Revelations of the abuse of children by Catholic Church personnel in Ireland have been shaking Ireland and the Irish Catholic Church, to the core, since the 1990s.
Four major reports with a national audience have been published:
- 2005: The Ferns Report, revealing the abuse of children by Catholic clergy within the Ferns Diocese.
- 2009: The Ryan Report, exposing the abuse of children within industrial schools, and The Murphy Report, investigating how allegations were handled by the Church within the Archdiocese of Dublin.
- 2010: The Cloyne Report, exposing how the Church and the State handled allegations of the abuse of children by Catholic clergy within Cloyne Diocese.
The first coordinated response by the Catholic Church in Ireland was the publication in 1996 of Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response. Widely known as ‘The Green Book’, this provided a set of guidelines for the management of cases of alleged child sexual abuse by priests and religious. Our Children, Our Church, published in 2005 provided more comprehensive guidance both for the management of cases and for the prevention of all forms of abuse in the Catholic Church.
A key recommendation of Our Children, Our Church was the establishment of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. The National Board was established in 2006 by the IEC (Irish Episcopal Conference), CORI (Conference of Religious of Ireland), and IMU (Irish Missionary Union), and then developed a further set of guidelines: Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, published in September 2008.
Alongside the development of guidelines for the management of child abuse cases within the Church, the Church also developed a support service for survivors of abuse. Faoiseamh was set up in 1996 by the Sisters of Mercy and provided counselling to survivors and their families. In early 2011, the IEC, CORI and IMU established their second pastoral response to a growing understanding of the longterm traumatic impact of abuse during childhood. Towards Healing, a new and more comprehensive counselling and support service for survivors of institutional, clerical and religious abuse, commenced services, replacing Faoiseamh.
Early in 2012, Towards Healing began to offer a Restorative Justice service – Facilitated Listening Meetings – for survivors and their family members, who wish to meet with members of the Catholic Church and Religious Congregations.
The first public hearing of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry for Northern Ireland, took place in February 2013.
In May 2014, recognising not only the physical, psychological and relational impact of the abuse, but also the spiritual impact – the third pastoral response of the Irish Catholic Church, Towards Peace, was launched. Towards Peace is the latest chapter in the journey of the Church to find a way to learn from and respond to the enormity of the abuse crisis in Ireland.