Church audit - Work still to do to ensure child safety

An audit by the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog has found worrying disparities between dioceses in the way they deal with allegations of sexual abuse. The audit by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church includes a series of reports on dioceses across the island.

It shows that while most dioceses and religious orders have made great strides in how they handle allegations of abuse, there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of children.

The report reveals a shockingly low level of criminal convictions against members of religious orders, in particular the Christian Brothers. Only 12 Brothers were convicted of crimes between 1975 and today, despite hundreds of complaints of abuse.

The report pulls no punches, describing the level of abuse from members of the order as substantial. “The number of convictions by the courts, compared to the numbers accused of child abuse, is significantly small,” it states.

It is a similar story with diocesan priests. In the Kerry diocese, the board found 21 priests faced a total of 67 allegations of sex abuse, but only one was convicted.

It is important to acknowledge the efforts being made by a number of dioceses, including Kerry, where the review group praised improvements made in dealing with suspected abusers. It is also gratifying to note that gardaí and health service staff said they were very satisfied with the level of openness and co-operation in the Kerry diocese.

The Diocese of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast, would appear to be setting the standard in the way it handles allegations of abuse, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Noel Treanor in putting time and resources into child-safeguarding services over the past five years.

However, the audit found that in the Armagh Archdiocese, run by Cardinal Seán Brady, there was little information on the receipt and management of allegations of abuse before 1995. It said there was “inconsistent filing leading to a lack of clarity about how decisions were made”. Most worrying of all is the cavalier attitude exhibited by some religious congregations who still have not got the message that the protection of children should be paramount.

The activities by some members of the Kiltegan Fathers — also known as the St Patrick’s Missionary Society — is a case in point. The watchdog said abuse by missionaries was not always met with appropriate and robust action and that children outside of Ireland were not given the same level of priority.

Kiltegan society leader Fr Seamus O’Neill apologised to victims of abuse and their families. “We remain committed to attaining best practice in safeguarding children as soon as possible,” he said.

Promising to do better in the future is simply not good enough, especially as the investigation shows the society kept inadequate recording of allegations, incidents, and suspicions of abuse. It is beyond belief that any religious order or group could fail to be aware of the importance of taking any measures necessary to ensure that children are protection. Yet the Kiltegan Fathers utterly failed to meet requirements of having a written plan in place on what steps should be taken to keep children safe. Will they ever learn?


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