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$193m extended to abuse victims

Nuns’ offer is largest proposed in Irish scandal

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press / December 4, 2009

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DUBLIN - A major Irish order of Roman Catholic nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, offered yesterday to pay child abuse victims, the government, and charities a further $193.5 million to compensate for decades of abuse in its schools and orphanages.

The compensation offer to the Irish Education Department is by far the largest from 18 orders of Catholic priests, brothers, and nuns found guilty of chronic child abuse. They ran scores of residential schools, workhouses, and orphanages for generations of Ireland’s most deprived children from the mid-19th century to the 1990s.

The Sisters of Mercy said in a statement that it “wholeheartedly regrets the suffering experienced by the children in their care’’ and hoped this latest offer would show that its nuns were being “faithful to the values of reparation, reconciliation, healing, and responsibility.’’

A nine-year state investigation in May ruled that all the orders permitted and covered up endemic rape, molestation, beatings, and mental cruelty in their children’s institutions. The government responded by demanding that the orders pay much more to help cover compensation payments to more than 14,000 abuse claimants worldwide topping $1.5 billion.

The government confirmed receipt of the Sisters of Mercy offer but declined further comment.

Several other Catholic orders have already made smaller offers to the government and victims’ support groups following the May report.

Its findings of epic levels of cruelty and neglect fanned public fury against the Catholic orders, which in 2001 cut a controversial deal with the government that capped the church’s total contribution to the future compensation bill at $191 million - virtually the same as the contribution now offered by the Sisters of Mercy alone.

The Sisters of Mercy said its new offer would involve $30 million in cash to a new fund for supporting abuse victims and their families and donations of properties valued at $163 million.

Most of the properties would be transferred to government ownership, while property worth $17.5 million would go to the victims support fund and $22.6 million more in property would go to victims counseling groups.

The nuns noted that, under the terms of the 2001 agreement, they had already handed over $49.8 million in cash and property.

The Sisters of Mercy and other Catholic orders are among the biggest property owners in the Irish state, but their numbers are dwindling because of the slide in Catholic religious observance and the impact of child abuse scandals since the mid-1990s.

The 2001 agreement has been widely criticized because it left taxpayers to cover the vast majority of the looming bill for past child residents of Catholic institutions, who in 2002 began filing claims to a government-run compensation panel.

After winning independence from Britain in the 1920s, Ireland gave the Catholic Church a dramatically increased role in providing education and health care. Church orders and parish priests today remain official patrons of most schools, and the Sisters of Mercy congregation also owns key Dublin hospitals.