A total of 67 allegations of child sexual abuse against 21 Kerry diocesan priests have been made since 1975, but only one priest has been convicted, according to the Review of Safeguarding Practice in the diocese.
Of the eight living priests against whom allegations have been made, four have been laicised; one dismissed; one retired; one is out of ministry and one is still in ministry, having been cleared following an investigation.
The diocese has so far paid around €800,000 in compensation to victims.
While the review by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church is favourable overall to the actions being taken by the Kerry church authorities, it makes recommendations for improvements, which have been accepted by Bishop Ray Browne.
Bishop Browne has been in charge of the diocese since last July and his predecessor, Bishop Bill Murphy, is commended in the review, which said cases of abuse had, in general, been appropriately managed and Bishop Murphy had “met his responsibilities well in this regard”.
But, the review is critical of a lack of written policies and guidance on specific issues, including “whistle blowing” by clergy, or other church workers, who may have suspicions of unacceptable behaviour by colleagues.
It calls for action to rectify the situation and the absence of a complaints procedure. It is also critical of the handling of some abuse cases, that generally arose several years ago.
During the review, on May 15-16, case files were examined and people in the diocese’s safeguarding system were interviewed. The diocese, which has about 130,000 Catholics, has 130 parish safeguarding personnel and a range of counselling, support and information services.
Since the 33-page review was completed last May, four complaints against three priests have been received, it was revealed.
Bishop Browne said he fully welcomed the findings and recommendations and described the past and present suffering of the victims as “truly horrific”.
Expressing his “sincere sorrow and regret” to the victims, he said he had met and listened to some and had been horrified at how the abuse had profoundly affected their lives. “I encourage anyone who has been abused as a child to report the matter to the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána, or the diocese, seeking support and help.”
At a news conference in Killarney, he was asked why there had only one conviction of a priest in 38 years, despite the 67 complaints.
“That’s a question for the gardaí. It just shows how difficult it is to bring a court case.”
The main recommendations of the review were:
nThat the safeguarding policy state clearly how individuals who pose a risk to children are managed and that current child protection concerns be fully reported to the civil authorities without delay.
nTo act on all recommendations of a 2009 report on all known cases of abuse.
nThat all information of complaints, as well as actions by the Church authorities against alleged abusers, be copied onto the case file.
nThat Bishop Browne keep a register of visiting and retired priests and that necessary checks be made before they are allowed to take part in ministry.
nThat all Garda vetting files and other vetting records be transferred to the diocesan offices.
nThat all Church personnel working with children are informed of and trained in child protection procedures.
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