By Sarah Mac Donald - 11 December, 2013
The fourth tranche of audits conducted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church shows steady progress across all standards and especially in relation to the reporting of allegations to the civil authorities.
However, the reviews also identify serious concerns in relation to the Christian Brothers and St Patrick’s Missionary Society, an order based in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow.
The eight reviews deal with six dioceses and two religious orders. Across Armagh, Down & Connor, Cashel & Emly, Kerry, Achonry and Ossory, the reviews identified delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities up to 2008 but said prompt reporting was now in place in these dioceses.
Each review assesses local policy and practice against the Church’s seven standards, and provides recommendations for improvements to practice. The Reviews cover a time period from 1st January 1975 to the period of the review.
In a statement, the NBSCCCI says the fourth tranche shows steady progress across all standards and especially in relation to reporting allegations to the civil authorities.
“Prior to 2008, when ‘Safeguarding Children’, Standards and Guidance for the Catholic Church in Ireland were endorsed as the Church standards, the practice of reporting all allegations to the civil authorities was sporadic.”
The reviewers highlight that from their examination of the records, it is clear that up to 2008 there were long delays in reporting allegations against living priests/brothers and that, allegations against deceased priests and brothers were not systematically reported.
“There has been significant improvement and it is now practice across all diocese and orders that all allegations are promptly reported.”
The NBSCCCI highlights that there were a large number of allegations and evidence in the files indicating significant numbers of children abused by priests and Religious.
“It is important that everyone recognises the extent of the abuse of children. In total there were 1140 allegations made,” the NBSCCCI states. It also warns that there needs to be much greater monitoring of visiting and retired priests.
The most damning findings related to serious shortcoming on the part of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society, an order also known as the Kiltegan Fathers.
St Patrick’s Missionary Society is found to have only begun to recognise the need to put best safeguarding practice in place in the last eighteen months according to Theresa Devlin, Acting CEO of the NBSCCCI.
The missionary society, whose members serve mainly in Africa, is also criticised for operating to a lower standard of concern for clerical abuse victims on the missions compared to in Ireland.
One member of the Kiltegan Fathers is believed to have abused as many as 50 children while serving in Kenya. Though a complaint was logged with the Society as early as 1966, that priest was not stood aside from ministry until 1986. He remained within the order until 2002.
In a statement, Fr Seamus O’Neill, leader of St Patrick’s Missionary Society, said the Society accepted the findings of the audit and “renewed its commitment to robust child protection standards.”
In its audit of the Christian Brothers’ 105 day schools, the NBSCCCI reported a massive 870 allegations of abuse against 325 brothers of whom 50 are still alive. Despite the scale of the allegations, just 12 convictions have been secured to date.
According to the Christian Brothers, the NBSCCCI Review includes data on allegations in respect of a seventy-three year period from 1940. It shows that the average allegation reported to the Christian Brothers refers to incidents from approximately 47 years ago.
One allegation relates to the 12 year period since 2001; 8 allegations relate to the period from 1991 to 2000; the greatest concentration (c.70%) of alleged incidences of abuse relate to a 20 year period from 1956 to 1975, “the darkest period in the Congregation’s history.”
All allegations of abuse against Brothers have been (and are as a matter of course) disclosed to the civil authorities North and South, the congregation states.
The files read by the safeguarding reviewers left them “in no doubt that a great number of children were seriously abused by the Christian Brothers” the NBSCCCI stated.
According to Theresa Devlin, although the safeguarding practices of the Christian Brothers in the past were “bad”, since 2008 there has been “a seismic shift by anybody’s standards” in the congregation’s approach to the issue.
The audit said the order has developed “a robust safeguarding ethos and culture at its remaining operations in Ireland” and that “it has become a safe organisation for children and young adults.”
However, Maeve Lewis, Executive Director of One in Four, criticised the Christian Brothers’ response to survivors highlighting that the audit’s finding that it had been “overly litigious and weak in pastoral care.”
She said this finding matched the experience of One in Four clients whose engagement with the Christian Brothers “is often adversarial and legalistic and deeply distressing to them.”
Speaking on RTE Radio’s News at One programme, Ms Lewis called on the Christian Brothers to put in place some kind of restorative practice process where victims could engage with the Christian Brothers in a safe space and where the harm that has been done could be acknowledged and some sort of agreement could be reached about reparation.
In a statement, the European Province of the Christian Brothers said it accepted that a safeguarding deficit existed in the past and said “they deeply regret the hurt that this causes.”
The statement continued, “We want to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a safe environment for all children and young adults. By developing robust child protection measures and inviting the National Board to independently assess these, we aim to continuously enhance child protection safeguards so that the mistakes of the past may never be repeated.”
Responding to the findings of the audit in his diocese of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, said, “Lessons are being learned slowly but surely.”
“We must not become complacent – vigilance is the name of the game here – we must be vigilant and attentive to maintain the progress, to make sure that these high standards are met and continually met,” he said.