In 2008 and again in 2010, members of VOTFI – including on both occasions survivors of clerical sexual abuse – met with members of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference (ICBC) – to speak about the pastoral needs of survivors of clerical sexual abuse. On both occasions we outlined the need for survivors to be fully included in the development and delivery of such services, on the basis of a principle emphasised by Margaret Kennedy, (drawn originally from the experience of the disabled community) : ‘nothing about us without us’.
At the first meeting in 2008 we stressed the need for a continuing forum for survivors, to facilitate their meeting with one another, and their ongoing joint deliberation on their pastoral needs. At the second meeting in 2010 we stressed the need for the resourcing of a retreat centre for survivors that would allow them to rest and receive a healing ministry that would be fully sensitive to their experience of abuse by men ordained to lead them to God.
On both occasions we felt sure that the bishops attending had heard this central message of the need to involve survivors in the development of pastoral support for themselves. We were therefore sure on both occasions that these meetings would necessarily lead to others on the same theme, keeping especially our survivor members ‘in the loop’.
On both occasions we were soon emphatically disappointed. We did not even on either occasion receive subsequently from the bishops attending a summary account of what impressions or conclusions they had themselves taken away from those meetings, or even the basic courtesy of an acknowledgement that they had benefited in any way, and were continuing to think about what they had heard.
Subsequently in 2012 we learned of other meetings organised more generally by the ICBC for abuse survivors, to discuss the issue of pastoral spiritual support for survivors. Nothing more was then heard by any of us until December 2013, when the ICBC issued the following statement after its winter conference at Maynooth:
We know of no survivor who heard of, or who attended any of the early meetings on this theme of spiritual support for survivors, who was subsequently fully involved in the development of a ‘spiritual support service’ for survivors, or who has any idea of what this now forecast service ‘Towards Peace’ will provide – despite recent requests for that information. Critically, we have received no assurance that survivors are seen by the developers of ‘Towards Peace’ as anything other than potential passive receivers of pastoral care, to be dealt with as individuals in isolation, rather than as a community whose own gifts of understanding, prayer and ministry will be fully respected, developed and utilised in the spiritual healing of its members.
Most importantly we know of no survivor who is awaiting this soon-to-be launched ‘Toward Peace’ service with any trust or confidence – given the lack of transparency, the exclusion, the discourtesy and the condescension implicit in their experience of its development. These characteristics are diagnostic of the Catholic clericalism that has continued to delay their healing since their initial experiences of clerical sexual abuse – and are entirely incompatible with properly respectful and sensitive pastoral care, as well as with an understanding of the church as the people of God.
There can be no ‘peace’ in the relationship between survivors and ordained members of the Catholic Church without trust, and there can be no trust without inclusion, courtesy, equality and transparency. In the absence of these we wonder if the ICBC has learned anything at all from its contact with survivors.
This morning’s article in the Irish Independent (below) poses the question: to what extent has ‘Towards Peace’ been guided in its gestation by survivors of clerical sex abuse. The survivors named below are in contact with survivor members of VOTFI. We will be watching closely to see what response (if any) emerges from the ICBC, and keeping you in VOTF HQ informed.
The approximate date for the official launch of ‘Towards Peace’ has been given to us as ‘late spring’.
Survivors of abuse hit out at church support service
Sarah Mac Donald – Irish Independent 20 January 2014
CLERICAL abuse survivors claim that they have been excluded from consultations over the establishment of a Catholic Church support service aimed at catering for their spiritual needs.
According to some high-profile survivors, they have been not been given a proper opportunity to advise on how the service, backed by the bishops, the Irish Missionary Union (IMU) and the Conference of Religious Superiors (CORI), should be structured.
Last December, the bishops announced that the ‘Towards Peace’ support service would be launched this year and would offer spiritual support to victims who suffered abuse at the hands of clerics or religious if their faith in God and the Church had been affected by their experience of sexual abuse.
The soon to be launched service will be free to clients, as the costs will be borne by the Bishops Conference (ICBC), CORI and the IMU.
An awareness campaign will be launched later this year, and the operation of the service will be reviewed in 2016.
However, Marie Collins who was abused by a Dublin priest as a sick child in the 1950s, told the Irish Independent that she was surprised that the service was so close to launch and alleged that she and other victims had expected greater consultation.
She claims that survivors have not been consulted since one meeting to explore what was needed on March 30, 2012, at Manresa House in Dublin.
According to Mark Vincent Healy, who was abused while a student in Rathmines, Dublin, survivors are concerned that a service is going to be “foisted on them” rather than being tailored to meet their very specific spiritual needs.
Mrs Collins was unable to attend the March 2012 meeting and has been anxious to highlight issues which she believes must be addressed. “The context of the abuse tends to be very different and the needs of the survivors also would be different.
“Have survivors, diocesan or residential, been included in the planning of this service and, if not, why not? If it is being set up to help survivors, then surely no one knows their needs better than survivors themselves,” Marie Collins said.