Text of speech I gave at St Andrew’s Church, Bagnelstown, Co. Carlow. 10th April 2012
I would like to start by thanking Fr. Paddy Byrne and Fr. Declan Foley for the invitation to come and speak … until I met Paddy this evening I only knew him from Twitter, where he shares a very positive message …
There was a time as a young boy, too many years ago to say when, when I thought that standing up on an altar speaking to people like yourselves, was something I would be doing all the time when I grew up.
I used to love walking through the tree lined streets of Cabra in Dublin, carrying my altar boy’s surplus and soutane around to our big red brick church, the church of Christ The King. It was huge. And special. As a child I knew it was special because of the way adults conducted themselves there. Hushed tones, apparently due deference, and everyone in their Sunday best.
I gave many years to that Church in Cabra, first as an altar boy, then in the folk group and later doing all I could to help the parish secretary and the sacristan, writing articles in the parish newsletter and preparing the altar for Mass.
All the time thinking, I was learning some of what I would need to know, when I, myself, would one day become a priest. I could think of no better way to live my life.
My experiences of childhood sexual abuse by Father Ivan Payne, who was a chaplain to our parish in Cabra, did not impair that deep rooted desire I had to one day be a priest. At first, I had thought he was a fantastic priest; charismatic, popular, great with young people and with what seemed like a healthy disinterest in things like the Creed, and even the rosary. ‘They can say that themselves’ .. is a line I heard from him more than once.
But in time, I learned, through personal experience, of that other side to Father Payne and over time, though still a young teenager, formed the view that he wasn’t such a great priest after all. His was the busiest Mass on a Sunday morning though, standing room only if you were late for the 12oclock. I used to stand on the altar, with the folk group, and think to myself … if all those people knew what I knew. But how could they ever know? I could never tell and if I did no one would ever believe.
Of course some years later I did tell the guidance counsellor in school, I was 17 years of age and the abuse had long ended, but I was feeling its effects more and more. The guidance counsellor notified people in Archbishop’s House – people he considered to be trustworthy, and sometime later it was confirmed that Father Payne had accepted the truth of my allegations. He did of course remain a priest, though it never occurred to me, at that time, that anything else was possible.
A couple of years later I made my own application to enter Clonliffe College and was eventually, and carelessly, told that I was not a suitable candidate for the priesthood. No reason was given. I was devastated. Father Ivan Payne, known to Diocesan authorities as a child molester, was more suitable for the priesthood than I was. My relationship with God, and with what I had grown up to believe was his one true Church, was crushed.
When I reported Father Payne I thought that Catholic Church authorities would be hearing unique allegations that would utterly shock them. I had no idea that I was only one of many thousands of children that had had similar experiences and that members of the Catholic Hierarchy, around the world, were well used to hearing about them.
Some years later, 1994/5, I went public about all that had happened. I had two principal concerns at that time.
Firstly, after two years of exchanging legal correspondence, I had received a relatively small amount of compensation in a private out of court settlement, and I was advised that this payment was unprecedented in the context of child sexual abuse, certainly in the context of child sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. I considered that if I had been compensated then, others who had been similarly abused were also entitled to seek redress and they might be assisted in doing so if they knew a precedent, of sorts, had been set. I also considered that going public and talking about this subject matter, almost unheard of 15 or so years ago, would be a key step in helping myself and other victims deal with our past and seek recovery.
Secondly, and more importantly, Father Ivan Payne ….. was still a serving priest in a Dublin parish with all the access to children that such a position gave him, fourteen years after I had first reported him. How much damage had he done in that time? And how many more priests like him had Catholic bishops reassigned to positions that endangered the safety of other children?
Father Payne was convicted in 1998 for the sexual abuse of eight boys over a 20 year period. Some of those offences took place after Dublin Diocesan officials had learnt about Father Payne from my guidance counsellor in school. By then, Belfast priest, Father Brendan Smyth had also been convicted and again the same pattern of cover up had left him free to rape and sexually abuse children long after he should have been stopped.
It was at that time, early 1998, that I first sought an independent inquiry into the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse against Catholic priests. Children were being sexually abused by priests already known to Catholic Church authorities to be people who should never have access to children.
The Taoiseach of the day, Mr Ahern, did not share my concerns, an inquiry of the type you suggest can only be held into matters of urgent public concern was his response. Just as shocking was the fact that his reply, moved into the public domain by me, was met with total silence the length and breadth of Ireland. The sexual abuse of children by known child molesters and rapists, not a matter of urgent public concern – shameful.
It only took another four years of good investigative journalism alongside revelation after revelation about how much Catholic bishops had known about the sexual abuse of children, before Government was forced to change its position in October 2002, following the broadcast of RTE’s Prime Time Special Cardinal Secrets, and a statutory Inquiry into the Archdiocese of Dublin was announced. Three and a half years was spent setting up the Inquiry. The Inquiry itself led to what we know now as the Murphy Report. By then we had also seen the publication of the Ferns and Ryan Reports and since then the Cloyne Report.
I was angered and saddened by the findings of these reports: The same tactics employed by Bishops for decades to knowingly, proactively conceal the sexual abuse of children in order to maintain secrecy, avoid scandal, protect the reputation of the Church, and preserve its assets.
And those tactics were not unique to the Catholic Church in Ireland. Much has being made of the 1962 and 2001 Vatican documents instructing Bishops around the world to conduct investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse in secret. But I believe that the similarity of actions of Bishops in Dioceses so far apart from each other, from Ferns to Philadelphia, from Dublin to Boston, from Manchester to Munich, demonstrate very convincingly that such practices were known about in essence if not in detail, at the highest level of Catholic Church hierarchy. This is not a problem of a few rogue Bishops. Nor is it a problem within the Catholic Church in Ireland alone.
So how has the Catholic Church responded - to the truth now being so widely known, a truth it fought so hard to hide? For me the response beggars belief to this very day and has added insult to injury.
Initially Catholic Bishops here in Ireland took some ownership of the cover up saying, in December 2009, that they were shamed by the extent of it and that it reflected a culture of cover up that existed throughout the Catholic Church in Ireland, though within days the spin had started and cover up became mismanagement, and management became failure of leadership.
In the Vatican, Pope Benedict talked about the importance of listening to victims while at the same time choosing to ignore us when we wrote to him a week before the Irish Bishops’ visit to the Vatican in early 2010. It was important to us that our views would be considered at that meeting and unlike the Bishops we were happy to publish our submission. At no time then or since has our correspondence ever been acknowledged and our views remain completely ignored.
Also in the Vatican, Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone stated that there is a relationship between paedophilia and homosexuality. This was nothing more than a reprehensible attempt to blame a small and marginalised group within society for the actions of priests who sexually abused children, in order to deflect attention away from the Church’s own role in concealing that abuse.
Secularism was also blamed, as was the media and loss of faith, one minute revelations of sexual abuse and cover up were being described as petty gossip, the next minute they were tantamount to the collective violence perpetrated by Christians on Jews over the centuries.
How different that response could, and should have looked.
To his credit Bishop Jim Moriarty got it right. I was very grateful to him for the content and tone of his resignation statement. He acknowledged that he should have challenged the prevailing culture that existed within the Archdiocese and apologised for failing to do so, this was very welcome. His acknowledgement that ‘the long struggle of survivors to be heard and respected by church authorities had revealed a culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian’ was also very welcome.
If other members of the Catholic hierarchy had responded in this way things might look very different in the Catholic Church today …. Renewal must begin with accepting responsibility for the past.
Another part of our collective response to all we have learned is what we, as a society, do to ensure today’s and tomorrow’s children live in a safer world. The Catholic Church in Ireland has the National Board for Safeguarding Children, which I welcome. I also acknowledge and welcome the hard work that many people are engaged in at parish level in implementing the Safeguarding Children Guidelines, but I am concerned that implementation is reliant only on the good will of people. What happens where such good will doesn’t exist? And how seriously can we take Catholic Church leadership on child protection when such leadership remains littered with Bishops who caused the sexual abuse of children by their own actions or inactions?
I know I’m talking to you in the context of the Catholic Church but the debate about the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children is of course much wider.
We know only too well that the State is as capable of failing children as the Catholic Church is. We’ve had Reports into the deaths of children in the care of the State, reports about the absence of proper care for separated non-Irish national children, reports about the failure by the HSE and others to comply with Children First Guidelines, reports about children being left in abusive foster care situations even though serious concerns had been expressed by teachers and members of the public.
Part of my response in recent years, to all we have learned, was to join forces with people who advocate genuinely in the best interests of children, with no hidden agenda ........., to listen to the changes they felt were necessary if we, as a society, were to properly respond effectively to all we now know about past and present abuse, neglect and failure to protect children. I also took full advantage of any opportunity I could get to ensure that people in Leinster House were listening to our voices and formulating policy accordingly.
Thankfully there is a body of work underway by Government that was long overdue and it is refreshing to have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who is driving that work along as impressively as Frances Fitzgerald is.
In particular I welcome...
Putting the child protection guidance, Children First, on a statutory basis. This has been talked about for years and finally it is being done with publication of the legislation imminent. Safeguarding Children, which I mentioned earlier, is compliant with Children First Guidance and after the legislation is passed we will no longer rely on the good will of anyone to ensure implementation.
The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is introducing legislation making it a criminal offence to withhold information about and arrestable offence having been committed upon a child or a vulnerable adult – all those acts of deliberate concealment of the sexual abuse of children will be a criminal offence if they are repeated ... and no exemption will, or should, be made for concealing information just because it was learned during the sacrament of confession.
Some people complain that there is too much focus on the Catholic Church with no consequences for others who have failed children just as badly. It should be noted that the HSE is to lose its management of Child and Family Support Services and those responsibilities are being transferred to the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs with, hopefully, proper lines of administrative, executive and political responsibility built into the legislaltion.
Properly enshrining the rights of children in our Constitution has also been talked about for many years, now we have a commitment from Government that it will definitely take place this year and it will be a stand-alone referendum. I very much hope the people of Ireland will give a resounding to yes to that referendum proposal when the time comes.
We need to radically enhance the monitoring and support of sex offenders living in the community, post conviction, the system, as it currently stands fails to monitor and support the offender as much as it fails to reassure the public ... and the Garda Vetting Bureau Bill seeks to address the need, amongst other things, to facilitate the passing on of soft information, as recommended by the Ferns Report 7 years ago.
Progress has been slow, but it is being made and we must never, ever, again allow any organisation, large or small, powerful or otherwise, to put self interest above the best interests of children and we must always listen to the voice of the children when we are taking decisions which affect them.
Thank you very much for your time and your attention .....