A Derry man who was the victim of institutional abuse has praised the Bishop of Derry after he embraced him during emotional scenes in the city yesterday.
The Bishop, Dr Donal McKeown, delivered a homily during two services over the weekend at Eugene’s Cathedral and Long Tower, where he addressed the final report into the findings of Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA), which was set up in 2013 to look at historical abuse claims at homes throughout Northern Ireland
These included former children’s residential homes in Derry at St Joseph’s Home at Termonbacca, the Sisters of Nazareth’s children’s home at Bishop Street, Fort James and Harberton House.
The inquiry also dealt with institutions run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Derry, Belfast and Newry.
The 2,300-page report was published at an event in Belfast on Friday morning.
In the wake of the publication, Bishop McKeown told Mass goers that the ‘focus has to be on accepting the pain and loss suffered by those who, through no fault of their own, were scarred for life by the way they were treated and let down’.
He added: “Children have a right to be treated with respect and love. Children who come from already difficult situations have a right to especial care and attention, and particularly when they come to those who say they follow the Jesus of today’s Gospel.”
After delivering the homily, Bishop McKeown then embraced Jon McCourt, a Derry man who spent ten years at St Joseph’s Home in Termonbacca which was run by the sisters of Nazareth.
Mr McCourt, who is now part of the North West Survivors Group, was only three when he placed in the home.
He had no idea that his two brothers were also placed in the same facility, as they were in different sections of the home.
Speaking to the Derry News yesterday, Mr McCourt praised the Bishop for his actions.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” he said, “particularly after the comments made by Archbishop Eamon Martin after the report on Friday.”
“I think the Bishop, in saying what he did, localised the issue, and brought home to many people what so many have suffered over so many years.”
Mr McCourt added that the Bishop’s embrace had also been an emotional experience for him.
“It was, surely, it was a nice gesture from the Bishop, and a public acknowledgement of what we, and many others have been through,” he added.
“I also appreciate that what he said may have made for difficult listening for many of the older generation present, and personally, I was surprised at how strong his words were.”
He continued: “It has been a very difficult process for witnesses, the victims, and also for those people who did admirable work at these institutions.
“The report is now there for everyone to see, and it’s a vindication for all those people who struggled for all those years to get the truth out there.”
Mr McCourt added that the truth must now be followed by justice, but expressed concerns that the collapse of the political institutions in the north may well impact on that process.
“We appreciate that there will be a lot of work to do in getting that up and running again, but we don’t want this to drop off, we want it to be prioritised,” he said.
“And that’s a conversation we need to have. For me, it was never about numbers, but there will need to be a discussion about compensation further down the line.”
The inquiry was chaired by retired High Court judge Anthony Hart.
Speaking on Friday, he said that 493 people engaged with the inquiry ‘in one form or another’ making allegations about 65 institutions.
Mr Hart said: “The largest number of complaints to the HIA related to four homes of the Sisters of Nazareth religious order.”
“In each of the four homes some nuns engaged in physical and emotional abuse against children. Emotional abuse was widespread in all homes."
The publication of the report brings to a conclusion the Inquiry’s investigation into historical institutional abuse.
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