News archive 2005, Towards Healing

Statement of Bishop Eamonn Walsh, Apostolic Administrator of Ferns at a press conference in the Diocese of Ferns following publication of the Ferns Inquiry Report

PRESS RELEASE

25 OCTOBER 2005

STATEMENT OF BISHOP EAMONN WALSH, APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATOR OF FERNS

AT A PRESS CONFERENCE IN THE DIOCESE OF FERNS

FOLLOWING PUBLICATION OF THE FERNS INQUIRY REPORT

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.

Additional Information:
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.

Ends

Contact:
John Carroll (Rev.)
(087) 9898424
(053) 24368
Fax (053) 23436

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