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Slight increase in number of abuse allegations to National Board

By Sarah Mac Donald - 19 June, 2019

Teresa Devlin, CEO of the NBSCCCI.

The range of preventive actions considered by the Vatican’s Conference on the Protection of Minors in the Church last February and the norms being developed around the accountability of bishops and those in authority will have implications for the activities and remit of the National Board for Safeguarding in Ireland.

Chairman of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCCI), John B. Morgan, said this would involve close collaboration with the National Board’s Sponsoring Bodies.

He was writing in the Foreword to the NBSCCCI’s 2018 annual report, which was released on Monday.

The report showed that there was a slight increase in the number of allegations to the National Board compared to the previous year – 143 compared to 135, which is a rise of approximately 6 per cent.

However, there was an overall decrease in allegations related to the sexual abuse of children, from 108 in the previous year to 88 in the year being reported on, a decrease of 18.5 per cent.

The annual report details the work done by the NBSCCCI and its National Office during the year ending 31st March 2019.

But NBSCCCI CEO, Teresa Devlin, cautioned that some of its data must be described as under reservation, because “Due either to the Church authority not having complete information, or to them not fully completing the notification form, there are gaps in the data being reported in this section.”

She also warned that the implementation of the Data Protection Acts 2018 had “affected the quality and amount of information that Church authorities notify to the National Office”.

Notifications that do not identify the person against whom an allegation has been made result in the National Office being unable to establish whether this person has previously been notified.

“The absence of this key identifying information inevitably weakens the allegations database and introduces the risk of double counting. This is an issue we continue to explore with the authorities north and south of the border,” Teresa Devlin said.

The NBSCCCI annual report also revealed that Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families last August saw a spike in allegations of clerical abuse.

The report said that while a fall-off in notifications is usual during the holiday months of the summer, nine allegations were made in August 2018; 18 in September; 18 in October; and 18 more in November following the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit.

According to the National Board, clerical abuse became “an overarching issue” for the week of the World Meeting of Families and “a key focus of the Pope’s schedule and addresses to the people of Ireland” and it is probable that the increase in notifications was the result of people making reports to Church authorities motivated by the increased awareness of clerical child abuse.

There has been an increase in notifications to the National Board in the last two years, reversing the dramatic downward trend seen in the three previous years.

However, the NBSCCCI report said it should be remembered that this includes all allegations of all types notified and it does not show the number of allegations of the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious that have been proved to have happened.

The National Office was established to deal particularly with the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland. However, in both jurisdictions on the island, there are four categories or types of child abuse that are of concern – physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

During 2018 the NBSCCCI produced a Guidance, Advice and Practice (GAP) paper focusing on the care of complainants. It focused on responding pastorally to complainants, and was developed from experience of case management practice in Ireland and internationally, reading and research, and through listening to those who have shared their experiences of being harmed in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

“This is an area that will be concentrated on in the coming months and years,” Ms Devlin said.

“Now that the Church here is responding appropriately from a legal point of view our next major challenge will be to constantly improve how the Church assists those who have made allegations, particularly in terms of dealing with the impact on their lives.”

“The second phase of our practice reviews of Church bodies will commence within the next few months,” John Morgan, Chairman, NBSCCCI said.

“Our goal here will be to ensure that the Church continues to be as safe a place for children as possible and so will focus on current safeguarding procedures. Alongside the reviews we will also roll out an updated training strategy informed by the results of the previous reviews, the recent pilot reviews and best international practice.”

During the year the NBSCCCI was consulted by the Church authorities in Chile and Scotland to share their experience and assist them with putting in place or improving their child safeguarding standards and the structures to support them.

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