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Our future looks hopeless, says leader of Irish Christian Brothers

The dining hall of the Artane Industrial School in Dublin, in an undated photo. The school was run by the Christian Brothers (CNS photo/Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse)

The head of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers has said the order’s future is uncertain because of costly settlements in child abuse cases.

Brother Philip Pinto said that the congregation, which has 1,200 members, “just doesn’t have the money any longer”.

He said that the order’s decision to seek bankruptcy protection in New York was aimed at “trying to ensure that people who have been abused are the ones who get the money, not the lawyers”, he said during a break in a conference on religious life sponsored by the Conference of Religious of Ireland. [At the conference he gave an address entitled “Out of Darkness Colour Breaks” which can be read here.]

Forty per cent of the costs relating to abuse settlements were “going to the lawyers”, he said.

The North American province was especially vulnerable to disappearing, he said, explaining that it would take “something drastic” to save it.

“In most of the developed world, we are paying for the sins of the past,” he said. “Our brothers are aging, our reputation is in tatters, and the future looks bleak, even hopeless. So many of my brothers hide in their monasteries, afraid of drawing attention to themselves.”

The Indian-born brother who has been congregational leader since 2002 blamed a culture in which “religious in Ireland were abused by the system”.

Another conference speaker, Nuala O’Loan, former police ombudsman in Northern Ireland, told attendees that “it wasn’t just the religious congregations” who were responsible for abuse in institutions and schools operated by religious congregations. She suggested that the “congregations have been made the scapegoats for the failures of all”.

She criticised “successive Irish governments” who “allowed the children under their care to be deprived of their safety and security and permitted children to be held in institutions in which terrible things happened”.

The Christian Brothers Institute, the legal arm of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States amid mounting abuse claims. The majority of claims relate to the order’s schools in the Seattle area and Newfoundland in Canada.