Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Abuse fund rift deepens

Pope poised to step in as abuse fund rift deepens
Cardinal puts pressure on orders to increase compensation cash
By John Cooney, Fionnan Sheahan and Tom Brady Tuesday May 26 2009
THE prospect of the Pope intervening in the row over abuse compensation loomed large last night as bishops and religious orders were locked in secret talks.
It followed another day of drama when the orders flatly refused to increase their €128m contribution to the compensation fund for victims.
This was despite the pleas of the country's leading clerics and senior politicians -- and the appointment of a top garda to see if there are grounds for criminal prosecutions in the devastating Ryan report on clerical abuse.
The Government is expected to indicate later today that it will make an approach to the religious orders to negotiate a larger contribution to the compensation bill for abuse victims after a special Cabinet meeting
And the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, piled pressure on the religious orders, suggesting that the Vatican may have to intervene to persuade them to pay more to the victims of abuse.
The Vatican would have to be fully briefed, the Cardinal said after a meeting of senior bishops to discuss their response to the fall-out from last week's damning report.
The Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), which represents the 18 congregations at the centre of the controversy later issued a defiant statement after holding a special meeting in Dublin.
The orders categorically refused to pay out more than the €128m agreed as part of the controversial indemnity deal with the Government.
In a joint statement they said they would not be renegotiating the 2002 agreement. Under this agreement the taxpayer shoulders the burden of more than €1bn in compensation payouts to clerical abuse victims.
But last night in a dramatic move to break the deadlock between the bishops and the heads of religious congregations over the payments, the head of CORI, Sister Marianne O'Connell, joined the bishops in a secret meeting at Maynooth.
She had come directly from CORI's private meeting on the southside of Dublin, with a package of "options", as an alternative to a non-renegotiable indemnity deal.
However, informed church sources suggested that she had told the bishops that the Christian Brothers and many other religious bodies have put their schools and colleges into trusts, and did not have cash reserves.
One partial solution could be offering scholarships to the children of abuse victims, and resources for counselling of long-term victims, as suggested by Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
On the other hand, the religious orders may continue to disagree with the bishops -- and demand that the diocese assist with contributions from their own funds which could involve selling buildings and land.
In a statement released last night the influential bishops' standing committee welcomed the report's publication as "a significant step in establishing the truth and enabling the voices of survivors of abuse to be heard".
The bishops apologised to "those so cruelly abused during their childhood while in Catholic-run industrial and reformatory school".
"This abuse is all the greater because it was perpetrated by those called to care in the name of Jesus Christ," they said.
The standing committee headed by Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin set the agenda for a full-scale meeting of the bishops fixed for June 8.
The brief holding statement came after a day in which Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin publicly appealed to the religious to improve their offer to victims on moral conscience grounds.
In their statement the bishops warned that no response to the far-reaching Ryan report could be confined to a single statement.
The Cardinal said: "Some of Cori have spoken. Obviously more speaking will have to be done to clarify the reasons behind the agreement and what steps can be taken to revisit that."
Archbishop Martin appealed for the congregations to do the right thing.
"The religious congregations should look now at what has emerged and ask themselves 'is that the picture that we understood nine years ago, was that the reality nine years ago?'," he said. "If the thing is much worse than they admitted to at that stage, then they have to look at the consequences."
Critics of the deal suggest the orders should have known the extent of the abuse in children's homes, orphanages, industrial and reform schools and should now be paying the cost.
- John Cooney, Fionnan Sheahan and Tom Brady
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