DUBLIN – Leaders of 18 Roman Catholic religious orders responsible for the abuse of thousands of Irish children in their care met government leaders Thursday to discuss what more they can contribute to the victims.
The negotiations with Prime Minister Brian Cowen and other senior Cabinet ministers come two weeks after the publication of an investigation into six decades of beatings, molestation and humiliation in church-run institutions for castaway children.
The findings — in which congregations of nuns and brothers were found to have consistently sheltered serial abusers from prosecution from the 1930s to 1990s — shocked and disgusted this predominantly Catholic nation.
Government leaders said they expect the Catholic orders to pay much more to 14,000 victims of the now-closed network of workhouse-style schools, reformatories and orphanages.
In 2002, when the congregations were denying the scale of the child abuse and the investigation was just beginning, they negotiated a controversial deal with the government that capped the church's contribution to victims at $180 million. In exchange, the government established a compensation system that required victims to surrender their rights to sue the church and state in exchange for payouts averaging euro65,000.
Claims flooded in from Ireland and worldwide. The estimated total bill to taxpayers now exceeds $1.5 billion, while church leaders admit they haven't even reached their euro128 million commitment — despite owning a property portfolio of schools, hospitals and other assets worth more than euro500 million.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said the government expects the orders, chiefly the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy nuns, "to outline to us how far they're prepared to go to meet the restitution needs of the survivors."
Victims groups and opposition leaders say the church groups should foot half of the compensation bill, but government figures have specified no target in public. The orders have repeatedly issued apologies in recent days for their past failures but insist they won't renegotiate the 2002 deal.