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Audits cast shadow over safeguarding efforts

By Sarah Mac Donald - 11 February, 2015

Teresa Devlin1Survivors of clerical abuse trying to regain their confidence in the Church will be disillusioned once again following the latest audits of religious congregations’ safeguarding practices and handling of allegations Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said.

In a strongly worded statement issued in response to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church’s latest tranche, the Archbishop criticised the religious congregations’ failure to implement child safeguarding norms and their mishandling of abuse allegations.

He said these failures pointed to the need for greater systems of accountability in the Catholic Church and cast a shadow over the credibility of the entire safeguarding efforts of the Catholic Church.

Sixteen religious congregations in total were reviewed of which nine underwent a full review under the seven standards operated by the NBSCCCI.

The nine congregations are: Augustinians; Passionists; Sacred Hearts Fathers of Jesus and Mary (SSCC); Discalced Carmelites (OCD); Franciscan Friars (OFM); Franciscan Brothers; Servites (OSM); Marist Fathers and Dominican Sisters.

The reviews covered 285 allegations relating to the period 1940 – 1998 against 98 priests, brothers or nuns which resulted in 8 criminal convictions. The largest number of incidents were recorded between 1950 and the 1990s.

In his statement, Archbishop Martin said some of the results published in the reviews left him “seriously concerned”.

“It is appalling to read reports in the Reviews concerning the delays by some major religious congregations in fully implementing the long-established standards and guidelines of the Irish Church.”

Noting that the National Board had indicated that in some cases this process only really only got underway in 2013, Archbishop Martin responded, “For almost twenty years now, the Catholic Church has espoused what is called a “one-church-policy” to child safeguarding, involving common norms and common commitment by dioceses and religious congregations.”

He said the failure of any single Church organisation to implement the common norms casts a shadow over the credibility of the entire Safeguarding efforts of the Catholic Church.

He added that survivors trying to regain their confidence in the Church would be disillusioned once again and the many lay men and women who work voluntarily in Church safeguarding structures in parishes “must feel disheartened”.

The Archbishop said failure by any Church organisation to implement fully and robustly the agreed clear norms “is a direct affront” to the desire of Pope Francis, as outlined only one week ago, when he wrote that: “Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.”

While the NBSCCCI reviews noted that improvements have been made especially by the current leadership of the congregations concerned, Dr Martin said that the failures and delays detected point to the need for greater systems of accountability by Church authorities in the area of child safeguarding.

He recalled a statement he made in December 2008, in which he said he was “extremely concerned at the fact that within a purported ‘one-Church-policy’ there may in fact be a wide diversity in the interpretation and application of agreed procedures”.

The Archbishop said this was of particular concern for the Archdiocese of Dublin where hundreds of priests from outside the diocese – from other dioceses and religious congregations – play an active role in many aspects of Church life.

He underlined that he intended to meet the superiors of all the religious congregations working in parishes in the Archdiocese of Dublin to verify once again the commitment of all these congregations to scrupulously applying the diocesan child safeguarding norms in every aspect of parish life.

A “one-Church-policy” means that all constituents not only refer to common norms, but that they all interpret and apply the norms in the same way.

The NBSCCCI inspection process revealed poor record management in many cases making an assessment of practice difficult.

Opportunities to safeguard children were missed, and known abusers were allowed to remain in ministry in 1990s.

Management plans relating to accused priests and Brothers and nuns have improved significantly over time, though there is still room for improvement, in terms of clarity of roles, review of restrictions, and sharing of information.

Support for complainants was good in many cases with evidence of pastoral support, outreach and direct contact between the provincial and the survivor.

But there was variable delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities up until 2009 (introduction of Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance) for most Orders and Congregations, however for some, practice did not improve until 2013.

The reports on the other 7 orders demonstrated a strong sense of commitment to working positively with the National Board, in spite of their limited ministries.

According to the Chief Executive of the National Board only two of the nine religious orders audited, the Sacred Heart Fathers and the Dominican Sisters, demonstrated good compliance with safeguarding standards, good risk assessment and good management of those accused of abuse.

She said the NBSCCCI reviewers were very disappointed in what it found in the other congregations.

“A huge amount of work still has to be done across the other seven in relation to a whole range of prevention measures including vetting, training, awareness-raising, auditing and inspecting,” she said.

Ms Devlin underlined that safeguarding must be two-pronged, covering the management of allegations and the prevention of abuse.

“A series of recommendations have been made within each report and the Board expects that these will be acted upon,” said Teresa Devlin. “We will request an update on their progress in implementing those recommendations in 9 months.”

Key Findings of the Reviews

This can be divided into two parts – a) findings from the full reviews which were assessed against the 7 standards and b) the shorter reviews of female religious where there is limited or no ministry with children and no allegations of sexual abuse in Ireland.

Full reviews – the following themes emerged:

  • There have been 285 allegations made against 98 priests, brothers or sisters.
  • There have been 8 criminal convictions.
  • Allegations relate to the period 1940 – 1998 with the largest number of incidents recorded between 1950 and 1990s.
  • Variable delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities up until 2009 (introduction of Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland) for most orders and congregations, however for some practice did not improve until 2013.

Small scale reviews – the following issues emerged:

  • Very aging profile and limited ministry through their congregation with children.
  • Sisters who minister outside the congregation follow the policy and procedures of the diocese/service.
  • Strong sense of commitment to working positively with the NBSCCCI, in spite of their limited ministries.

There were 109 allegations against 28 Franciscan Friars with 3 convicted in the courts; 42 allegations against 20 Passionists with no convictions; 56 allegations against 14 Franciscan Brothers with 3 convictions; 33 allegations against 11 Augustinians with no convictions; 18 allegations against 7 Marist Fathers with no convictions; 11 allegations against 6 Discalced Carmelites with no convictions; 8 allegations against 6 Servites with 2 convictions; 5 allegations against 3 Sacred Heart Fathers with no convictions; 3 allegations against 3 Dominican Sisters with no convictions.

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