Ireland clergy abuse amounts to torture: rights group

[JURIST] The abuse of Irish children by members of the clergy, revealed by four state-sponsored reports, included acts that amounted to torture [press release], Amnesty International [advocacy website] said Monday. Aimed at why the abuse occurred, the report, titled In Plain Sight [text, PDF], calls attention to those who "turned a blind eye" to the abuse and "people in positions of power" who "ignored their responsibility to act." The report notes five major findings [text, DOC]:

  • No clear lines of responsibility make true accountability impossible. In the case of residential institutions, it wasn't that the system didn't work but rather that there was no system.
  • The law must protect and apply to all members of society equally. Despite the severity of the crimes revealed in the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy (Dublin) and Cloyne Reports, which range from physical assault to rape, very few perpetrators have been convicted.
  • Recognition of children's human rights must be strengthened. The sexual abuse in the diocesan reports, and the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, the living conditions, and the neglect described in the Ryan Report, can be categorized as torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under human rights law.
  • Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter. The end of deference to powerful institutions and the taking of personal responsibility on behalf of all members of society will initiate some of the changes that are necessary to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses.
  • The State must operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups. While Taoiseach Enda Kenny's recent criticism of the Vatican suggests a less deferential attitude to the Catholic Church, transparency in the operations of all arms of the State is necessary to prevent interest groups from exerting undue influence.
Colm O'Gorman, a survivor of clergy abuse and the current executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, called the abuse "perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state."

The Vatican has come under intense pressure related to allegations of clergy child sex abuse and cover-ups by local bishops and Vatican officials. The release of In Plain Sight was lauded [press release] by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] which petitioned the International Criminal Court [official website] prosecutor earlier this month to investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. Calling In Plain Sight "another important step in the journey towards holding Vatican officials accountable", CCR pledged to "continue to gather information and evidence of additional crimes of rape and sexual violence and associated cover ups by the Catholic Church." In February 2010, the Vatican released church procedures [JURIST report] for handling alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests, instructing, "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." The "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" summarizes the procedures governing investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) [official profile] into allegations of sex abuse by clergy members. The CDF guidelines provide for interim measures meant to ensure the safety of others during civil authorities' investigations or legal proceedings. The guidelines also outline a multi-tiered system of enforcement and appeals, including local bishops, the CDF, and the Pope himself. Since 2007, in the US alone, the Church has settled more than 500 cases [JURIST news archive] of abuse for over $900 million.

 

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