By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 June, 2016
One hundred and sixteen new allegations, suspicions or concerns relating to sexual abuse were reported to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church last year according to new figures published in the Board’s annual report.
Another 37 allegations of physical and emotional abuse were also reported to the NBSCCCI during 2015/2016 totalling 153 allegations that the Church’s safeguarding watchdog dealt with over that period.
These figures represent a significant reduction in allegations on previous years; during 2014/15 a total of 265 new allegations were reported, 112 more than were reported in 2015.
The report concludes that “It is too early to assess if these figures represent a downward trend and bottoming of all allegations against priests and religious; they do, however, still demonstrate a significant number of new allegations during the period under review.”
The report also shows that a spike in 2015 was caused by a backlog of batch reporting by one religious congregation which was preparing files for review by the NBSCCCI.
While the vast majority of these allegations relate to historical abuse in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, one case relates to abuse which took place in 2000 and another incident of abuse in 2015.
“This one case in 2015 deserves particular mention as it happened so recently, demonstrating that a risk to children still exists,” NBSCCCI CEO Teresa Devlin said.
“What is reassuring about this case is that the child felt empowered to immediately inform the parents, who in turn informed the order, who took immediate action to inform the civil authorities, put support in place for the child and family, and removed the offending member from all ministries with children. It is not possible to remove all risks, but it is encouraging that the correct response was quickly implemented.”
The allegations breakdown into 65 against diocesan priests, 51 against religious priests, Brothers and Sisters, 37 allegations from one religious congregation relating to physical and emotional abuse in the period 1933 up to 1998 where the diocesan clergy were concerned and 1952 to 2000 for religious orders and congregational priests and religious.
The NBSCCCI annual report also confirms that the reviews of child safeguarding in 26 dioceses and 138 religious orders/congregations have now been completed.
However, due to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry taking place in Northern Ireland, four reviews cannot be made available publicly until the inquiry has reported in 2017.
In addition, 12 religious orders/congregations were not reviewed due to their small size, aging profile and absence of any ministry with children.
In his statement, NBSCCCI chairman, John B Morgan highlighted that two key objectives were achieved in 2015.
“We completed the safeguarding review programme of all Church authorities, dioceses and religious congregations. We also played a comprehensive facilitating role in the adoption and introduction of the revised Safeguarding Children: Policy and Standards for the Catholic Church in Ireland 2016, replacing those approved in 2009.”
The task of reviewing the child safeguarding practices of the Church authorities, the examination of their management of notifications and allegations of clerical child abuse, and analysing and reporting particularly on their conduct in relation to current risk, commenced in the second half of 2010. This process has engaged the Board for over five years.
CEO Teresa Devlin in her report explained that the year had seen the culmination of all the work on developing a child safeguarding policy for all parts of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as well as revised standards.
“These include standards that set out the explicit expectations when caring for the complainant, as well as caring for and management of the respondent,” she said.
The sponsoring bodies – the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union – approved the adoption of the standards in December 2015 and, following a period of induction, the Policy and Standards became operational on 1 March 2016.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Teresa Devlin said that while the safeguarding audits were “over for now, they are not over forever”.
She explained that everybody who holds a memorandum of understanding with the NBSCCCI has been reviewed once but “we are starting to look at how and in what way we will review again”.
“Obviously our priority will continue to be with those who have ministry with children and those who have allegations to deal with. But there are a large number of older female orders who have neither and there is no point in us reviewing them again.”
She suggested that the new reviewing process might begin as early as March 2017.