The Government is looking at seizing hospital and school lands owned by the church as a means of meeting the €1.6bn cost of sexual abuse redress payments, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.
Speaking today, Health Minister Simon Harris said the current failure of the Catholic Church to meet its commitments is “completely unacceptable” and called on Pope Francis to instruct religious order here to “pay over and pay up”.
He described the 2002 deal between the then Fianna Fáil Government and the Church as “economically and socially illiterate” as it indemnified the Church from the escalating cost of redress.
“The first thing to say is the agreement previously signed between the State and the Church was not just economically illiterate but socially illiterate and it has resulted in the situation whereby the Church was indemnified,” he said.
“I am not blaming FF as it is in the past. What we have to do is look at what we can do and there is significant merit at looking at hospital land and looking at school property. What I have been thinking about in recent days is what levers are at the disposal of the State,” Mr Harris added.
Mr Harris said the State continues to fund hospitals where they are owned by the Church or patrons of the Church and schools as well.
“The Government will consider each and every legal tool at our disposal,” he added.
“There is an outstanding amount under the existing agreement and the current contribution sought from the Church is pathetic and paltry and the fact they haven’t even paid that is going to be pursued immediately,” he continued.
He then took direct aim at religious leaders and their failure to force their own institutions to pay up.
“I have heard a lot of religious leaders make a lot of points about Tuam, some of those points welcome. It is indefensible and extremely disappointing that not one of those leaders in this country or abroad have come out and called for those institutions to pay the contribution,” he said.
“There was an understanding that the contribution would be 50:50, the Church has not stepped up to the plate. The next time they make a homily and contribute to this public debate they would call on all religious institutions to pay up and that call should go all the way to the Vatican,” Mr Harris added.
“The Pope and religious leaders in this country need to intervene and call on institutions to pay over and pay up. It is not acceptable the current position but we as a Government will look at all of the levers at our disposal. I want to take action,” Mr Harris said.