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No room for complacency on safeguarding: Primate

By Sarah Mac Donald - 28 February, 2015

First national safeguarding conference hosted by the National Board marks a significant milestone on the safeguarding journey: Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Pic: Frank McGrath/Irish Independent

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Pic: Frank McGrath/Irish Independent

The legacy of betrayal, trauma and shame clerical sexual abuse has left in its wake ought never to be forgotten, the Primate of All Ireland said on Friday as he opened a conference on safeguarding.

In his keynote address at the first National Safeguarding Conference in Athlone organised by the National Board (NBSCCCI), Archbishop Eamon Martin told safeguarding delegates from parishes across the country that child sexual abuse destroys lives, ruins relationships and breaks trust which for some may never be repaired.

“We should not be offended if the reaction of some people to this conference is: How dare you!” he acknowledged.

He added that the discussions taking place over Saturday’s conference should be rooted in a promise that we are now doing everything possible to ensure that the terrible things which happened them in the past shall not happen again.

This is the first such national safeguarding conference hosted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland and it marks, the Archbishop said, a significant milestone on the safeguarding journey.

The conference, which began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Francis Duffy in Athlone, provides an opportunity “to look back on where we have come from and assess our progress, to survey the ups and downs along the way, and to look out for potholes that might be emerging,” Dr Martin said.

The 55-year-old Primate of All Ireland stated that the 28 years since his ordination as a priest have been “overshadowed by a cloud of scandal over abuse and its poor handling”.

“If God spares me for another 28 years, that shameful shadow must remain – because we have no right to draw a line under events that left such an indelible mark on the lives of so many of our people,” he said.

However, he also acknowledged that a culture of safeguarding is becoming embedded in the Church

He said another underlying theme for the conference was to remember that safeguarding is a shared responsibility. Risk to children and young people is minimised within a safeguarding culture where everyone plays their part in ensuring that all Church activities are safe places for children and young people, he stated.

He said if the first national conference is to be worthwhile it should ground its deliberations in two underlying themes: the legacy of past failure, and the importance of safeguarding as a shared responsibility within the Church.

Archbishop Martin warned the Irish Church that it must not become “safeguarding-weary” or complacent as there is still a need for attentiveness in the area of child protection.

Referring to his recent meeting with survivors in Northern Ireland, the 53-year-old Archbishop of Armagh admitted, “As a Church leader, who wasn’t even born when much of this abuse took place, I find myself torn between horror and defensiveness”.

The Archbishop called for the Church’s safeguarding ‘network’ to get behind the implementation of the new revised Standards and Guidance which is due to be rolled out over the next year.

It follows a massive consultation to take account of new learning and expertise and similar goodwill and effort will be needed to put them into practice.

This new guidance updates the current guidelines on care for those making allegations, as well as care of priests and religious who have been accused of abuse, including those facing long delays awaiting the conclusion of civil and canonical processes.

He said the unlike many other countries, the Irish Church has undertaken the task of standardising safeguarding procedures across 26 dioceses and more than 160 religious congregations and missionary societies, through a shared auditing process via the National Board in its effort to create a “one-Church” approach.

“Looking back, it is clear that we have made considerable progress with this ambitious project, but equally apparent that we still have some distance to go,” he stated.

The Catholic Primate appealed to increased openness to monitoring and review in a bid to prevent those intent on abusing exploiting loopholes.

He recommended strengthening the vertical links between the dioceses and religious congregations with the National Board, but also strengthening the horizontal safeguarding links between dioceses and religious communities at local diocesan and parish level.

Dr Martin criticised the culture of silence and avoidance of scandal in the Church in the past which enabled abusers “perpetuate their criminal and sinful activity”.

In relation to survivors, the Primate said an essential element of the safeguarding journey has been the provision of outreach services to those who have been abused.

The Towards Healing Initiative, together with its forerunner Faoiseamh has, to date, has provided more than three hundred thousand counselling sessions to survivors of abuse.

Recalling his recent meeting with survivors of abuse in Northern Ireland, he said that listening to their stories was at once moving and harrowing and that he had been ashamed at actions and inactions which so betrayed the compassionate love of Jesus for his little ones; and “yet amazed at the resilience and fortitude of those who come forward to share their painful memories”.

“Trust between priests, bishops, religious and the Church faithful can only be rebuilt in a climate of openness, repentance, and with the resolve to implement the very best in professional safeguarding practice,” Archbishop Martin underlined.

The conference continues today and will be addressed by Irish survivor of abuse, Marie Collins, who is a member of the Vatican’s Commission on Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Other speakers are Mgr Steve Rosetti, a psychologist and an expert adviser to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse that drafted the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Dallas Charter).

Fr Bob Oliver, a canon lawyer and the CDF’s Promoter for Justice and Dr Anne-Marie Nolan, a lead researcher for a new biography on Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

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