Ireland demands Catholic orders reveal finances

May 27, 2009 9:57:14 AM PDT
Irish leaders declared Wednesday that the secretive Catholic orders responsible for abusing children in workhouse-style schools must pay a greater share of compensation for victims and reveal the true scope of their assets. Prime Minister Brian Cowen has demanded face-to-face negotiations with all 18 orders involved in decades of child abuse.

"We have to ascertain how much they actually have. The government is adamant and determined that they will make an appropriate contribution," Defense Minister Willie O'Dea said Wednesday.

Cowen said his government fully accepts the damning findings from a nine-year investigation into scores of state-funded, church-run schools for Ireland's poorest children. The report found that children suffered decades of physical, sexual and mental abuse in the ill-monitored facilities until the last of them closed in the 1990s.

Cowen said the congregations of Catholic brothers and nuns must face up their own moral responsibility to do more, particularly by funding counseling and education services for victims and their families. He said the meetings would begin as soon as possible but specified no date.

The premier noted that one order heavily implicated in brutality and molestation at boys' schools, the Christian Brothers, had already pledged to search their finances and assets for "surplus" funds.

"I believe the other individual congregations involved should now also articulate their willingness to make a further substantial voluntary contribution," Cowen said after an emergency Cabinet meeting Tuesday to discuss the abuse report.

On Wednesday, seven of the 18 orders confirmed they would meet with the government. All reiterated apologies for their role in harming children - But none said they would contribute more to a 2002 deal with the government that left taxpayers paying almost all of the euro1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) legal bill for 14,000 abuse settlements.

The Conference of Religious in Ireland, the umbrella body for 138 religious orders on the island, said the 18 orders mired in the child-abuse scandal are planning their own private strategy-planning session Friday in Dublin to decide on a common approach to the government.

Most of the orders were founded in the 19th century to run schools and other facilities for the poor. They all received given greater authority over children's services once Ireland won independence from Britain in the 1920s.

Cowen said it was right that taxpayers should bear much of the cost for aiding victims, because governments for decades gave the orders autonomy to run the schools with little effective monitoring.

"The failure of society in the treatment of children is laid bare in this report and it is horrendous," Cowen said.

"These children were placed in institutions by the state and the state had a duty of care to them. The victims were betrayed by the state and we must ensure that this can never, ever happen again," he said. "Those orders whose members committed the abuse must too face their moral responsibilities."


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