Archbishop: ‘We are sorry for not keeping children safe’

Newsday [Trinidad and Tobago]

December 18, 2022

By Janelle de Souza

Archbishop Jason Gordon apologises to former residents of the St Dominic’s Children’s Home who were not protected and cared for as they should have been, especially amid reports of decades-long abuses.

He made the statement during his feature address at the home’s 150th anniversary celebrations closing ceremony at St Dominic’s in Belmont on Saturday.

Gordon said as people reflected on the 150 years of unbroken service, they had to consider the thousands of children who were given experiences and opportunities they would not have had if not for the care of the home.

“But the second thing we must also consider, because every anniversary is a milestone where we must reflect, not only on the good that we have done, but we must also consider the children who were not protected in the ways that they ought to have been, and might have been traumatised by their experience. And to say that we are sorry and that we ask forgiveness for any ways in which our care has not been the best of care for the children who were given into our care.”

His contrition comes a year after the Judith Jones report on children’s homes was submitted to Cabinet in December 2021. The report highlighted several reports of acts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse on children in the homes, as well as a lack of proper supervision and cases where children were being removed from the homes without proper permission.

After it was laid in Parliament in April, Robert Sabga told the media his 1997 Cabinet-appointed Task Force reported much the same, as well as a paedophile ring. Since then, a 51-year-old man who was accused of molesting more than 30 boys at St Dominic’s, was charged for serious indecency, sexual assault and forced buggery.

Based solely on the Judith Jones report, the Roman Catholic Church created its own team to investigate and “verify the truth” of the allegations of child abuse at its children’s homes.

In his homily during the mass at the home’s chapel, Gordon said the “terrible reports” on children’s homes made him question if they should still be running the home, since society was more focussed on the negative than on the good the home had done.

“Maybe, going through this, we could read the hand of God and we could see something else about this home… to move our standards to another place.”

He said St Dominic’s was one of the best children’s homes in the country and, at the end of the day, many children needed love. He said every child was God’s child so they had the “awesome responsibility” to care for them, just as Joseph cared for Jesus, even though Jesus was not his son.

He added that the church’s investigative team had very recently submitted its findings on children’s homes run by the church. He said the homes were guarding the residents “in conscious ways” but there were “interesting things” that had to be addressed.

Speaking to Sunday Newsday, Gordon said, “The report has just been received. It has to be digested. It’s a very good report – very clear, very fair. It talks about what works well and the work still to be done. The work to be done, we’ll start that in the new year.”

“But children have left here with music as a profession. They have left here and done great things in our society. They’ve left here and found a way to excel in all kinds of ways in TT. And, for the thousands of children who had an opportunity, and without the home, would not have had one, we have to give thanks to God for the wonderful work that has happened over the 150 years. This home gives life to children, and changes the life chances of children every single day.”

He thanked the sisters and staff of the home for their work, the benefactors of the home, and especially the general manager of the home, Sr Arlene Greenidge, for taking it from an overcrowded facility to a 21st century institution focussed on family and socialisation.

At the closing ceremony, the home launched a sesquicentennial publication containing the home’s history as well as articles and photographs. A time capsule of keepsakes, including a commemorative jersey and facemask, art and craft items made by residents, books, documents and commemorative coins from Central Bank was also buried to be opened in years to come.