27 November 2009
Address of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Our Lady’s Hospital Foundation Day 2009
PAEDIATRICS AND CHILD HEALTH IN A CHANGING WORLD
There is no way in which I can speak here today at this Foundation Day Conference, which should be a day of celebration, without making reference to the darker story which is dominating – and rightly so – the headlines of our media, but more importantly which is troubling the hearts of so many people up and down the country.
The story of the sexual abuse of children by priests is a horrendous story. The story of how it was managed, as the Murphy Report shows, was inexcusable. I apologised yesterday to those who were victims and I expressed my abhorrence that decisions were made which permitted further children to be abused. Today I repeat the same sense of my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them to those who were the victims of abuse and mismanagement.
Regrettably this hospital was also the scene of abuse by at least two chaplains, who exploited their role of representing the care of Jesus for the children in their most vulnerable. Information about that abuse was inexcusably not shared with the hospital authorities, even though the Archbishop of the time was also the Chairman of the Board.
The lessons of the past must influence the policies of today. It is vital that this hospital has fully in place all the correct child safeguarding processes and that these are kept up to date, and be updated if necessary day after day after day.
The indications are that the incidence and the percentage of paedophiles in society at any moment remains constant, despite better child safeguarding measures, despite detection and possible prosecution. This leaves us with a huge challenge of child protection to address within a broad child health framework.
This is a question for society and for all of society and indeed it is a question which belongs to the them of our Foundation Day “Paediatrics and Child Health in a Changing World”. Child health is not just about sickness, it is about favouring a healthy climate in which children are safeguarded and in which children can come to self realization in their talents as people.
We have seen the enormous almost irreparable damage done to children who have been sexually abused and how that they can often carry the hurt of that abuse with them for a life time. The same can be said in reverse, as you might say, that creating a good, broad policy-framework for children’s health will have beneficial effects not just in childhood but for a life time.
This hospital like every aspect of the public service has had to face the painful task – at times the nightmare – of cost cutting exercises and rationalisation of services. This is particularly challenging as delays in providing services to a child have very specific consequences different to that of an adult. There are services for a child which can only be provided in a paediatric hospital, there are no alternatives. I congratulate the sense of responsibility of the staff of the hospital in maintaining the quality of the service offered to children at the highest possible level, even in the face of financial cuts. This is due to a real sense of duty and vocation on the part of staff, who have on so many occasions seen it as their duty to go way beyond what might be defined duty. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.
In dealing with child protection it is vital that there be a healthy working relationship between all those who bear differing responsibilities for children in society. This is why I have called for greater clarity regarding the urgent need – signalled in both the Ferns report and the Dublin Report – to clarify uncertainty regarding the role of the HSE in addressing child sexual abuse in situations other than within the family. The Ferns report affirmed that “the health Board has no power of intervention except in cases where sexual abuse is occurring in the family situation”. The Murphy Report drew attention to the need “to clarify exactly what is the role of the HSE in relation to non-familial abusers”. In the official Government Statement yesterday the only reply to such a vital question, some four years after the Ferns Report, was to say that it requires “further consultation”.
I am not repeating this today either to be polemical or in any way to distract from the horrendous and inexcusable behaviour of the Church. I believe that lack of clarity regarding the legislative framework and its applications in such an important matter is something which is unacceptable in any reflection on “Child Health in a Changing World”.
We are at a moment of great significance regarding paediatric health care in Ireland. We have the possibility, with the planned New National Paediatric Hospital to do something which the generation which comes after us will be able to say: “at least in that case, they got it right”. Let’s do that, together, and do something of which we can all be proud and of which we will be able to say that, at least in this case, Ireland got a first in putting Children First.
Annette O’Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin, Tel: 01 8360723