LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishops in Ireland have welcomed the announcement by the Irish government of a “scoping inquiry” to shape the government’s response to revelations of historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious orders.
Minister for Education Norma Foley announced the inquiry on Tuesday, saying it is “vitally important that survivors of historical child sexual abuse have the opportunity to be heard in full, and with appropriate respect and sensitivity.”
“The revelations of abuse in a number of schools are deeply disturbing and heart-breaking. I and indeed the whole of government are very conscious of the enormous trauma which has been endured by all survivors of abuse,” she said.
Last November, then-Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin announced the government would establish an enquiry after a report on state broadcaster RTÉ highlighted the historic sexual abuse at Blackrock College, an all-boys boarding high school in greater Dublin run by the Spiritan order.
Foley said that in preparing for the establishment of this scoping inquiry, she met with a number of survivors and wider representative survivor support, as well as child protection and other experts.
“The views of survivors are integral to this consideration, and this scoping inquiry, including survivor engagement process, provides an appropriate way of enabling survivors to give their input, along with the views of experts in areas such as restorative justice and child protection,” she said.
The Department of Education said the process of the scoping inquiry will be conducted by facilitators trained in trauma-informed practice, adding this engagement will take many forms, including, in the initial stages, a questionnaire, as well as facilitated workshops and individual engagement.
At the end of the process, a report including recommendations for next steps will be submitted to the Minister for Education.
“I commend the courage of those who have come forward and indeed all of those who have been living with the impact of this abuse for many years,” Foley said.
Gathering in Maynooth for their Spring 2023 General Meeting, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement on the announced scoping inquiry.
“An inquiry that is informed by the views and engagement of survivors, and one which facilitates the telling of stories and a listening process, will serve truth and justice and, as an outcome, should provide recommendations to help address outstanding hurt and inform future child protection policies,” the statement said.
“From our own experience of pastoral meetings with survivors who have suffered so grievously, we know well of the importance of time and space for dialogue to deal with concerns, and the need for transparency regarding the horrific and criminal acts that were inflicted on survivors as innocent children,” the bishops continued.
Once one of the most Catholic nations in Europe, revelations about clerical sexual abuse has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland.
Not only has Mass attendance dropped significantly over the past quarter century, the Irish people have increasingly rejected laws seen as rooted in Catholic teaching.
In 2015, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum on same-sex marriage in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice. An even larger number – over 66 percent – voted to change the constitution to allow legal abortion in 2018.
In their statement, the bishops noted that on Feb. 24, the Friday after Ash Wednesday, parishes and other churches held a special day of prayer to support survivors of abuse “on their path of human and spiritual recovery.”
“We also prayed for families and communities. Especially during this season of Lent, we are mindful of the necessity for ongoing atonement, inner healing and hope arising from the abuse scandals in the Church.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome