NI inquiry needs legal teeth to investigate child abuse

Amnesty International has issued a warning that a Northern Ireland government-led investigation into clerical child abuse may fail.


The problem is that within its annual global report on human rights, Amnesty has highlighted problems with the terms of the inquiry’s reference.

“In September, the Northern Ireland executive announced proposals for the establishment of an inquiry to investigate institutional child abuse.

“There could, however, be a delay in providing the inquiry with a statutory basis, which might initially leave it without the necessary powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents.”

The catholic church says all the right things and promises that abuse cannot now happen. The problem with that claim is that past experience is an indicator of future behaviour. Remember, the abuse scandal is not simply about a few bad priests. There was a policy in place then in effect protected the abusers and so they gagged the victims and simply moved the abusers around so that they could start all over again … they all knew and simply turned a blind eye to it. Basic human decency and morality more or less got tossed out the window because top priority was protecting the institution.

So will the catholic church willingly share all its internal files, will all priests who are called to testify happily come forward, will they speak openly and frankly if they did? Nope, not a chance. The problem is that their belief system enables them to ignore all such request for complete disclosure. Now you might ponder the thought that decent moral humans could not seriously do that. OK, it works like this … you do something wrong, you get caught by another priest, so you then say your confession to that priest. What then happens is that their belief takes top priority … anything said in confession can never be revealed, so their belief compels them to be silent. This is the type of psychological trick that belief can indeed play, for they truly believe that by being silent they are taking the high moral ground, but are in effect abandoning basic human decency.

That’s why the inquiry must have the necessary powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. Deploying “Please” and an appeal to basic human empathy will simply not work, their belief system has immunised them against that. But then that is also why their belief system prevails, it has evolved strong defences that motivates the core members to do whatever it takes to protect the belief.

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