DUBLIN — Ireland's government announced Tuesday it will summon Roman Catholic orders and demand they contribute more funds to the thousands of people who suffered rampant abuse in church-run residences for children.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen said his government fully accepted 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 psychological abuse in the ill-monitored facilities until the last of them closed in the 1990s.
Cowen said the 18 orders of Catholic brothers and nuns who ran the workhouse-style schools would be pressed in face-to-face meetings to face up to their 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 pledged earlier Tuesday 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 in a prepared statement at his Government Buildings office in central Dublin.
Since the abuse report's publication last week, the orders have insisted they won't contribute more to a 2002 deal with the government that left taxpayers to pay almost all of the euro1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) legal bill for 14,000 abuse settlements.
But the orders have suggested they might spend more on support services for their victims _ an offer dismissed as inadequate and inappropriate by embittered victims' groups but welcomed by the government.
Cowen said he expected the Christian Brothers and other secretive orders to declare their finances and extensive property assets as part of any new deal. He said the public had a right "to assess the significance of these contributions by reference to the resources available to these congregations."
He said it was right that taxpayers should bear much of the cost for aiding victims, because governments for decades gave a free hand to Catholic orders to run the schools as they saw fit with little to no effective monitoring from the outside.
"It is deeply shameful for all Irish people that this happened in our country and that for so long it was not confronted. 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."
The Conference of Religious in Ireland, an umbrella body for religious orders, said its members were awaiting a formal invitation for talks with the government.
On the Net:
Ireland's compensation board for abuse victims, http://www.rirb.ie/
Abuse report, http://www.childabusecommission.ie/rpt/