Ahern bids to clarify comments on Church

THE Taoiseach yesterday moved to clarify comments he made about the Catholic Church that were interpreted by opposition parties and victims’ organisations as a failure on his part to absorb the serious nature of the findings of the Ferns Report.

Mr Ahern, speaking in Athlone yesterday, said that media reports of his comments had honed in on his response to Liz O’Donnell’s outspoken condemnation of the Catholic Church, and particularly his defence of All Hallows and the Church’s record in education in Irish society.

The reports had not given the appropriate prominence, said the Taoiseach, to other remarks he had made during the course of a speech on Thursday, including his acknowledgment that many people felt “betrayed” and “disappointed” by the church’s handling of sex abuse cases.

Arising from reports of his speech, Colm O’Gorman, of One in Four had expressed a sense of dismay about Mr Ahern’s comments, saying they indicated he had either not read the Ferns Report, or grasped the significance of it.

Mr Ahern said his office had made contact with Mr O’Gorman yesterday morning to give more detail on the interview, and Mr O’Gorman “understood”.

However, RTÉ said yesterday that it was standing behind its report that Mr Ahern had expressed disappointment but had not used the word “betrayed” while speaking on Thursday.

The Taoiseach’s office later confirmed that there was a misunderstanding and that he did not use the word ‘betrayed’.

Mr Ahern also repeated his claim that the State would not be able to cope if the 3,000 schools owned by religious communities were suddenly turned over to the State.

He said dialogue with a variety of churches was crucial in light of the growing number of religions being practiced in Ireland.

A Government spokes- man said last night that it had suggested a framework for future dialogue involving all churches.

“At present we are engaging with all churches on a bilateral basis and the Taoiseach’s officials will continue to work on this issue in the coming weeks and months ahead,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Primary Schools Association (CPSA) said a majority of parents support the continuing involvement of the Church in Irish State schools.

The organisation was responding to comments from the National Parents Council whose chief executive Fionnaula Kilfeather accused the State of “not offering choice to parents”.

Pointing out that many parents don’t adhere to any religion and that Ireland is an increasingly multicultural society, Ms Kilfeather said yesterday the predominately Catholic-controlled education system was outmoded.

“It might meet the wishes of parents 20 or 30 years ago, but quite clearly we are a changed society in Ireland,” she said.

However, secretary of the CPSA Fr Dan O’Connor defended the Church’s role in the education system, saying a survey published this summer showed that 67.3% of people were satisfied with their school management.

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