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Cardinal Gives Pledge of Prompt Action

The Irish Times - Wednesday, January 31, 1996 by PADRAIG O'MORAIN

"THERE will be no cover up. There will be no cult of secrecy", Cardinal Cahal Daly said yesterday. He was speaking at a press conference to introduce the report of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee on child sexual abuse by priests and religious.

Asked if he was confident that the guidelines would be adopted by bishops and religious orders, Cardinal Daly said he was "certain" they would be put into action quickly. Mistakes had been made in the past, but he wanted to look to the future. The aim of the report was to help "eradicate this awful curse from society".

Dr Daly said that he was unable to quantify the extent of the problem of abuse by priests and religious. "All I can say is that all the cases known to the bishops have been made known to the civil authorities and are being investigated."

The report was also welcomed by two leading representatives of the religious orders, Father John Byrne OSA, president of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), and Sister Evelyn Fergus, its vice president. "The fact and extent of sexual abuse came as a shock to everybody", said Father Byrne.

CORI had put in place a child practice office to advise religious superiors on how to respond speedily and with compassion to complaints of abuse. It would also shortly set up a national help line backed by a counselling service, he said.

The publication of the report would bring pain and upset to many victims, said Dr Laurence Forristal, Bishop of Ossory, who chaired the committee.

He said he hoped that publication of the report would be a first step on the way to making life happier for them. "We must do everything we can to listen to, and care for, those who have been sexually abused", he said. "We must try to make the world a safer place for our children."

He said that he wanted toe join with Cardinal Daly in expressing shame and sorrow that such abuse had occurred and in apologising to all who had suffered.

The future of a diocesan priest who had sexually abused children would be "very bleak", the chancellor of Dublin Archdiocese, Mgr Alex Stenson, told the press conference. On the issue of readmission of such priests to the ministry, he said "In some cases, there's no way certain paedophiles could be admitted."

As a general rule, there would be no readmission to the ministry, he said, but the bishop, in a very special case, with recommendations from psychiatrists and other specialists, might be prepared to appoint the man to a limited ministry without access to children. However, the question that arose then was whether ministries without access to children existed.

"If a man is dismissed from the clerical state, he is still a person who has to live in society", Mgr Stenson said. "Some would argue he would be better staying within the confines of the church."

Some such priests might decide to seek laicisation, and the problem was not only one for the church, but also for society, he added.

Confidentiality was an area of enormous complexity, said Mr Ted Jones, a Belfast solicitor and member of the committee. "We are aware of the importance of people being able to go to their pastors with confidence that confidentiality will be preserved."

But the problem of child sexual abuse was so grave that the committee was recommending that the practice of offering confidentiality should cease.