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Ferns Report: Statements
10 November 2005

Dr. Henry: I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is agreed.

Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I cannot say I welcome this report because it is utterly appalling. Senator Glynn is correct to say that the effects of child sexual abuse on a person last forever. I do not think repayment can do them lasting good but the recognition that wrong was done to them does seem to be the one thing we can do. While I welcome the Minister of State's decision to investigate the Dublin diocese, I regret to say I do not think Ferns and Dublin are the only places with serious problems.

Under the Constitution the churches in this country are permitted to order their own affairs and that is as it should be. However, when the authorities within the church neglect their duties to the most vulnerable people in their flock, we must speak out and take immediate action. Attention has been drawn to the situation of the power of the bishops within the church. It is time to question whether it is right that this power should stand over an area as serious as education.

A survey on the views of the Irish public on education was undertaken in 2004 by the Department of Education and Science. It is surprising that approximately 60% of the people within that survey said they would welcome interdenominational education. Some would prefer religious education within the school but a very high percentage would prefer no religious education within the school. This issue needs to be addressed separately from the report. Sacramental duties can be carried out outside school time. Religion can still be taught in schools and it is now on the examination curriculum. Within the Church of Ireland and the other reformed churches, sacramental education takes place outside the school. I hope this will be a subject of future debate.

I strongly support Educate Together, an organisation which should receive much more financial support from the Government than is currently the case. By promoting multidenominational education, it caters to the wishes of a large section of the community. Educate Together urgently requires more State aid.

One of the most serious aspects of the Ferns report is the section dealing with former Monsignor Ledwith, who we learn later was involved in the sexual abuse of children. This is significant because for the ten years between 1985 and 1995, the then Monsignor Ledwith was President of Maynooth College, the most important Irish institution for the training of priests. This begs the question as to what type of training on sexual matters priests studying in Maynooth at the time received from this man.

I listened with dismay to the Vincent Browne programme last night as a moral theologian from Maynooth appeared to suggest, as he did in an article in The Irish Times earlier in the week, that the bishops may not have understood that child sexual abuse was a crime. It is beyond belief that he should make this suggestion or suggest that Vatican II was somehow responsible for making sexual sins a form of emotional aberration. I query that anyone should teach theology of that nature nowadays.

With regard to Monsignor Ledwith, I was dismayed to read the response of the bishops to whom complaints were made by six senior seminarians, as they are described in the report, as well as the senior dean of Maynooth College, Fr. Gerard McGinnity. Cardinal Daly, one of the surviving bishops, indicated in his statement to the inquiry that it was entirely untrue that any seminarian had mentioned homosexuality to him in connection with Monsignor Ledwith. He also stated it was not credible that he would have ignored allegations of homosexuality when he was already investigating the issue in Maynooth College. The Cardinal added that if the issue had been raised with him, Monsignor Ledwith would never have been appointed President of Maynooth College.

Unfortunately, I have found that the Cardinal's memory is not always clear. As a former member of the National Forum on Peace and Reconciliation, I recall that the late Tom Fox asked the Cardinal whether the Roman Catholic Church had not been foolish to forbid Roman Catholics to enter Protestant churches, even for funerals, baptisms or weddings. In reply, the Cardinal stated he could not remember those times. I am 20 years younger than the Cardinal Daly yet I can remember them. Bishop Casey cannot remember any of the events in question either but he has his own problems.

Mr. B. Lenihan: I believe the bishop does remember them.

Dr. Henry: I do not believe Bishops Herlihy and Comiskey should be the only individuals singled out for criticism. The issue must have been discussed with all the bishops when it first arose because they took out insurance at the time to deal with it.

On the Health Service Executive and legislative changes required to ensure third parties can take a more active stance, it is unfortunate that legislation passed by this House relatively recently precludes people from being more active. I encourage the Minister of State to ensure legislation is introduced as soon as possible making provision for the crime of wilful endangerment of children.

The Minister of State will have a little laugh when he learns that at the time the South Eastern Health Board was not in a position to investigate gross abuses against children, I was having considerable difficulties with it regarding a book on women's health published by the then Department of Health. On the basis that the part of the book dealing with breast feeding also featured a small section on contraception, the health board decided it was unsuitable for distribution, notwithstanding the fact that it was produced by a Department. Rather than preventing adult women who could make decisions for themselves from reading a book, the board should have been addressing what was happening to children who had been disgracefully abused.

Mr. Norris: I am grateful to Senator Henry for sharing time with me.

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