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Safeguarding practice continues to improve: NBSCCCI

By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 October, 2014

Teresa Devlin1The latest tranche of safeguarding reviews of Irish religious congregations has found that overall practice continues to improve but support for complainants of abuse is inconsistent.

The sixth tranche of safeguarding audits by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church was published on Thursday.

The reviews cover 5 male religious congregations and 13 female religious congregations and document 121 allegations against 54 priests and religious brothers or sisters which resulted in just two criminal convictions.

This latest tranche differs to other audits in that a new framework was devised to audit 10 of the congregations which are small with very limited contact with children, have no allegations of sexual abuse in Ireland, and a membership that is advanced in age.

The other eight congregations were reviewed according to the 7 established standards that the Catholic Church in Ireland has agreed to meet.

Full audit:
St Joseph’s Society for Foreign Missions (Mill Hill)
Sisters of St Louis
Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers)
Pallottine Fathers & Brothers
Presentation Sisters
Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary

Revised audit process:
Notre Dame des Missions
Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa
Faithful Companions of Jesus
Daughters of the Heart of Mary
Medical Missionaries of Mary
Missionary Sisters of St Columban
Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary
Sisters of Marie Reparatrice
Ursulines of Jesus
Sisters of Adoration and Reparation

The key Findings of the Reviews:

Previous timeframes for reporting to the civil authorities in relation to allegations against priests/brothers/sisters up until 2009 is variable; this has improved considerably since the introduction of the “Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance”.

A number of the priests were in ministry abroad and allegations were made from both children in Ireland and in the missionary countries, in which they ministered. Practice in terms of managing those situations varied, but increasingly is dealt with by returning the accused priest to Ireland and being placed under restrictions in houses in Ireland.

Where allegations have been made abroad it is rare for the complainant to pursue any action in relation to criminal or civil investigations. In these instances the Church inquiries are critical in establishing if there is a semblance of truth to the allegation and in the management of risk

Management plans relating to accused Priests and Brothers and Sisters have improved significantly over time, though there is still room for improvement, in terms of clarity of roles, review of restrictions, and sharing of information

Support for complainants continues to be inconsistent. Contact in many instances was not made directly by the Congregation and the opportunity for pastoral support was missed. This however is an improving picture and the reviewers highlighted instances of compassionate meaningful responses to survivors.

In a statement, Teresa Devlin, CEO, NBSCCCI said “Support for complainants continues to be inconsistent. Contact in many instances was not made directly by the Congregation and the opportunity for pastoral support was missed. This however is an improving picture and the reviewers highlighted instances of compassionate meaningful responses to survivors.”

She explained that the findings for the 8 full reviews show that the timeframes for reporting to the civil authorities in relation to allegations against priests/brothers/sisters up until 2009 is variable but has improved considerably since the introduction of the “Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance.

“We have also found that management plans relating to accused Priests and Brothers and sisters have improved significantly over time, though there is still room for improvement, in terms of clarity of roles, review of restrictions, and sharing of information,” according to Teresa Devlin.

“Adherence to other aspects of the 7 standards was less well developed in many Congregations. Many have limited ministry with children in Ireland today therefore the applicability of all criteria was limited. Recommendations for improvement where relevant have been made.”

NBSCCCIFor those 10 Congregations undergoing the revised audit process it was found that where there is ministry with children, the policy and procedures of the Diocese/Service provider was followed.

The NBSCCCI reviewers said the 10 Congregations demonstrated a strong sense of commitment to working positively with the National Board, in spite of their limited ministries.

One of the congregations which underwent a full audit was the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. While the congregation didn’t have any allegations of abuse against it during the period 1975 to date, the order had ran mother and baby homes in the past and these are currently the subject of a State review.

The NBSCCCI review did not review the actual mother and baby homes as they closed during the 1960s, and application of the 7 Standards cannot be assessed retrospectively the NBSCCCI said.

Speaking to RTE’s News at One programme, Teresa Devlin said the “overriding theme” of the reviews was that the response to survivors of abuse or complainants of abuse “isn’t yet good enough”.

She said she continued to emphasise the need for a pastoral response “since it is the church that we are talking about”.

The NBSCCCI chief explained that many religious “somehow or other feel that they cannot approach the victim or survivor directly because they don’t want to interfere with the criminal process – they don’t want to have an unsolicited contact.” She added that the NBSCCCI is “developing good guidance on standards that look directly at what survivors of abuse need.”

She said the “benefit of these reviews” was that the standards had been written down in 2009 and that as the NBSCCCI works its way through the reviews “we are uncovering whether they [congregations] are following the standards or not.”

Of the group of 18 religious congregations assessed in the sixth tranche, Ms Devlin said she felt “reassured” that these congregations understand their obligations.

“I think this group is almost there. I can’t say that about those that haven’t yet been reviewed but I am very reassured about this group of reviews that we have produced today,” she said.

Mill Hill Fathers

The Irish region of St Joseph’s Society for Foreign Missions (also known as the Mill Hill Missionaries) has 40 resident priest members and 20 priests working outside Ireland.

There are no students in formation in the Irish region, the average age of the priest members is 73 years and the population is in decline

At present the society uses a building, constructed in 2004 on part of the original site, as its retirement home and regional administrative centre. It also has a house in Kilkenny, which is its publication and fund raising centre.

20 members reside in Rathgar, of whom 14 are retired, 5 reside in Kilkenny, 4 reside in full-time nursing home care and 11 are seconded to ministries in dioceses. These members minister under the direction of the dioceses in which they are located.

The society has responsibility for St Mary’s Parish in Belfast, where its 3 members minister under the safeguarding policies of the Diocese of Down and Connor.

Number of Society priests against whom allegations have been made since the 1st January 1975 up to the date of the review was 8.

The total number of allegations received by the Society since 1st January, 1975 was 13.

The number of priests (still members of the Society) against whom an allegation was made and who were living at the date of the review was 4.

No members of the Society has been convicted of having committed an offence or offences against a child or young person since the 1st January 1975.

The total number of abuse allegations received and managed by the society since 1975 amounts to 13, involving 8 priests, of whom 2 are now deceased. Two have left ministry. Of the 4 who remain in the society, 2 have been withdrawn from public ministry and are subject of restrictions and are under supervision.

A total of 5 of the allegations, involving 3 priests, refer to events when they were ministering outside Ireland.

In a further case the abuse of children in another country came to light as a result of the priest’s own self-disclosure and the victims have not been traced (although efforts were made to identify them).

In the remaining 8 instances the abuse was alleged to have involved 4 priests and to have occurred in Ireland.

Most of these were made by former students in the society’s college (closed in 1985), who were under eighteen years of age at the time.

The reviewers have noted that 2 of the safeguarding cases managed by the society were the subject of media attention in Ireland in 2011 as a result of RTE Primetime’s Mission to Prey programmes.

The media coverage, not just in Ireland but also in Kenya and in other African countries, did not result in any new allegations to the society.

The time frames for referral to the civil authorities have been variable. All of the cases were referred to An Garda Síochána but delay is evident.

Of the 8 cases, 2 were notified to the society by An Garda Síochána. One case, already in the public domain, was formally notified quite quickly. In the remaining 5, there were delays by the society of between 1-13 months in making notifications to An Garda Síochána. In some of these instances there were longer delays in notifying the HSE.

One case (that of the earliest referral in 1997), was not referred to the HSE (the society has pointed out that it was its understanding at the time that the statutory bodies shared case information).

There have been no criminal convictions of any priest from the Irish region of the society, either in Ireland or abroad. Consequently the society has had to respond to all of the allegations through Church processes and the reviewers were told that it has been on a learning curve in this respect.

The files reviewed indicate that historically practice was inconsistent in relation to basic safeguarding processes, time frames for informing the civil authorities, addressing the status of the priest pending the outcome of investigations, carrying out risk assessments and in instigating the canonical process where appropriate.

It is evident in several cases that a change in safeguarding practice occurred in the middle of the first decade of this century, which placed greater emphasis on the early implementation of restrictions on accused priests pending investigation and on the application of canonical procedures.

This approach, however, works best where there is voluntary acceptance of restrictions. One case, that of Father B, the difficulties of ensuring both the human rights of the accused and the safeguarding of children is illustrated.

Father B was the subject of an allegation that he had abused a teenage boy in the past (which he consistently and vehemently denied). An Garda Síochána was informed quickly, but this did not lead to a prosecution. No action was subsequently taken by the society for a period of 3 years.

Father B successfully resisted subsequent attempts by the society to place formal restrictions on him pending the outcome of a civil action by the alleged victim, which was discontinued on this person’s death. No risk assessment was undertaken. He has remained in ministry. In hindsight the society missed a vital opportunity post the conclusion of the Garda inquiries to pursue the Church inquiry.

In the case of Father A who was alleged to have abused a teenage girl in another jurisdiction and where the victim indicated at an early stage that she did not wish to pursue a criminal investigation, it took the society (in that jurisdiction) 7 months to assess the allegation.

The civil authorities were informed as soon as the matter was passed to the Irish region after this initial assessment and he was promptly, placed in restricted ministry and under supervision, with an adviser. It then took well over a year to start a risk assessment and for Father A to be sent to therapy, a number of precepts were subsequently issued imposing restrictions on public ministry. Post allegation, it took 6 years to refer to the CDF and in excess of 8 years to instigate a preliminary canonical investigation. Whilst there was significant internal delay by the society in managing this case, it is acknowledged that Father A’s resistance to the processes, as well as unclear direction from advisory and professional bodies, were also contributory factors in the delays. The reviewers note and commend the determination of the Designated Liaison Person in ensuring the focus remained on the safeguarding of children, in trying to manage this priest.

In the 2 new cases referred since 2009, the reviewers have seen evidence of timely transfer of information to the civil authorities in Ireland, swift action to withdraw priests from ministry pending investigations and referral for risk assessment and canonical process.

One of these cases that of Father D, was highlighted in “Mission to Prey”. In this case Father D took and won a High Court defamation action against RTE and the outcome has been a public apology in which RTE accepted that the allegations were baseless, without any foundation whatever and untrue. He received compensation and was fully re-instated to ministry. Having read the safeguarding records, the reviewers concur with the decision to return this priest to ministry.


There are 107 members of the Redemptorists on the island of Ireland. Of this number, four are currently abroad, but this number fluctuates. In addition to this number, somewhere between 30 and 40 Irish men are members of other Redemptorist units around the world.

The Redemptorists carry out significant Youth Ministry activities and Youth Ministry Teams are based at their communities at Clonard in Belfast, Esker in Athenry, Co Galway and Scala in Cork

The order also maintains responsibility for St Clement’s College in Limerick where they are the Trustees and are represented on the Board of Management

The number of Redemptorist priests and brothers against whom allegations have been made since the 1st January 1975 up to the date of the review was 13 (7 priests and 6 Brothers).

In addition to these, it was alleged that a further five Redemptorists had been abusive, but the complainants were not able to identify the person whom they alleged had abused them.

The total number of allegations received by the Congregation in that period was 24 (including 5 unidentified) by 24 people over the 39-year period.

No member of the congregation has been convicted of having committed an offence or offences against a child or young person since the 1st January 1975.

The period in which the abuse is alleged to have taken place is from 1957 to 1995.

This means that the Redemptorists have received no information suggesting that any of their members has been involved in a child safeguarding incident in the last 19 years.

In the cases of the 13 Redemptorists who were identified by the complainants, four were already dead at the time of the complaint. A further two congregational members were alleged to have abused someone outside the island of Ireland. In these six cases, the timing of reporting to the relevant police force and statutory child protection social service was affected by these circumstances.

Looking at the 15 complaints received about the other seven congregational members, 9 of these were reported to the statutory authorities in a timely manner and all of these complaints were made in the period 2010 to 2014. In the case of six complaints, there was an unacceptable delay in reporting these complaints to the relevant police force.

These complaints had been received in the period 1993 to 2006. There was also a delay in the reporting of six complaints to the relevant statutory child protection social services.

These figures show that over time, the Redemptorist Congregation has significantly improved its performance in making appropriate and timely reports to the statutory authorities

White Fathers

The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) have 25 members in the Irish sector engaged in different countries of Africa as well as Ireland. There are at present 9 members residing in Ireland. Templeogue is the only official residency in Ireland today.

The average age of the members of the society’s Irish sector is 66.11 years, with an age range from 42 years to 86 years.

The number of priests incardinated into the Society against whom allegations have been made since the 1st January 1975 up to the date of the Review was 2.

The total number of allegations received by the Society was 10.

Two priests of the Society have been convicted of an offence against a child/young person since 1st January 1975.

The time period covered by these allegations runs from 1962 to 1996.

The majority of the identified allegations relate to abuse which took place in Ireland.

In the time period under review, there have been two members of the society convicted of crimes of a sexual nature

The allegation in respect of ‘Member B’ was received by the society’s Generalate in Rome in 2006. They took immediate action and ‘Member B’ was removed from Africa to the USA for risk assessment and subsequent treatment.

The complainant was offered counselling support but did not avail of it.

There are no records on file of statutory notifications having been made by the society’s Headquarters, nor is it clear what information was provided to the USA sector or the civil authorities in the USA.

It is also unclear, from the case files as to whether the Irish Sector was kept up to date regarding what was happening with their member. The Irish sector only took over the management of this case, when the respondent moved to Ireland.

‘Member B’ returned to the Irish Region in 2010 and prompt notifications were made to the statutory authorities and Church authorities by the Irish Province Leadership.

Subsequently ‘Member B’ was found guilty of indecent assault of a minor on 21.9.11 and was sentenced to 9 months in prison, suspended for two years on condition he remained in treatment.

He was also placed on the sex offenders register for five years. Since returning to Ireland member „B‟ has remained out of ministry and has resided in the society’s House in Dublin governed by a precept and a supervision agreement.

The reviewers are concerned that a critical document such as a supervision agreement should be signed off in all cases.

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