A major Irish order of Roman Catholic nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, offered Thursday to pay child abuse victims, the government and charities a further euro128 million ($193.5 million) to compensate for decades of abuse in its schools and orphanages.
The compensation offer to the Irish Education Department is by far the largest from 18 orders of Catholic priests, brothers and nuns found guilty of chronic child abuse. They ran scores of residential schools, workhouses and orphanages for generations of Ireland's most deprived children from the mid-19th century to the 1990s.
The Sisters of Mercy said in a statement it "wholeheartedly regrets the suffering experienced by the children in their care" and hoped this latest offer would show that its nuns were being "faithful to the values of reparation, reconciliation, healing and responsibility."
A nine-year state investigation in May ruled that all the orders permitted and covered up endemic rape, molestation, beatings and mental cruelty in their children's institutions. The government responded by demanding that the orders pay much more to help cover compensation payments to more than 14,000 abuse claimants worldwide topping euro1 billion ($1.5 billion).
The government confirmed receipt of the Sisters of Mercy offer but declined further comment.
Several other Catholic orders have already made smaller offers to the government and victims' support groups following the May report.
Its findings of epic levels of cruelty and neglect fanned public fury against the Catholic orders, which in 2001 cut a controversial deal with the government that capped the church's total contribution to the future compensation bill at euro127.5 million _ virtually the same as the contribution now offered by the Sisters of Mercy alone.
The Sisters of Mercy said its new offer would involve euro20 million in cash to a new fund for supporting abuse victims and their families, and donations of properties valued at euro108 million.
Most of the properties would be transferred to government ownership, while property worth euro11.6 million would go to the victims support fund and euro15 million more in property would go to victims counseling groups.
The nuns noted that, under the terms of the 2001 agreement, they had already handed over euro33 million in cash and property.
The Sisters of Mercy and other Catholic orders are among the biggest property owners in the Irish state, but their numbers are dwindling because of the slide in Catholic religious observance and the impact of child-abuse scandals since the mid-1990s.
The 2001 agreement has been widely criticized because it left taxpayers to cover the vast majority of the looming bill for past child residents of Catholic institutions, who in 2002 began filing claims to a government-run compensation panel.
After winning independence from Britain in the 1920s, Ireland gave the Catholic Church a dramatically increased role in providing education and health care. Church orders and parish priests today remain official patrons of most schools, and the Sisters of Mercy congregation also owns key Dublin hospitals.
On the Net:
Sisters of Mercy statement, http://tinyurl.com/yhmjxhg
Report on abuse in Catholic institutions for children, http://www.childabusecommission.ie/rpt/