A significant rise in the number of allegations of child sexual abuse relating to the Catholic Church was recorded in the last year, a report by a safeguarding body reveals.
However, the allegations received related to historic cases with the most recent alleged incident dating to 2002.
The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) said the figures did not suggest the Church was becoming less safe for children.
The board’s latest report showed, in the year ending March 31, 2018, church authorities made 135 notifications of allegations to the NBSCCCI, of which 104 related to child sexual abuse.
“This is a significant increase over the previous year when the number of new allegations relating to child sexual abuse amounted to 72.
“The overall number reported in 2016/17 was 86,” the report noted.
The reported 135 notifications relate to 35 diocesan priests and 63 members of religious orders or congregations. Of those 98 individuals, 45 are deceased, 32 are alive and, in 21 cases, an identity was not provided by the complainant.
However, the chief executive of NBSCCCI, Teresa Devlin emphasised the reports were not recent allegations and that the claims may have been prompted by the reporting of high-profile cases in the media.
“The falling trend reported on for the previous three years has been reversed for both the number of new allegations and the number of respondents,” she said.
“To be clear, with one exception, most of the alleged abusive behaviour occurred before 2000, in line with previous reports and should not be taken to indicate that the Church is currently becoming a less safe place for children.
“However, the fact that allegations continue to be reported and that there is an increase in the number of reports is an important sign that there are still complainants who require a pastoral response and that any complacency is misplaced,” Ms Devlin said.
“The fact that they come forward is to be lauded as it allows them to access the support they need and organisations like ours to better understand the mistakes made and how to rectify them,” Ms Devlin said.
The report also suggests that the most serious future challenge facing the Church “is derived from the digital age in which we live”.
“While digital media can have a positive influence on children’s lives, it also presents risks that need to be managed,” Ms Devlin said.
“Within the Church context, it is critical that all opportunities are taken to safeguard children from abuse and exploitation online.”
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