On 23rd April 2002 Pope John Paul II declared:
“People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.”
Irish Catholics now need to know that this is also the unequivocal position of their own bishops.
So do our many innocent priests, who deserve to be free of all suspicion.
Neither people nor priests can know this in the absence of adequate information about the compensation for clerical child sex abuse so far paid by the Irish Catholic church from the Stewardship Trust Fund.
On March 16th, 2005 the conference of Irish Catholic bishops declared that :
“Since the establishment of the Stewardship Trust in 1996, 143 claims against 36 priests who had worked in dioceses in Ireland have been settled at a cost to the Stewardship Trust of €8.78m.
This information should have been followed by specific information for each diocese, detailing the number of offending priests concerned in that diocese, and the sums involved.
Dioceses should also provide assurances that any and all such successful claims were reported to the civil authorities, and that none of the priests concerned remains in parish ministry, or any other ministry involving children.
This diocese-specific information has not yet been provided. Nor have these assurances been given. In at least one diocese all such information has been bluntly refused.
Lacking that information and these assurances, Catholic lay people cannot be sure that the Stewardship Trust Fund is not being used to evade due civil process in relation to serious alleged crimes in their own diocese. Everything that is known about the effects of child sex abuse tells us that lack of due civil process, and lack of adequate sanction against perpetrators, adds further injury to victims, and delays their recovery.
At the very least, all Catholic parents, and all victims, are entitled to certainty that no perpetrator of clerical child sex abuse has been retained by any bishop in any ministry or location involving contact with children. They do not have that certainty at present.
Innocent priests (the vast majority) are also entitled to be totally free of any suspicion, and this also is impossible if this information, and these assurances, cannot be given.
In these circumstances – and until adequate transparency has been provided – we advise Irish Catholics to consider the possibility that by contributing to the Stewardship Trust fund they may unwittingly be assisting a policy that conceals child sex abuse, shields some of the perpetrators of that abuse, compromises the ministry and standing of innocent priests, and endangers children.
This lack of transparency on clerical child sex abuse also compromises the vital cause of child protection in our church, because this responsibility is also now – strangely – part of the responsibility of the Stewardship Trust – a fund that arose out of the still unexplained collapse of insurance cover against clerical child abuse in the period 1987-96.
All of us have a conscientious responsibility to ensure that “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.” In light of the harm already done to the authority of bishops by the concealment of clerical child sex abuse, any continued lack of transparency on this matter is reckless and inexplicable. It not only endangers the victims of clerical sex abuse but challenges our faith, hampers the mission of our church and further erodes the prestige and authority of the office of bishop itself.