Fr Michael Mernagh, the Augustinian priest who did a walk of atonement from Cobh to the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin over the Church’s handling of abuse scandals said last week the 2002 Church State redress scheme agreement “didn’t do any justice to the Gospel principles”. He accused Bertie Ahern’s Government of “talking out of a particular mindset which didn’t have the needs of victims before them”.

Fr Mernagh called on the Catholic Church to renegotiate the deal so that victims are “given support at whatever it costs us”.

Fr Mernagh was speaking on Newstalk 106-108 fm, where he was asked if the Church should revisit the agreement: “Of course. The deal itself I think says a lot too about what someone has described as a sweetheart deal. The people in Government who also were educated by the same Church, that people were talking to people behind closed doors and they were talking out of a particular mindset, which didn’t have the needs perhaps of the victims before them. If they had, certainly in sewing up a deal like that, it certainly didn’t do any justice to the Gospel principles in mind.”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has similarly asked the religious orders involved to re-look at the amount they have offered and put forward new proposals.

Interestingly the Christian Brothers have moved their assets into a new trust, as stated last week on the TV news. We wonder had this move been advised in the event of extra demands from compensation victims.

Certainly, the state does carry a huge responsibility as it allowed children, of which the state could have been guardian, to enter these homes, where the conditions were known to be very tough and harsh.

The 1930s, 40s and 50s were of a different era than today, corporal punishment was widespread not just in Ireland but also the UK, USA and Europe.

In the USA and Canada they have had similar scandals as in Ireland, the Boston area is notable for its scandals, where the Church got into major trouble.

Over in Canada, there were also similar problems, with the Catholic religious orders. Newfoundland in particular had a big issue, this island was mainly Catholic with many of the settlers coming from Ireland. The Canadian Government took the most radical action, removing the Church from control of education and converting the schools to state control in what was almost like a French revolutionary situation.

The assets also passed into state control and religious orders could no

longer be in charge of schools. In Catholic Ireland this would not be possible, but Canada, which has a very diverse culture, took this step.

On the positive side, religious orders have done a lot of good and it is unfair to tar the good teachers and principals with the misdeeds of others.

Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, defended the 2002 Government – Church deal, stating that the religious orders made an enormous contribution to Irish education. He dislikes the anti church rhetoric by politicians, who were educated by the religious orders. He defended the redress proposals.

The Irish people look back on the past with a certain amount of shame in how child beatings were permitted. Parents and guardians must also feel somehow guilty of what happened in the country at large.

Systematic cruelty and corporal punishment was widespread up to the sixties and there was little state protection against such a system.

Hence the state has to take a large responsibility also for the crimes and offences committed against children.

Personally, as a young person in the sixties, the leather and stick were in use in day schools, never mind residential schools of reform. It was possible to make a complaint against a teacher who overdid the, but this required a meeting with the headmaster. In a residential school or reform school, how could the offended children complain and who could they go to. Would they be believed by relatives at the time?

Fr Mernagh thought the Church was morally obliged to revisit the redress agreement: “Of course, it goes without saying that the first priority now for all of us who call ourselves religious, or clergy, is to ensure that those who were damaged and those who are seeking some recognition and support are given that support, at whatever it costs us. Everybody says yes, all our heart and our feelings and our support is with the victims. Let’s walk the walk on that, not talk the talk about it. If we did walk the walk we wouldn’t be talking euros or millions or whatever. We would first go out there and meet the needs of these people, listen to them, see what needs to be done and then move on.”