By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 October, 2018
The CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCCI) has criticised the Vatican’s slow pace in dealing with cases involving priests alleged to have abused minors.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net in Kilkenny at the weekend, where the third annual national safeguarding conference took place, Teresa Devlin said that when an allegation is made against a priest, “it goes to Rome and sits there for two years; that’s not justice for anybody. I think Rome needs to review how they manage these cases.”
She also noted that during the conference, concerns had been expressed over the length of time the statutory authorities take to respond once an allegation is reported.
Ms Devlin also highlighted that there were areas in which canon law needed to be updated to reflect new situations.
Referring to the disparity between the large number of allegations made and the small number of convictions, the NBSCCCI CEO said, “we cannot reply on civil law to manage this”.
She said the wider population didn’t seem to understand why the national board pursued the Church’s canonical processes in relation to accused priests.
“Often people get satisfaction in the canonical process where they don’t get satisfaction in the criminal process. The law of the land says you have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt and that is very hard to prove with an allegation from 40 years ago – it is one person’s word against the other.
“The law within the Church is moral certainty, that there is a case to answer and there is moral certainty, which is a much lower threshold which then enables the prosecution within the canonical process to ensure that the person doesn’t not have access to children again.
“I think the Church is responding to the civil and criminal processes very well, but we need to get better at doing the canon law processes. And we heard from Fr Joe McDonald that the Church needs to get better at the pastoral care of victims. That is what is missing. Where we consistently fail is in caring for those who have been abused.
“We forget that this is a lifelong challenge for them and at different stages in their life such as when somebody dies, or they lose their job, or their marriage breaks up – it all comes back. We think that because they have had 12 therapy sessions that they don’t need to have it again. But it can come up for them at any stage and so we have to get better at the compassionate side of things.”
The head of the NBSCCCI said she hoped that the safeguarding delegates from dioceses, parishes and religious orders would be motivated by the conference, which was themed ‘Be Not Afraid’, to keep going.
“Around the World Meeting of Families a terrible darkness came over the Church because of the reawakening among a lot of people of the abuse issue. For a lot of people in the Church there was a sense that the worst was over and yet here in the middle of the World Meeting of Families and the Pope’s visit we recognised that it absolutely was not over.
“It led to disillusionment within the Church and people saying we can’t work with children. In spite of the challenges, in fact because of the challenges, you have to get your brave boots on and you have to continue.”
Ballyfermot parish priest, Fr Joe McDonald, in his address in Kilkenny, called for a compassionate Church.
“My contention is that the ultimate response must lie in radical prophetic gospel compassion and where this is absent healing remains incomplete and makes future abuse possible.”
The priest, who was himself abused by a priest when he was just eight years of age, said he would be the last person to “bash” the media over its coverage of the abuse crisis because he believed for the most part they had done a great service.
He paid tribute to good quality investigative journalism but added that the value of the work has been primarily in investigating, uncovering and bringing stories of abuse and the mishandling of allegations of abuse to light.
But there was a gap in the coverage. “Generally speaking there is a great focus on what happened, where it happened, when did it happen – to the great neglect of why?
“The natural anger and rage in the public square gives little room or appetite for the more reflective questions. Questions such as why this happened are more challenging.
“Of course, the questions of who did it, what did they do, when and where, will always be the important questions and in the interests of basic justice such questions have to be asked. But until we begin to grapple with the ‘why’ question we will continue to struggle with real compassion.”
Fr McDonald said it takes great courage to ask the why question, especially in a climate of rage.
“Let’s make no mistake, the rage is righteous, but we cannot stay in rage forever. We must never take the focus off the violated child vilely damaged. But what about contentious words like closure or even forgiveness; we have to have the courage to at least put the word forgiveness on the table.”
Stressing that the abuse of children is not exclusively a clerical or Catholic problem, Fr McDonald said that after his interview on RTÉ’s Late Late Show in 2017, he received correspondence from around the country from people of all ages and backgrounds who had been abused and had no intention of reporting what happened.
“We must ask why? Quite a preponderance said the response of society and of authorities was too much. They all wanted an end to the abuse and to the legacy of the abuse and they wanted the abusers to stop. But when it came to punishment, reactions varied greatly, including in some instances acknowledging that their resolution was not to report the abuse which was directly linked to their unwillingness to see the abuser punished.”
In his address, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the work of safeguarding in the Church in Ireland is about those three things: a recognition of the darkness, a search for renewed hope, and an awareness that the work of safeguarding and the work of the renewal of the Church belong hand in hand.
He recalled a “very strong phrase in the speech of Pope Francis to the Irish Bishops at the conclusion of his visit” in which he recognised how the failures of the Church had led to a sense of humiliation within the Church and an alienation of many from the Church.
He recalled how, when he became Archbishop of Dublin fourteen years ago, he had returned at a moment in which the crisis of the sexual abuse of children by priests and abuse of children in church-run institutions was “at its height”.
“There are some who say that I came with specific instructions to address and resolve the question. There is nothing farther from the truth. There was a surprising lack of real awareness in Rome of the extent of the problem and little understanding of the nature and the extent of the challenge and especially that many of the roots of the abuse crisis were to be found within the lived culture of the Irish Church, and as we now know more clearly worldwide.”
Dr Martin also paid tribute to survivors including Marie Collins and the late Christine Buckley, who were “uncompromisingly forthright” and often were looked on in internal church culture as being “difficult”.
“All I can say is: thank God they were so,” he stated.
“The Church all too slowly began to open up to them not just as victims and survivors but also with the realisation that without their participation and protagonism we would never understand and address the challenge.”
He added that these survivors, who were determined and courageous, were assisted often by a pioneering group of journalists. “I think of the late Mary Rafferty. The media played and still play a key role in the challenge of the protection of children in the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Martin identified one of the central elements that permitted the abuse crisis to arise and to spread was the fact that people kept things to themselves and evidence was stockpiled and not shared.
“It is worrying that today problems regarding data protection are giving rise to new difficulties about sharing information. There should be no need to have to relearn an important lesson: proper sharing of information is vital.”
He revealed that on many occasions he was saddened and angered to learn of the “abundant evidence at local level that was never heard and when heard, was ignored.
“Parents knew what their children had suffered and appealed to church authorities, not out of monetary motivation or to attack the Church, but for the simple reason that they did not want the same thing to happen to any other child. They were so often ignored.
“I want to remember today so many of those parents that I have met whose hearts remain broken and who are unjustly guilt-ridden, even today. The Church failed them.”