Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Significant Legal Bill

"The Sunday Times - Ireland September 04, 2005 Dearbhail McDonald

THE Catholic Church has submitted a “significant” legal bill to the government for taking part in the first state inquiry into clerical sex abuse. The bill, which exceeds €100,000, has been put in by the diocese of Ferns in advance of publication of a damning report detailing clerical sex abuse in the Wexford diocese. The costs claim has taken some officials by surprise as the non-statutory inquiry, the first of its kind, was designed to eliminate the need for lawyers. No other party, including survivors of abuse, their families, gardai and health board officials who co-operated with the inquiry, has yet sought to recover costs.
“It is not unprecedented for a witness or a group taking part in an inquiry to seek assistance with their costs,” said one official from the health department. “But we thought the Church had some cheek. It is a significant bill and no one else has filed one. The whole point of the Ferns inquiry, which was a radical departure from all other forms of inquiry, was not to go down the costly state tribunal route. “It is a unique inquiry. It is held in private, is non-adversarial in nature and based on co-operation by all parties, which mitigates against the need for running up hefty legal bills. It came as a surprise, to be honest, as we haven’t even received the report yet.”
The Ferns inquiry, led by Frank Murphy, a retired Supreme Court judge, is the first state investigation into the Church’s handling of clerical sex abuse allegations. Due to be published later this year, its findings are expected to re-ignite widespread public anger against the hierarchy over its failure to respond adequately to abuse complaints against priests.
Victims claim there was a tacit agreement by all parties not to seek legal costs and said it was “extraordinary” that Ireland’s senior prelates expected the taxpayer to foot the bill for discovery of documents, retrieval of Church files and independent legal advice. “There was no cross examination, there were no legal hearings, so how has the Church amassed such costs?” asked Colm O’Gorman, director of One in Four, a support group for victims.O’Gorman was abused by Sean Fortune, a Wexford priest who committed suicide while facing 66 charges of abusing young boys. He said: “It was clear that, because of the co-operative nature of the inquiry, you did not need legal advice. If the Church did seek legal advice, that’s their prerogative, not the taxpayers.”
The Ferns report was due to have been published last March, but publication was repeatedly postponed for legal reasons. It will be sent to Mary Harney, the tanaiste and health minister, and Rory Brady, the attorney-general, before being read into the Dail record. “It has been difficult and lengthy, but we’re getting there,” said Marian Shanley, secretary to the Ferns Inquiry. “We always knew that the legal minefield represented by a non-statutory inquiry investigating criminal matters would be difficult, but each person must be afforded due process and we are taking account, as best we can, of all the legal pitfalls.” The report is expected to castigate senior church figures, including Brendan Comiskey, the former Bishop of Ferns who resigned three years ago over his handling of known and suspected priests. Gardai and health officials are also expected to be heavily criticised. In recent months, the bishops have warned diocesan priests to “steel themselves” and their parishioners for the expected fallout.
Last month Gerard Moloney, the editor of Reality magazine, said the publication of the report would be “devastating,” but would be welcomed by ordinary Catholics and lead to a more open, humble and transparent Church."

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