ACTION, not words, are being demanded by survivors of clergy sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, who are widely disappointed by the lack of accountability generally perceived in a letter from Pope Francis on Monday, before of his visit to Ireland which begins tomorrow.
A common theme running through the reaction of abuse-survivor groups, such as One in Four, was the alleged “wilful cover-up” by the Vatican of criminal activity, and the failure by the Pontiff to identify those responsible, or outline remedial action to ensure accountability.
The executive director of Amnesty in Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, who was abused, at the age of 13 by a priest, posted on Twitter after the issue of the letter: “He seeks forgiveness for our pain and named the need to root out abuse and cover-up, all welcome. But he once again fails to name who is responsible for the cover-up.”
“He names the clerical culture that was a major factor in all of this and how Church leaders were more concerned with their reputation than protecting children. All true. But that culture was overseen by the Vatican and codified into its laws.”
Mr O’Gorman said that he found it wearying that, although the Pope went further than former attempts by the RC Church to deal with the abuse, “they avoid making a simple, frank, and truthful acknowledgement of the Vatican-led cover-up. Just tell the damn truth.”
The reaction was compounded by a press conference in Dublin by the leaders of an online global database, Bishop Accountability, which lists more than 70 Irish clergy identified in clerical-abuse cases. Its co-director, Anne Barrett Doyle, asked: “Why, in this country where so many atrocities have been exposed, is there no accountability? No wonder this is still an open wound here.”
She expressed the hope that what had happened in the USA and Australia would encourage the Irish to take similar action.
Another abuse survivor and campaigner, Marie Collins, who last year resigned from the Commission for the Protection of Minors because of what she described as frustration of its work by the Vatican, also used social media to demand of the Pope that he insist on accountability. “Statements from Vatican or Pope should stop telling us how terrible abuse is and how all must be held accountable. Tell us instead what you are doing to hold them accountable. That is what we want to hear. ‘Working on it’ is not an acceptable explanation for decades of ‘delay’,” she said.
The group One in Four also expressed disappointment at the Pope’s letter. It said that the letter was a “rehashing” of apologies without any substantive explanation as to how it planned to address the issue of accountability for both crime and cover-up. Its executive director, Maeve Lewis, said: “There is nothing in this new communication from Pope Francis to show that the Vatican intends to put in place clear laws and protocols that will hold every bishop and cardinal who shield sex offenders (to account) and place them in positions where they can continue to abuse children,” she said. The Papal visit would trigger great distress among many survivors of clerical abuse in this country, she added.
Mr. O’Gorman has invited abuse survivors and supporters to attend an alternative gathering at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre, to coincide with the Papal mass on Sunday.
Government view. The Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, has advised Pope Francis before his visit that the event will offer the Vatican and the RC Church a rare opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and to effectively demonstrate that justice and accountability will be forthcoming for those who have suffered.
Mr Harris said: “Thousands of people across this country are still living with the realities of clerical abuse. . . It is vital that Pope Francis hears their anguish and apologises but, much more importantly, outlines the clear actions and measures he intends to take to ensure the same injustices don’t reoccur and to bring about justice and accountability.”
The Minister reminded the Pontiff that the Ireland he would be visiting is a vastly different society from that which greeted John Paul II in 1979. He said: “Many people are finding it difficult dealing with the feelings of hurt and pain it brings up. In recognising that, and also for the many faithful who will feel positively about this visit, this is a once-in-a-generation chance for the Vatican to not only acknowledge the abuse some of its members and its institution inflicted on the most vulnerable, but to accept the Vatican’s role in the wilful cover-up of such abuse and the additional pain caused by denial and rejection of those who suffered.”