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Bishop calls for attitude change over Church’s abuse scandals

By Cian Molloy - 29 October, 2018

The terrible scandal of clerical child abuse “hangs like a cloud over all who seek to witness to the Good News”, Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory said this weekend.

Bishop Farrell was speaking at the opening of the annual conference of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, the independent organisation established in 2006 by the Irish Bishops to develop policies to prevent child abuse.

He said he was pleased to be opening the event in Kilkenny as he wanted to acknowledge the board’s contribution to addressing “grave issues, serious wrongs and tragic failures” that have come to light in Ireland in recent decades.

He told the board members that their vigilance, steadfastness and generosity ensured that “change happens and continues to happen”.

In recent months, there have been further major clerical child sex scandal revelations in Australia, Chile, Germany, the United States and other countries. Describing these as “dreadful”, Bishop Farrell said: “They have negatively affected many, many people, in particular victims and survivors of abuse, families and the community of faithful. It is still right, however, that the truth of these crimes would come to light, so that the abuse itself can be addressed and ultimately healed by a genuine response that is willing to go even deeper than the childhood terror inflicted on so many children.

“The Lord Himself never ceased pointing out that it is at the level of the heart that we pay attention to the motives for our actions. The courage of abuse survivors who first brought the horrific truth of sexual abuse to light must continue to be matched by our courage to listen to the survivors and to respond in truth and in justice to all of them.”

The Bishop added: “This terrible scandal has undermined the lives of many children and vulnerable people – young and not so young. It has eroded trust and goodwill, and hangs like a cloud over all who seek to witness to the Good News. “

In his homily during the Mass for conference delegates on Friday evening, Bishop Farrell made reference to comments made by a survivor of clerical abuse to Pope Francis. The survivor had said, “Jesus had His mother nearby when he faced suffering and death. But my mother, the Church, left me all alone in my time of pain.”

Those words, said the bishop, reveal some of the broader effects of the failure of Church leaders to protect all the Church’s members. “Complaints that were mishandled or ignored meant the victims felt harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd,” said Bishop Farrell. “The words also express the horror of the heinous crime of sexual abuse of minors. They show how much the Church’s attitude and that of her leaders needs to change.”

As part of its continuing work, earlier this year the National Board initiated a second phase of reviewing child safeguarding practice against stated Church policy and standards, as outlined in 2016. A revised auditing methodology has been devised and has already been trialled in the Diocese of Kilmore and among the Benedictines of Glenstal Abbey.

A major revision of the National Boards own record-keeping is also continuing, with EU general data protection regulations (GDPR) adding to the administrative burden of child protection.

One issue under discussion at this year’s conference is “Safeguarding Sunday”, which is formally marked by some dioceses but which is not a nationwide initiative.  According to the National Board: “Where these events have been well planned and supported, it seems that the benefits in terms of raising awareness and sharing important safeguarding information have been significant.”

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