Statement on the Report of the Irish Commission
to Inquire into Child Abuse, 20th May 2009
The unaccountability of clergy within the Catholic church – and especially the unaccountability of bishops and heads of religious orders – institutionalises abuse within it.
This is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from yesterday’s report of the Irish State Commission of Inquiry into abuse in residential institutions (the Ryan Report). Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of innocent children was widely practised and relentless in such institutions: this is now established beyond question.
Unaccountable themselves – even to the state – Catholic bishops and religious superiors communicated an ethos of unaccountability to all clergy and religious. They also imposed a corresponding obligation of unquestioning deference and silence upon lay people – including those who manned the Irish Department of Education.
Those bishops had the power to depose Ministers of State, so they also had the power to come to the rescue of children being abused in institutions run by religious within their own dioceses. They never did.
The Irish Catholic Church now requires a prayerful, insightful, exhaustive investigation of the causes of that failure. We urgently need to know why Catholic institutions established to serve the most vulnerable children were allowed to betray the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.
We must also create structures within the church that will make all who hold administrative power accountable to those who are subject to it.
We need leaders who can recognise these realities. Any bishop or religious superior who cannot provide this leadership should seriously consider their position.