Irish Church’s abuse review stresses accountability

Ian Elliott CEO of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church screenshot CNA World Catholic News 11 30 11 Ian Elliott, CEO of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church

New reviews of six Irish dioceses show that the Catholic Church in Ireland is dedicated to “complete transparency and accountability” about allegations of clerical sex abuse and that its child protection systems are improving, an official with the independent review board says.

“(W)e have seen a huge leap forward in this and full credit goes to the bishops and their diocesan teams who are implementing the standards for safeguarding children in the Church,” Ian Elliot, chief executive of Ireland’s National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, told Vatican Radio.

On Nov. 30 the board published its reviews of six Irish dioceses and how they handled allegations. The reviews focused on the current safeguarding framework in each diocese and did not set out to analyze past practice.

The summary report of the reviews declared a “marked improvement” in the reporting of allegations to civil authorities “promptly and comprehensively.” There is also comprehensive acceptance of the need to create and maintain a safe environment for children, the report’s executive summary said.

“There is greater awareness and much greater commitment to safeguarding children than was once the case. Individuals that are seen as being a risk to children are reported quickly to the authorities and steps are taken to eliminate their access to children,” it continued.

The report said that increased transparency and accountability must be seen as “the two essential elements of the Church’s approach to safeguarding children.”

Eliot told Vatican Radio that the reviews conclude that “lessons have been learned.”

The review of the Archdiocese of Tuam praises Archbishop Michael Neary’s “steady serious approach” to abuse allegations. The reviews of the Diocese of Kilmore and the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois were also positive.

Archbishop Neary said he welcomed the report and was “very happy” that the judgment of his archdiocese was positive.

“As archbishop I have had to address these sad situations. I was convinced that it would be impossible to do so without involving lay people, particularly parents and especially mothers who have been nurturing, cherishing and protecting children day in day out,” he said, explaining his appointment of an advisory panel.

“This is not something, however, about which we can become complacent. The safeguarding and cherishing of children in the Catholic Church must continue to remain a challenge for all of us.” 

The audit of the Diocese of Dromore found that although all accusations were reported to authorities, in some cases this “should have been done more promptly.”

Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore said the report helped the diocese recognize its strengths and weaknesses. He said he accepted the report’s recommendations, adding that many have already been implemented. The diocese plans to implement the other recommendations “as a matter of urgency.”

He said the diocese initially depended too much on legal advice and has gradually learned how to manage complaints better.

The review of the Diocese of Raphoe found “significant errors of judgment” among previous bishops.

The current Bishop of Raphoe, Phillip Boyce, said in a statement that in past decades “insufficient emphasis was placed on the need of victims, often in the misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the Church.”

“We are truly sorry for the terrible deeds that have been inflicted on so many by a small minority of priests. We offer our humble apologies once more and seek their forgiveness for the dreadful harm that has been done to them, their families and friends.”

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The detective who investigated the diocese’s largest sex abuse case has accused the diocese of hiding or destroying its most incriminating documents, though the bishop has rejected accusations that he or his predecessors destroyed them, the Associated Press reports.

In the six dioceses under review, 85 parish priests have been accused of sexually abusing children since 1975, though only eight have been convicted. Those convicted include Eugene Greene, a priest who in 2000 was convicted of raping 26 boys and served eight years in prison.

John Morgan, chairman of the review board, said that the board’s goal is to assure lay faithful, clergy, and particularly parents and young people that the safeguarding guidelines are effectively implemented.

The attitude of the dioceses and their bishops in implementing the guidelines has been “good,” Eliot said in a Nov. 30 statement. He said it was important to note that much of the work is being done by volunteers, which he said indicated “an even wider commitment.”

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