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News > News from Past Pupils > Update on Process to Support Victim/Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Spiritan Schools

Update on Process to Support Victim/Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Spiritan Schools

A summary of the process to date including who Restore Together are; the number of victim/survivors that have come forward and the number of abusers reported.

This Newsletter addresses the following:

A need for greater awareness of and support from everyone in the Spiritan community (past & present) and especially the Blackrock College past-pupil community for the process to bring justice to the victim/survivors (please share this newsletter widely).

A summary of the phases in the Restore Together 6-step process for justice:

  1. Apology
  2. Therapy/Counselling
  3. Restorative Justice Programme
  4. Redress Scheme
  5. Testimony Gathering
  6. Memorialisation

Restore Together

Restore Together is a support group for victims of sexual abuse in Willow Park, Blackrock College and the other Spiritan schools. It is made up of victim/survivors and non-victims. Together we advocate on behalf of victim/survivors for the provision of structures to aid healing from trauma.

Restore Together is working with the Spiritan Order to bring healing to those who suffered as children and continue to suffer as adults.

Restore Together’s objectives for all victim/survivors are:

TRUTH – JUSTICE – PEACE – RECONCILIATION – HEALING.

Help Us Spread the Word & Support Victim/Survivors in Our Community

This is our second update since the televised press conference in the RDS in November 2022.

With the support of the Blackrock College (Past Pupils) Union, Restore Together needs your help to achieve wider awareness of the extent of the abuse and its impact on victims, and to broadly update everyone in the Spiritan school community on the progress made in some respects and the ongoing efforts in other parts of the process to address and rectify the tragedies which have occurred.

The Scale of the Abuse

As with many institutions involved with educating children in Ireland, Spiritan schools have instances where sexual abuse was inflicted on innocent children by those entrusted to support their welfare and education. The abuse of children in Spiritan schools and its consequences are still to be fully dealt with.

To date 49 Spiritan clergy and 12 lay members of staff have been reported for abuse by over 290 people. Two priests were jailed, many perpetrators are dead. Every Spiritan institution has been accused. The vast majority of cases relate to Willow Park and Blackrock College.

Addressing the Abuse – Restore Together

SInce the Spring of 2021, Restore Together has been working to raise awareness of the extent and impact of the sexual abuse in the schools and to extend understanding of what happened. We have proposed victim-centred actions to the Spiritans for trauma-informed solutions to help rectify past transgressions. For many victim/survivors, the issue of abuse is not historic. It continues to shroud every day, as it has entire lives.

Following the Restorative Justice (RJ) template, Restore Together sets out to create an environment that makes the path to reconciliation and healing easier. We are trying to spread the message as widely as possible that, for those impacted, there is help available, you are not alone, you were not to blame.

Getting Help

If you, or someone you know, would like to talk to someone, we ask you to contact timchapman@rjteam.net in total confidence.

Tim Chapman is an independent Restorative Justice expert, specifically chosen by Restore Together, who will be able to advise on the supports and advice available.

So far over 150 people who have been affected have contacted Tim and his team of experts through the  Restorative Justice programme.

1. Apology                                                                                                                                

“The first step to reconciliation is to honestly remember the past”         Nelson Mandela

Acknowledging and taking ownership of the tragic events in the history of Spiritan schools is key to starting the process of addressing and rectifying what happened.

In November 2022, Fr. Martin Kelly, the Provincial of the Spiritan Order (formerly Holy Ghost Fathers) addressed the Restore Together press conference in the RDS in Dublin. As head and representative of the Order, he made a powerful and contrite apology to all those impacted.

It can be viewed here:  https://spiritan.ie/public-apology-by-fr-martin-kelly/

Fr. Kelly has subsequently issued personal in-person and written apologies to many of the c.50 people who have taken part in Restorative Justice meetings with him and other representatives of the Spiritan Order.

The following is a summary of the goals and developments to date in the victim-centred proposals which Restore Together is advocating that the Spiritans support and implement :-

2. Therapy/Counselling

Therapy and Counselling is freely available to all impacted by abuse, in all Spiritan institutions, from any counsellor of your choice for as long as deemed beneficial by your counsellor.

Therapy/counselling is completely confidential, provided by independent professionals and funded entirely by the Spiritans. Counsellors must be certified but can be based anywhere in the world and can be met in person or online.

Restore Together have developed relationships with two established providers who understand and support the group’s work:

Towards Healing: https://towardshealing.ie/          email: info@towardshealing.ie

Freephone: 1800 303416 (Rep of Ireland)  Freephone: 0800 0963315 (Northern Ireland and UK)

One in Four: https://www.oneinfour.ie/                email: info@oneinfour.ie  Phone: 01 66 24070

Please contact these organisations directly for free, confidential support.

They provide counselling services face to face or by phone or Zoom/Teams etc.

Their therapy options include Psychotherapy, Family Support, Group Counselling based on collaboration, Responsive Therapy and Evidence informed practice.

To arrange for your certified professional to be paid, contact Tim timchapman@rjteam.net

Feedback from those who have availed of this service is it is extremely helpful and confidential.

3. Restorative Justice Programme

The work of Restore Together is guided by the Restorative Justice model. This involves confronting the sources and addressing traumas in a holistic, collaborative and non-adversarial manner, to understand what happened and to rebalance the power between victim and perpetrator. The Restorative Justice approach includes addressing how the harm can be repaired and justice achieved.

In practice this work has led to c.50 individual Restorative Justice meetings to-date, where those impacted by abuse have met face-to-face with those currently responsible for the institutions where the abuse happened (Spiritan Provincial, School Principals etc), to discuss openly and forthrightly the, now mostly dead, perpetrators and the culture of abuse. These meetings allow any questions and concerns that victim/survivors have to be raised in an honest and safe environment.

Approximately 200 people have made contact with a view to engaging in the Restorative Justice process.

If you would like to discuss the Restorative Justice program or to consider setting up a Restorative Justice meeting, please contact Tim Chapman   timchapman@rjteam.net

Tim is supported by a team of five expert Restorative Justice Practitioners with a range of skills and experience, who among other supports have been providing three month long Healing Circle programs and shorter and less formal Restorative Justice Circles.

If you would like to talk to the Spiritans, please do so by contacting the Safeguarding Officer Liam Lally : liam.lally@spiritanplt.ie

4. Redress Scheme

The Spiritans have acknowledged that providing financial redress to victim/survivors is an appropriate and essential element in responding to the hurt and damage caused by abuse. The Spiritans also recognise that the existing legal system has many shortcomings and is less than ideal for victim/survivors of trauma seeking redress.

For many months, the Restore Together group has met with the Spiritans and their solicitors. Restore Together has submitted detailed plans for the Spiritans’ consideration proposing how a Redress system should work and address the power imbalance which victim/survivors have faced.

Restore Together has petitioned that the redress scheme:

should be established urgently.

 must be victim-centred*, non-adversarial and trauma-informed in accordance with current best practice.

must make it simple and quick for victim/surivors to advance their claims and in a process in which they can feel comfortable and safe.

While the unfortunate reality is that no amount of money will ever compensate for lost         childhood, Restore Together’s position is that the redress scheme should do full Christian justice to victims and make awards that fully recognise the victims and their suffering. To help achieve this, scheme payments should at least match what a victim/survivor would receive in a successful Court case.

Restore Together has proposed an adjudicating panel comprising of experts from the fields of law, social science/trauma and education be selected who will operate completely independently in accordance with the terms of reference of the scheme determined by The Spiritans and victim/survivor groups, including Restore Together.

It is proposed that claims under such a scheme will be assessed by the independent panel, which will make a financial award. A claimant who chooses not to accept the panel’s award can continue with or institute a legal claim, if they wish.

Restore Together have stressed the importance of the scheme being set up immediately as the ongoing delay is causing further and unnecessary suffering to victim/survivors.

The Spiritans have not yet finalised the terms of a scheme and have recently said that they are not in a position to say when they envisage the scheme will become operational.

5. Testimony Gathering/ Truth-Telling

Best-practice deems that justice for all those impacted by abuse requires an opportunity to fully tell their histories, be listened to, recorded for posterity and believed. It is envisaged that a truth-telling exercise would interview all those who were part of the environments, to build a clear picture of what abuse took place, how it happened, how the institutions responded to allegations and the circumstances that allowed it to continue.

The Spiritans have been advised this work is necessary and that a truth-telling forum should be established by the Spiritans as soon as possible. This forum should be designed and operated by independent experts. Participation should be voluntary, trauma-informed and would invite other parties including the Spiritans and the schools (past pupils, teachers, staff etc) to fully share recollections.

All available information about sexual abuse in the schools including files and records should be available to the project experts. The testimonies will be confidential to the project experts, with the degree of anonymity controlled by those sharing their testimony – they can decide which details can be anonymous or shared.

The report of the forum should be made public at the conclusion.

In discussions The Spiritans have agree in principle to establish a forum and have indicated they would encourage their members to share their truths and recollections. It is hoped the schools would facilitate former staff to engage in the forum.

Currently one proposal to manage and run the process has been received but rejected by the Spiritans. Restore Together is currently working to procure alternative proposals and considerations for the terms of engagement. Restore Together has told the Spiritans that it believes the Truth-Telling exercise should be started urgently.

6. Memorialisation

Restore Together have had initial discussions with a view to the establishment of a joint working group between victim/survivors and other stakeholders, including Blackrock College and Willow Park, to explore appropriate Memorialisation of the abuse in the schools and the effect on victim/survivors.

Victim/survivors feel this is extremely important to help encourage people to understand, discuss and debate abuse in its many forms. We must create an environment which encourages witnesses and victims to speak up, to ensure it doesn’t happen again and to help reclaim the school campuses for those who were abused.

Blackrock College has recently indicated a preference that this be explored in conjunction with the Blackrock College Union. Restore Together has agreed to this and is working actively with the Blackrock College Union to advance this initiative and engage with the College and other stakeholders.

* "A victim-centred approach places the rights, wishes, needs, safety, dignity and well-being of the victim at the centre of all prevention and response measures concerning sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and sexual harassment (SH)." UN IASC https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-champion-protection-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-and-sexual-harassment/iasc-definition-principles-victimsurvivor-centered-approach-0

Expansion of Restore Together Committee

The Restore Together committee has recently expanded with the contributions of Eugene Harrington, Brendan O’Connor and James White from the Blackrock College class of 1977. Eugene, Brendan and James lead the Memorialisation workstream.

Restore Together Committee; Gearóidín Charlton, John Coulter, Corry McMahon, Philip Feddis, Eoin MacNeill, Conor McDonnell, Eugene Harrington, Brendan O’Connor, James White.

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