Abuse redress - Listening to victims key to healing

For decades survivors of horrific abuse at our industrial schools have essentially been demeaned as ingrates, because they did not appreciate what the religious authorities running those schools did for them. All that many were asking for was the right to be heard and listened to when they spoke about their abuse.

Christopher Heaphy was invited to speak from the pulpit at Mass in Aglish Church, west Co Waterford yesterday, about the abuse he endured and witnessed within the system. The invitation was a novel way of demonstrating at last that somebody was prepared to listen properly and give credence to those who were seriously damaged.

In May 1999, the Government formally apologised to the survivors on behalf of the State for the collective failure in relation to the abuse. A commission to enquire into child abuse was set up. The enquiry culminated with the Ryan Report, which was published three years ago yesterday.

Michael O’Brien, the former mayor of Clonmel, who was one of those in the congregation at Aglish yesterday, provided a vivid insight into the humiliation that he suffered before the redress board during a Questions & Answers programme on RTÉ shortly after the publication of the Ryan Report.

Lawyers for the redress board questioned witnesses in a way that suggested serious doubts about their credibility. Mr O’Brien was so traumatised by the ordeal that he said he considered taking his own life by driving in front of a truck, but did not do it because his wife was with him, and he could not do that to her.

Christopher Heaphy recalled yesterday that he wrote to the Pope in Feb 2010 about the abuse, and that he hand-delivered his letter to a bishop, but he got no reply. The Pope did admit, however, in his pastoral letter of Mar 2010 that “serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations”.

“Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated,” he told survivors.

“Looking back,” Cardinal Seán Brady admitted at the time, “I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in.”

This was obviously not enough.

“Things are bad,” Mr Heaphy told the congregation yesterday, “and until accountability of some kind is arrived at, things will only get worse.”

Fr Gerry O’Connor deserves full credit for affording a credible platform at Aglish Church for one of the abused to be heard. Others should certainly follow his Christian example.

Many of those who suffered horrific childhood abuse were never able to overcome their disadvantages, and they are now in need of friendship, shelter, and medical care. Society, which failed them so miserably in their youth, should provide redress in their final days.

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