DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's senior Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday met leading campaigners for thousands of children assaulted, terrorized or molested while in church care — but didn't address the victims' key demand for the church to admit its responsibility for overseeing decades of abuse.
Representatives from four victims groups spent three hours talking with the bishops inside Maynooth, the Republic of Ireland's only remaining seminary, and pledged to meet again in coming months. It was the first such meeting since a string of child-abuse scandals began to engulf the Irish church in the mid-1990s.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin — the leading proponent for recognizing victims' rights and toughening church child-protection policies — called it "the most significant meeting I have ever attended in that room. It was extraordinary."
But the bishops and Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics, declined to respond to the victims' demands for the church as a whole to concede its legal and moral responsibility for the decades of trauma suffered by children in Catholic-run schools, orphanages and workhouses.
The church has insisted that the Catholic organizations responsible — 18 Irish orders of priests, brothers and nuns — were self-governing and not under the control of bishops.
A government-commissioned investigation published in May found the orders guilty of serial abuse of children from the 1930s to 1990s, and the leaders of those 18 orders are currently in negotiations with the government to determine how much more they should pay in compensation to more than 14,000 identified victims.
John Kelly, leader of a lobbying group called Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said he had lectured the bishops about their church's abuse of his rights as a child, when he was beaten and sexually assaulted in a Dublin workhouse-style school run by the Christian Brothers order. He said afterward it "couldn't have been easy for them to listen to what I had to say."
But he also kept up the criticism outside during a joint news conference with Martin and Brady. He said the bishops were "not innocent bystanders" to what happened to him and thousands of other children, and so the church as a whole was obliged to pay for victims' support services.
Under terms of a controversial church-state agreement in 2001, the government capped the Catholic orders' contribution to a victims fund at €128 million — barely a tenth of the expected payouts to victims under a taxpayer-funded compensation program. The orders have failed even to make that contribution, instead chiefly offering properties, many of which they were going to transfer to state ownership anyway.