Bishop Éamonn Walsh
Diocese of Ferns
The publication this week of the Ferns Report brings to a conclusion the comprehensive work of Mr. Justice Frank Murphy and his Team.
In welcoming and accepting the findings of this Report I would like to acknowledge their painstaking and dedicated work, and to also acknowledge those who were so brave and courageous in coming forward to the Inquiry to recount their horrific stories of sexual abuse. The Report provides important lessons for the Church in the areas of child protection.
It is inexcusable that some priests of the diocese sexually abused children.
I am unable to attempt to describe the mental and emotional state of a child or teenager sexually abused by a priest or the loneliness of carrying such a harrowing secret through the growing up years and into adulthood.
Those who were abused describe some of the elements of what they experienced: the fear of not being believed; being manipulated into thinking it was their fault; becoming distant and angry with people who may have had knowledge or who perhaps knew what was happening; trust in the Church, and priests, shattered; being distrustful, confused and fear-filled in relationships, God and Church contact contaminated, sometimes permanently.
I yet again sincerely apologize to all who have suffered in these or in any other way through the sexual abuse by a priest of the Diocese. For those who have been abused or where that abuse was compounded by the response, or lack of response by the Diocese, words of apology cannot be left unspoken.
I wish to acknowledge and accept the findings of the Inquiry, that some priests who were ordained for the diocese should not have been ordained, and would not have been, had those who made complaints or expressed suspicions been heard. Some young people were abused because some priests wrongly chose to remain silent, perhaps out of an erroneous sense of loyalty or through an unwillingness to believe that a fellow-priest could be an abuser – dismissing people’s suspicions in a way that would be seen as naïve in the extreme today. There is no doubt that abuse could have been avoided had there been better understanding and monitoring of all activities involving children.
This is not a time for excuses. There are hard lessons to be learned from the findings of the Inquiry. There is much to be done to repair the damage to those who were abused. The diocese is committed to doing all it can to help in repairing the harm that has been done. We are acutely aware that this will be a long process. We are also aware that some of those whose trust in priests and the Church has been shattered may have a real difficulty in accepting any help from us.
Many of the recommendations of the Inquiry are already being addressed. Those outstanding will be acted upon immediately:
- A diocesan child protection policy and code of conduct are now in place.
- Counselling is available to all who have been abused.
- The priests of the diocese are doing what they can by contributing through the St. Ibar?s Trust, which they have set up to help provide counselling services for those affected by abuse.
- Structures have been put in place to ensure the highest possible standards. Primary among these is the Diocesan Advisory Panel, which oversees the ongoing implementation of policy.
- Regular Child Protection Liaison Meetings between the diocese, the Gardai and Health Board.
- Education in child safety issues has been provided for the priests of the diocese, and it is now being provided for every parish in the diocese. Widespread awareness of the issues involved in child safety will call us all to higher standards.
I wish to thank the people of the diocese for their continued support of our priests and diocese. Your trust and loyalty have been tested. You have been let down and your task of leading your children in the faith has been made more difficult.
I wish to acknowledge the commitment of our priests and to thank them publicly for their continued faithful service of their parishioners amidst the horror and the sorrow of discovering that some of their fellow priests had caused such dreadful suffering to innocent children and their families. The name of their priesthood has been sullied by the actions of others.
I encourage communities and parishioners to work with their priests as we try to learn together the lessons so starkly taught to us by our shock at events in the diocese. This is a time for repentance and sadness, but it is also a time of hope, determination and learning. We have an opportunity and an obligation to do things better now and in the future. Let us place our trust in the love of God who promises “to wipe away every tear from our eyes and to make all things new” (Rev 21:4,5).
In conclusion, may I quote from the very apt words of writer Heather Parsons:
“The time has come to find a new tomorrow. For in that new tomorrow, there is another new beginning. The cloud has risen and the light has come through.” (A Light Between The Hills, p.163)
+ Eamonn Walsh