that instead it would be used by the Vatican to maintain the pretence that the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the subsequent cover up of that abuse by Catholic Bishops was an Irish problem which it knew nothing about.

Catholic Bishops & Cardinals have been concealing the sexual abuse of children for decades from one side of the world to the other and it is not believable that this was not known in the Vatican.
I said in October 2010 that the Apostolic Visitation is nothing more than self-serving window-dressing nonsense, and nothing I’ve read today has changed my mind.

The US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the recommendations made by the Visitation are just another “tired, ineffective re-hash” of promises made by US bishops ten years ago which have had “little impact”.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said that the Catholic Church – given its record – should be fully accountable to society through Irish State structures.

In her response to the Visitation, Minister for Children France Fitzgerald said the “wrong can never be put right”.

“Innocent young people were abused by clerics and Religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively,” she said.

Her department are in the final stages of putting together legislation which will see the Children First national guidance gain statutory footing. Heads of a Bill for this purpose are with the Attorney General and will be submitted to the Oireachtas shortly.

Related: Irish Catholic bishops “make heartfelt pleas for forgiveness”>

Yesterday: Vatican visitors propose Church reforms to deal with abuse fallout>

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