By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 May, 2017
There has been a significant reduction in the number of abuse allegations reported to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) in 2016 according to new figures published in the watchdog’s annual report.
The report covers the period of 2016 up to spring 2017.
Over that time, the NBSCCCI received 86 new allegations, including 72 allegations relating to sexual abuse as well as 10 allegations of physical and emotional abuse, one relating to boundary violation and three where the abuse was unspecified.
The bulk of these allegations relate to the period from the 1950s up to the 1990s, with a sharp drop in numbers after the year 2000.
The new figures represent “a significant reduction on previous years” down from 153 allegations during 2015/16 and 265 new allegations during 2014/2015. This is the sharpest decline in allegations since the National Board started keeping records.
“The downward trend in allegations being made that we highlighted last year continues,” NBSCCCI Chief Executive Officer Teresa Devlin said.
She acknowledged “real and substantial progress” by the Church in relation to safeguarding.
“Following years of criticism and failures to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse, it needs to be acknowledged that the Church’s policy, standards and practices are now among the most up-to-date and progressive in Ireland, and reflect a Church that is learning from the past.”
The NBSCCCI said it was clear that, “on the whole, the Church is learning from past mistakes, and it is reassuring to observe and describe many examples of good practice, as well as the robust structures and dedicated personnel that are in place to ensure the safety of children involved in the Church and its activities today.”
However, Teresa Devlin also cautioned against any over confidence that risks to children and young people no longer exist. Warning against complacency, she said only constant vigilance will keep children safe.
“An examination of the trend dating back as far as 2009 when we started compiling these figures shows that we cannot assume the work is complete. Over those years there have been years where the figures rose and only constant vigilance will keep children safe.”
The National Board has now completed reviews of 168 church bodies covering 26 Catholic dioceses and 142 religious orders/congregations since 2009.
Twelve female religious congregations were not reviewed by the National Board because their numbers are dwindling, the age of their members is increasing, they have no ministry with children and are not managing allegations.
The safeguarding body is preparing for a new set of reviews of all church bodies in 2018.
“We will also introduce a revised review process, to monitor implementation of the revised set of safeguarding standards adopted in 2016,” John Morgan, Board Chairman said.
Two revised standards which focus on the care of complainants and the management of respondents were incorporated by the NBSCCCI in 2016.
In recognition of the need to do more to care for complainants, the new Standard 3 ‘Caring for and supporting complainants’ was developed to be a core part of the Church’s child safeguarding ministry.
The National Board will develop further guidance on how to implement this standard in 2017.
After meeting with representatives of the Association of Catholic Priests, the National Board said it had learned of the support needs of priests who had either been accused or convicted of abusing a child, and how isolation and loneliness can mitigate against good child safeguarding practice.
“Improving practice in the Church in these two areas have been set as two of our primary goals for 2017/2018,” said John Morgan, Board Chairman. “We will also introduce a revised review process, to monitor implementation of the revised set of safeguarding standards adopted in 2016.”