Irish Examiner View: Vulnerable betrayed once again

Irish Examiner View: Vulnerable betrayed once again
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It's just over ten years since the Murphy Report on the decades-long sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin was published. That damming, harrowing document came a few months after the Ryan Report dealt with physical, psychological and sexual abuse in industrial schools controlled by Catholic orders. 

Those were seminal moments for the Catholic Church and this society. One lost power, the other asserted it. Long-held assumptions, long-indulged denials, were shown to be utterly wrong. This provoked anger and made a collective shame underpinned by guilt unavoidable. That shame may not be as active today as it once was but it endures; it left an indelible mark. Already on the wane a decade ago, the Catholic Church has not recovered.  

Months later, in July 2011, that decline accelerated when the Cloyne Report was published. That report, though its publication was repeatedly delayed, examined how allegations of sexual abuse were handled by that diocese. In early 2008, the Government referred two allegations to the National Board for Safeguarding Children. 

When NBSC chief Ian Elliott  made contact with the diocese, his efforts were, to put it mildly, stymied. In June 2008, Mr Elliott completed a damning report on how those cases were dealt with by the diocese.

These scandals are historical even if scars remain. Shockingly, the report published by Scouting Ireland (SI) yesterday is almost a cut-and-paste reiteration of the issues highlighted by Murphy, Ryan and the Cloyne report. That it was compiled by Ian Elliott adds a macabre symmetry, a chastening continuity to the saga.

Yesterday's SI report describes how individuals who had a “sexual interest” in children rose to positions of power in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) or the Scout Association of Ireland (SAI) These organisations merged to form SI in 2004 but before that those individuals had achieved positions that allowed them silence critics and shrug off the most serious allegations. 

Just as was the case in Cloyne all those years ago, Mr Elliott found that "individuals who were known to have abused young people, were not held to account consistently and often remained in scouting but with a different group."  

It gets worse. The report described an “almost complete absence of any concern for the young people that were abused,” that charge cannot but be a reminder of how religious authorities, one after another, washed their hands of the notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth and many other predatory clerics.

The report finding that "victims were not supported and provided... It was often the case that they were not apologised to which left them feeling traumatised and angry" echoes the Catholic practice of forcing vulnerable victims to take a vow of silence so their abusers might not damage the reputation or status of the institution.

Just as later reports on these issues assured us yesterday's report promised that "there is no greater priority for scouting today than the safeguarding of the young people...  and the removal of anyone from scouting who places them at risk.

The report offers ten "learning points" and the concluding phrase in that list is that "turning a blind eye is not an option." How wonderful, how transformative it would be if that principle was universally and unflinchingly applied right across this society.

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