By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 May, 2014
The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church has warned that the response to survivors of clerical abuse by church institutions is inconsistent.
The NBSCCCI’s annual report was launched on Thursday in Dublin.
It said that while there are examples of “very good, caring pastoral responses in many dioceses and orders” elsewhere the poor response, in the assessment of the reviewers, “compounded the impact of the initial abuse.”
The Church’s child protection watchdog dealt with 164 allegations of clerical sexual abuse over the last year, a decrease on the 242 allegations it examined over the previous year.
The NBSCCCI’s annual report shows that 64 allegations were received against priests in Irish dioceses and 100 against priests and religious from religious congregations, totalling 164 allegations which were notified to the National Office between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014.
The new Chief Executive of the National Board said she believes the culture has changed within the Catholic Church in relation to safeguarding over the past five years but she also warned that there is never room for complacency.
Teresa Devlin said safeguarding must remain a priority for all in the Church.
The National Office has been collecting information on allegations, concerns and suspicions of child abuse against priests and religious since 2009.
In the first couple of years the flow of information to the National Office was slow; however, the annual report stated that there is now a real acceptance that in addition to notifying the civil authorities, relevant information should also be shared with the National Office consistent with requirements of data protection legislation
The fifth tranche of NBSCCCI reviews, which includes the remaining dioceses where reviews have not yet been published, is now complete and this tranche will be made available in early May.
That will conclude the review of all twenty-six dioceses in the Irish Church.
According to the NBSCCCI, one finding to have emerged from the completed reviews are that “There is no doubt about the scale of abuse of children by Church personnel, or about the extent of the consequent damage.”
Steady progress has been made across all standards, especially in relation to reporting allegations to the civil authorities.
Prior to 2008, when ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland’ set the Church standards, the practice of reporting all allegations to the civil authorities was sporadic.
From the records, it is clear that up to 2008 there were long delays in reporting allegations against living priests/brothers, and allegations against deceased priests and brothers were not systematically reported.
Another concern highlighted is the delays in initiating and completing Church internal investigations following the conclusion of the civil authority inquiries;
The NBSCCCI praised the “good preventative practices” as a culture of safeguarding was being clearly embodied across all Church bodies;
However, concern was express over the very low prosecution and conviction rates relating to allegations against Church personnel, commensurate with low conviction rates for sexual abuse crimes generally.
Teresa Devlin, who took over from Ian Elliott on his retirement in June 2013, told reporters that last year had been “a really really busy” one as the NBSCCCI had completed 18 reviews of safeguarding practice in church institutions.
She said another area of concern relates to the Church’s own canonical and church inquiry processes and how they can be expeditiously carried out once civil inquiries are completed
The NBSCCCI CEO said the current canonical processes are not fair for the complainant and the respondent and leave a lot of people are sitting in limbo over a long period of time as cases are held up in the Vatican.
On 15 May, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s Promoter of Justice, Mgr Bob Oliver, will arrive in Ireland with Irish priest, Fr John Kennedy, to talk to church authorities about these canonical processes and how they can process urgent cases fairly but more quickly.
She said one of the new challenges for the National Board is the internet and how to manage it better.
As to a possible timeframe for the completion of all the reviews of the remaining church institutions in Ireland, Ms Devlin said she hoped that another 40-50 more religious congregations would be complete “by this time next year.”