Belfast Telegraph

Catholic Church will co-operate fully in abuse probe, vows Primate

By Patrice Dougan

The Catholic Church has started searching through its archives for evidence of clerical child abuse and has promised it will “fully cooperate” with a Stormont inquiry.

The All-Ireland Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, made the announcement during a meeting with victims of institutional abuse in Armagh on Monday.

A number of religious orders, representing some of the institutions at the heart of the abuse claims, were also present.

Cardinal Brady met with the Northern Ireland Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse group (Savia), who were seeking the Catholic Church’s co-operation with a forthcoming inquiry set up by the Executive.

The official investigation will consider allegations dating back to 1945.

During the meeting the survivors’ group was told that archivists for three religious orders have already begun retrieving files in the search for evidence linked to child abuse.

A fourth order has given a commitment to start the process.

Savia said it would also be seeking safeguards through the legal process to ensure sight of all relevant records.

Savia’s Margaret McGuckin, who was abused at a Sisters of Nazareth orphanage in Belfast from the age of three, said there was “an air of excitement” after the meeting.

“It was a clear discussion, coming back and forth, with no stalling,” she said.

“They said they would co-operate fully. Finally I know they did listen (to us). We knew in previous meetings that they were going nowhere, but because this was at the behest of Cardinal Brady it felt different.

“All the orders were summoned and they really heard some quite harrowing stories from us. After that they agreed, they’re not in denial anymore, they accepted that these things happened.

“Cardinal Brady said it was the most profound meeting he has ever had with abuse victims.

“He thanked us for our honesty and courage, our generosity, fairness and critique, and he accepted that predators did get in to do these criminal acts.”

While she said they were “happy” with the meeting, she warned they would not stop there.

“There will be ongoing meetings,” she said.

“We will be watching every day to make sure that it doesn’t slow down and we will keep at them.

“We are not going to stop fighting.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, Cardinal Brady said: “I wish to confirm that we believe the experiences the group shared with us and acknowledge its ongoing impact on their lives.

“We apologise wholeheartedly and without reserve for the abuse that they suffered as children.

“We remain committed to fully co-operating with the inquiry.

“We welcome the generous acknowledgement by Savia of the good people who were also part of their childhood in institutions.”

The inquiry follows lengthy judicial probes of tales of endemic child abuse in the Republic.

Background

Final preparations are being made by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister for a Stormont inquiry into clerical and institutional abuse. Part of that process – allowing people to describe what happened to them in private – will begin within months.

The second part of the inquiry, the statutory process which may force people to attend hearings, involves a change in Northern Ireland's law. The Executive inquiry will include Catholic religious orders, state and voluntary groups.

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