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Sr Stan Apologises For Abuse By Her Order

Irish Times 01 July 2009, Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

SISTER STANISLAUS Kennedy has expressed her shock and shame at abuses disclosed in the Ryan report in institutions run by her congregation.

“As a Sister of Charity I am ashamed, shocked and horrified and I am desperately sad and sorry, as I know all the other Sisters of Charity are too, that these abuses took place and that these heinous crimes were committed in one of our institutions [St Joseph’s industrial school, Kilkenny],” she said yesterday.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin on Justice and the Downturn, which was organised by the Sisters of Charity, she continued, “all over the country children entrusted to the care of religious congregations, ours included, suffered enormously in a sickening abuse of power and position and a scandalous exploitation of vulnerability, for which there is no excuse”.

Speaking at the same conference President Mary McAleese noted “there is a candle burning here today, lit earlier this morning when you held a minute’s silence in commemoration of those whose childhood experiences of institutional abuse are so graphically set out in the Ryan report.

“Some of that suffering happened to children in the care of the Sisters of Charity. It is a sad chapter in your order’s history and indeed in Irish history, a millstone of biblical proportions and one that calls for [congregation founder] Mary Aikenhead’s resilience, determination, humility and focus in the journey of amending and healing which lies ahead.”

In her address Sr Stanislaus continued that “our first duty as religious is to acknowledge the hurt we have collectively caused and this is being done. Our next duty is to do everything in our power to make reparation for the harm done, to alleviate their pain and suffering and to restore, as far as is possible, the dignity that was taken from them as children. This includes facing our financial responsibilities in a generous spirit and with an open heart.”

Her congregation’s “most urgent duty now is to ensure that widescale and systematic abuse of children does not happen again in this country, and this is why it is so vitally important that we build a socially just society. Abuse happens when power is vested in individuals and institutions who are unaccountable. In a socially just society, where individuals – children and adults – are valued and their needs are met as a right, abuse at this level could not happen,” she said.

The report raised questions “for our society as a whole. All levels of our society – the Government, politicians, the gardaí, the courts, the health system and medical professionals, and civil society – must unpack the revelations of that report, learn from it and commit to truly putting the interests of vulnerable child first now and into the future,”she said.

She went on to describe the current childcare system as “disgracefully inadequate” and asked “how can we say without blushing that we are determined to learn lessons from the Ryan report and are determined to protect and cherish children in this country when we know they are suffering now?”

She also queried the involvement of the Sisters of Charity in a private hospital at Elm Park in Dublin. “As a congregation we have to look at the relationship between our private and public healthcare and to ask ourselves is this in keeping with our charism? In the words of Mary Aikenhead – Is it ‘giving to the poor what the rich can buy for money’? and giving ‘equal advantage and equal attention’ to all?”

Speaking to the media she repeated assertions to this newspaper on May 23rd that she did not know about abuse at St Joseph’s where, according to the Ryan report, “two dangerous sexual abusers” were employed in the 1970s. At the time Sr Stanislaus lived in a convent on the school grounds while working in the community. The Ryan report includes two claims that she had been told about physical abuse of children at St Joseph’s.