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Abuse: Catholics refuse to pay more

IRELAND'S Roman Catholic religious orders resisted growing demands yesterday for them to pay more for the abuse of thousands of children behind the closed doors of state-funded schools.

The Irish government expects to dole out more than 1.1 billion euros (US$1.6 billion) in legal costs and compensation to 14,000 people molested, beaten or terrorized while under church care from the 1930s to 1990s - a long-buried scandal brought into full light this week with the publication of a 2,600-page investigation.

Anger at church leaders is swelling, particularly over their refusal to contribute a bigger share of money to the compensation pot for victims.

Under terms of a secretive, bitterly disputed 2002 deal negotiated at a time when religious orders still denied allegations of widespread abuse, the government agreed to cap the church's total liability at less than 128 million euros - potentially one-tenth of the final cost.

Pat Rabbitte, a politician from the opposition Labour Party that has long criticized the 2002 deal, said it was perverse that taxpayers - including abuse victims - had to fund a program that actually shields church figures from lawsuits. Any victim who accepts the payments, which average 65,000 euros, must sign away their rights to sue either the church or state.

"This terrible, grubby deal protected the monsters, the brutes responsible for this cruelty to children. It protected them from being confronted in court by their victims," said Rabbitte, who called the church's 128 million euro limit "a very small price for the religious congregations to pay to escape justice."

But the umbrella body representing the 18 religious orders implicated in the scandal, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, said yesterday that its members had no intention of renegotiating the deal.

"As far as we are aware, none of the congregations concerned plan to revisit the terms of the agreement made in good faith," the Conference of Religious in Ireland statement said.

"Some have questioned whether the religious (nuns and brothers) have honored their commitment to the agreement. We can confirm that the vast majority of these transactions have been completed," it said. "However, some legal work remains outstanding on some of the property transfers."

There's doubt over how much the church orders have paid.

The government says congregations of nuns and brothers have paid 62 million euros in cash and covered the rest by handing over 61 properties. But amid Ireland's deepening recession and collapse in property values over the past year, it is likely the buildings are worth much less than 66 million euros.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the government could not force the church to pay more.


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