June 2009 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

10 Jun 2009

10 June 2009

Press Release for the Summer General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

A press conference was held this afternoon in the Columba Centre, St Patrick’s College Maynooth, at the conclusion of Summer General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.  Participating in the press conference were:
– Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference
– Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Vice President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference
– Bishop Leo O’Reilly, Bishop of Kilmore and Chair of the Bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education
– Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert and Chair of Trócaire, the Bishops’ overseas aid agency
– Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore
– Bishop Éamonn Walsh, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin
Bishops addressed the following matters during their three day Summer General Meeting:
  • Discussion on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report
  • Meetings of Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin in the Holy See
  • 50th Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012
  • Pastoral response in a time of recession
  • Catholic schools
  • Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
  • New rules on work permits for non-EU workers in Ireland
  • Impact of Government Aid cuts
Discussion on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report
Bishops discussed the failure of Church institutions to protect children and to prevent the extensive level of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect, as documented by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report, by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, published on 20 May last.
Bishops said, “The Ryan Report represents the most recent disturbing indictment of a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long.  Heinous crimes were perpetrated against the most innocent and vulnerable, and vile acts with life-lasting effects were carried out under the guise of the mission of Jesus Christ.  This abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust which was placed in the Church.  For this we ask forgiveness.  We are ashamed, humbled and repentant that our people strayed so far from their Christian ideals.
“At our meeting we devoted a lot of time discussing the Report.  While we need time to reflect on the detail of the report, we offer the following as an initial response as a Conference:
– Our first reaction is a heavy sadness at the suffering of so many for so long.
– We wish to invite survivors to engage with us to see how we can assist those who have been abused.
– We wish to respond as pastors despite the inadequacies at times of our previous pastoral responses.
– We urge the whole Church community to join with us in praying for the well being and peace of mind for all who suffered.”
Meetings of Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin in the Holy See
Bishops reflected on the visit of Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin to Rome and their meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday.   Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin informed the Holy Father, and the heads of the Rome Congregations, on the content and impact of the Ryan report and other issues facing the Irish Church.

The Holy Father once again urged the Bishops and all in the Church to continue to establish the truth of what happened and why; to ensure that justice is done for all; to see that measures put in place to prevent abuse from happening again are fully applied, and, to help to bring healing to the survivors of abuse.

Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin’s meetings last week in the Holy See also included meetings with the heads of the following Roman Congregations:

– Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life
– Congregation for the Clergy
– Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
– Congregation for Bishops
– Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– Congregation for Catholic Education
– Secretariat of State

50th Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012
In June 2008 the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, announced that the next International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Ireland in 2012.  Whilst the main events for the Congress will take place in Dublin, the Congress is intended to provide the whole Church, both here in Ireland and beyond, with an opportunity to deepen our faith in the Eucharist and our understanding of its implications for our daily living.

While the planning has begun for the Eucharist Congress in Dublin in 2012, the exact date and theme will be announced soon by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses, yesterday addressed the Bishops’ Conference on the challenges facing Ireland in planning for the Eucharistic Congress in 2012.

Archbishop Marini explained that the International Eucharistic Congress is not a privilege bestowed on Dublin but a service to the continuing journey of God’s people.  He described the Eucharistic Congress as “an occasion for a pilgrim gathering of the faithful from every part of the world, an authentic sign of faith and charity in communion offered by the believers of this country to all mankind.”

Archbishop Marini emphasised that “the Congress is not restricted to its closing week, but is concretely expressed throughout at least a two-year journey of preparation…. so that the people of God can draw ever closer to an authentic appreciation of the sacrament given for the life of the world.”

Archbishop Marini explained that, in its historical roots the Congress is two dimensional.  Alongside “Eucharistic piety” there is a social dimension to the Eucharist.  “The suffering of the poor; the ever more numerous victims of injustice and all the forgotten people of the earth, cannot be alien to the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, which commits baptised persons to work for justice and the transformation of the world in an active and conscious way.”

Pastoral response in a time of recession
Bishops discussed the continuing effect and hardship that the recession was having on families and on individuals in Ireland, including the reality that due to changed circumstances many now require social care and support in order to survive.

Bishops reflected on how the Church can best assist people with their social, pastoral and spiritual needs especially in these recessionary times.  The challenges facing the social care agencies of the Church, such as Crosscare and St Vincent de Paul Society especially the sharp increase in demand for their services over the last 12 months were also discussed.

Bishops said, “Individual parishes are well placed to establish processes to respond and reach out to the local community.  The involvement of the whole parish community is required to make any such initiative a success.”

Bishops encourage the following:

– That parishes facilitate local people coming together to explore ways of supporting one another.
– local opportunities be maximised in order to connect people with skills and talents to fully avail of opportunities that may exist locally; and,
– employers and voluntary organisations to provide work experience opportunities.

Catholic schools
Bishops discussed the role of Catholic schools in Irish society in the wake of the publication of the Ryan Report.  There have been calls from politicians and in the media for the Catholic Church to be removed from the provision of primary education.

Safeguarding Children
The Catholic Church is one patron among many different patron bodies providing primary education in Ireland.  School patrons, whether Catholic or otherwise, are fully accountable and operate under State regulation.  Specifically, the safety and welfare of pupils in our schools are assured by State law and regulation.  The standards that operate to safeguard children in our schools are those contained in the State’s own Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (1999), the Department of Education and Science’s own Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures (2001) and in relevant legislation, and not those of an individual school patron (e.g. Catholic Bishop).

Bishops said, “There is no ambiguity on this important issue: the State’s child protection standards apply to all schools and they require that each school have its own Designated Liaison Person to receive and report complaints.  That person must be a member of the school staff.  Because of these standards and procedures, primary schools are very safe and supportive environments for children.”

State regulation of schools

Bishops said, “It is important to emphasise that school life and management are regulated by the State.  The Education Act 1998 and subsequent legislation, as well as departmental guidelines and circulars, determine the day to day running of schools.  Whole school evaluation, conducted by the schools’ inspectorate, is now a feature of all primary schools.  This involves a minute examination, not just of what happens in the school, but also of the working of the board of management and the involvement of the patron.”

Future Provision
Bishops said, “The Catholic Church is committed to continuing to provide Catholic schools to cater for the needs of parents who wish their children to have a Catholic education.  The Church accepts and supports choice and diversity within a national education system.  We believe that parents who desire schools under different patronage should, where possible, be facilitated in accessing them.

“It is the role of the State to provide for the education needs of communities, and the Church will engage with the State, and other education partners, in this.  In areas where the population has changed, there are sometimes more Catholic schools than are required by the local community.  In these locations this will mean reducing the number of Catholic schools, and we are ready to do this.  Of course we recognise that the local community: parents, staffs and boards and management, have to be consulted in any such change of patronage or ownership.”

Refugee and Migrant Project – Human Rights
Bishops support the concerns raised by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission at UK Government plans to reintroduce legislation allowing wide powers to carry out document checks on people crossing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  There are concerns that such powers may lead to discrimination resulting from racial profiling.

New rules on work permits for non-EEA workers including those already living and working in the State
Bishops share the unease of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) for the serious consequences of the new rules on work permits for non-EEA workers in Ireland.  For those workers already in Ireland who are made redundant it will be almost impossible to get another job, regardless of how long they have lived and worked here. The Conference supports the efforts of the MRCI in seeking the assistance of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to repeal aspects of the new work permit policy.

Impact of Government Aid cuts
Bishops discussed the impact of cuts in Government funding for overseas development aid on the work of the Catholic Church’s overseas aid agency, Trócaire.  Government aid has decreased by 22% since July 2008.  This decrease is small in terms of its impact on the deficit in Ireland’s national budget, but it is significant in terms of its impact for the developing world and for the mission of Trócaire.

The cuts have had a significant impact on the work plan cycle of Trócaire, and other development agencies, which were based on government co-funding commitments in addition to fundraising.  As a result aid agencies have been forced to cut back its activities, reducing the number of programmes they fund and also in the number of countries in which it operates.


Notes for Editors

  • The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (also known as the Irish Episcopal Conference) is the assembly of the Bishops of Ireland exercising together certain pastoral offices for Christ’s faithful on the whole island of Ireland.  The Conference consists of a General Assembly and a Standing Committee, together with various commissions, agencies, councils and other bodies.  Day-to-day operations are overseen by a secretariat.  The Conference enables the Bishops to exchange views and share their wisdom and experience in order to promote the common good of the Church in Ireland.
  • The current membership of the Irish Bishops’ Conference comprises of twenty-six Bishops of the dioceses of Ireland, together with the seven auxiliary Bishops.  General meetings of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference normally take place on a quarterly basis.

Further information:

Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678