The head of the Church’s child protection board, Ian Elliott, outlined the draft guidance to the country’s bishops yesterday at their Spring meeting — the area is of particular sensitivity to priests who live in dread of false allegations and the subsequent potential damage to their reputations.
At present, once an allegation is made to a church representative, priests are put on leave from ministry as a precautionary suspension. However, there are differences across the country in the extent of detail given to parishioners, school boards, local clubs etc. There are also differences in the amount of detail given to the parish and uncertainty around who should be informed and what people “need to know.”
“The difficulty in this situation is that the priest disappears and nobody knows what has happened. The vacuum is just filled by rumour. The Church needs to respect the need for information,” said NBSC chief executive, Ian Elliott.
“These guidelines outline the responsibilities of who does what, who knows what and when and what supports are there for those involved. We wanted a fair policy so there is not a knee-jerk reaction to these situations,” Mr Elliott said.
“The new guidance takes account of natural justice, canon law and reflects best practice in other sectors.”
Up to 197 allegations of clerical abuse were made to the NBSC in the past 10 months — a figure that is relatively stable compared to the previous year.
Mr Elliott has met with all four cardinals and Archbishops appointed by the Vatican to enquire into child protection procedures in this country as part of the Apostolic Visitation following the Murphy Report.
The Vatican appointed Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to the archdiocese of Armagh; Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, to Dublin; Archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Christopher Collins, for Cashel and Emly; and Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Thomas Prendergast, for Tuam.
Mr Elliott described the meetings as a “very serious listening exercise.”
The bishops were also told at the annual conference that over 3,000 people wrote written responses to Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter. Just over a quarter of these came through diocesan channels, a fifth from lay associations and almost half from religious communities.