Judge Probing Abuse in Irish Catholic Church-Run Institutions Resigns

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press, carried in News Observer [Ireland]
Downloaded September 3, 2003

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) - A judge overseeing a mammoth investigation into child abuse at Catholic Church-run schools and orphanages is resigning in a clash with the government over the probe.

Justice Mary Laffoy announced Tuesday night she would resign as chairwoman of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse once her six-member commission publishes an interim report in November.

Victims' rights leaders said Wednesday that they feared the commission's three-year mission to gather evidence and identify guilty institutions and church officials - all in behind-closed-doors meetings - now could be abandoned.

Hours before Laffoy's resignation announcement, Education Minister Noel Dempsey said the government intended to scale back the commission's scope and powers in hopes that it would "complete its work within a reasonable time. Justice delayed is justice denied."

Laffoy didn't reveal her reasons for resigning, but has previously accused both the government and Catholic religious orders of undermining her efforts.

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern discussed her resignation letter during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Communications Minister Dermot Ahern, the only government figure willing to comment before the meeting, said, "Obviously the government regrets the resignation of Justice Laffoy. I understand she's put in a long letter but I haven't read it."

Victims' rights leaders called for Dempsey to quit instead.

Christina Buckley, who represents hundreds of orphans who suffered physical and sexual abuse in church-run schools, said she felt "utterly and absolutely betrayed" by Dempsey and demanded his resignation.

Dempsey warned that the commission, if not changed, was likely to run up legal costs of $220 million and could take five to eight years to publish conclusions. The commission was originally supposed to have finished its work last year.

But Laffoy's team, which has seven lawyers and 30 other staff members, has blamed the government and religious orders for most of the delay.

The government took nearly two years to hand over documents on many of the church-run industrial schools, where orphans and other children taken from their parents engaged in unpaid labor until the 1970s.

Religious orders, in turn, have assembled large legal teams to contest many allegations. The Christian Brothers, once the largest teaching order in Ireland, has filed a High Court lawsuit against the government and the commission, questioning its legality and its powers.

Dempsey cited this case as likely to force the government to amend legislation on the commission's powers.

In response, the commission announced Tuesday night it "will not use its power to gather further evidence."

Last November, the government formed a compensation board for abuse victims that is supposed to complement Laffoy's work. It has already received more than 1,600 applications and paid an average of $90,000 to 25 successful applicants.

The government is providing the compensation in a controversial deal with church leaders, who mostly offered to hand over land rather than cash.

Colm O'Gorman, a former altar boy who represents hundreds of people sexually abused by priests, said Laffoy's commission appeared "dead in the water."

"It is depressing to imagine that we are at a point now where we may need an inquiry into an inquiry," O'Gorman said.


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