25 October 2005
Statement of Bishop Éamonn Walsh
The publication 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 the Report I would, on behalf of the Diocese, 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.
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 who had 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 or through dismissing people’s suspicions. There is no doubt that abuse could have been avoided had there been better understanding and monitoring of all activities involving children and vulnerable young people. Our present structures and responses have been referred to in the report.
Since April 2002 I have had the privilege of meeting many people who were abused by priests. These meetings have been for me a humbling and a learning experience. Again, I restate my availability to any person who was abused by a priest of the Diocese and my willingness to meet with them and any member of their family.
The Report is a sober reminder to me and to the priests of the Diocese of Ferns of the depth of damage that has been done to those who were abused by priests. Reading the accounts of their abuse is painful for all, and a chilling reminder of its shocking nature and its damaging effects. The accounts are not just descriptions in a report, they are the stories of real human beings – their trauma and their pain, an experience that has been re-awakened by the accounts in the Report of the horrors visited on them by their abusers.
There are no excuses for what has happened in the past. However, the most effective response to what we cannot change in the past, is what we are doing today, and what we will do in the future.
The Diocese is committed to ensuring that Ferns is as safe an environment for children as is possible. Today it is important to state that no priest about whom there are child protection concerns are, or will be, permitted to minister in the Diocese.
Where concerns have arisen, priests have been asked to step aside and their behaviour is governed by a Precept which is a detailed Code of Behaviour determined by recommendations received from therapists and professional assessments. These recommendations are then discussed by the Advisory Panel and at the Inter–Agency Review Meetings organized by the Diocese with representatives of the Gardaí and Health Board.
Where priests have been dismissed, ongoing contact and review is maintained at the level of quarterly meetings with the Delegate and monthly meetings with the monitoring support of a Supervisor. Adherence to a Code of Behaviour, as existed prior to dismissal, is required.
Pro-active steps have also been taken by the Diocese: a diocesan Child Protection Policy and Code of Conduct are in place. Counselling is available to anyone who has been abused. The priests of the Diocese themselves are doing what they can by contributing financially to the St. Ibar’s Trust, which they have set up, to assist by providing counselling 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. This Panel is composed of the following disciplines: therapeutic, child protection, managerial, and legal (civil and canonical). 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. Forty parishes and curacies have already been visited and it is hoped to have the full list completed next year. Widespread awareness of the issues involved in child safety will call us to ever-higher standards.
I wish to thank the people of the Diocese for their continued support of the priests. 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 to their parishioners amidst the horror and the sorrow of discovering that some of their fellow priests had caused such dreadful suffering to innocent children. The name of their priesthood has been sullied by the actions of others.
The Diocese has sought to co-operate fully with this Inquiry since it began. The Report that has been published has looked in great detail at those ordained for the Diocese over the past 70 years and it has helped us greatly to get as full an understanding as is possible of child sexual abuse involving priests. Again, I extend my gratitude to the Inquiry team, to those who courageously told their stories, to the Diocesan Team who worked to ensure as full a co-operation as possible and to the members of the Child Protection Committee and the Advisory Panel, some members of whom are present here today.
As I have said, 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, being acutely aware that this will be a long process.
I pray there will be healing with inner peace for all those affected by abuse and that the Diocese will learn from the mistakes of the past, live with understanding to-day and create a better tomorrow for all.
In addition to other counselling services that are available, the Diocese is sponsoring an extended emergency counselling service through FAOISEAMH, during this week and for as long as will be required. This service is confidential and available for those affected by child sexual abuse involving priests of the Diocese of Ferns. The Diocese would greatly appreciate any help that you can give in bringing this to the attention of victims and their families. This is a time of added pain and anxiety for those who have suffered abuse. Some may now – for the first time – have the freedom to come forward. The service is especially provided for them.
The service is staffed by qualified counsellors who will be completely independent of the Diocese. This service will be available daily from 11a.m. – midnight.
The Freephone number is 1800 33 1234.
Further details are available on the diocesan website www.ferns.ie
The service will operate an extended timeframe if required and will continue to operate for as long as is deemed necessary.
Director: Fr. John Carroll,
Tel (053) 24368, Fax (053) 23436