Bishops delay abuse compensation plan

Objections by Roman Catholic bishops in the
Irish Republic are threatening to delay the establishment of a
compensation board for those who suffered sexual and physical abuse
in the country’s state and religious-run institutions some 30 to 40
years ago.

The proposed board, headed by a former judge,
would operate in a non-adversarial way. It would hear victims’
unchallenged testimony in private and award compensation on the
basis of expert assessment of the severity of the abuse and the
degree of psychological damage suffered.

However, the Catholic hierarchy claims that
such a system is “seriously flawed” as it would allow hearsay
evidence and be unjust and potentially damaging to the reputations
of innocent clergy. The legislation establishing the board, now
before the D il, must be amended, say the bishops, to require it to
notify members of the religious community of any accusations made
against them during testimony, and to give them the opportunity to

According to church spokesman Bishop Eamonn
Walsh, “a limited number of individuals” were responsible for the
abuse. But as the planned compensation body did not require any
clear standard of proof on allegations, there was a danger that
“the life work of whole congregations will be tarnished

Eight thousand former residents of the
institutions – many now living in the UK – are expected to seek
compensation. Some, like Christine Buckley, whose disturbing
account of Dublin’s Goldenbridge Orphanage became an award-winning
TV documentary, reacted angrily to the stance adopted by the

“I’m furious,” she said. “There isn’t anyone I
know who would even think of making untrue allegations. The bishops
are just looking for an excuse to delay the legislation and avoid
paying compensation.”

Education minister Dr Michael Woods must now
decide whether to press ahead with his original bill, expected to
be law by Christmas, or to delay it and attempt to incorporate the
change sought by the bishops.

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