By Susan Gately - 15 February, 2019
There is still a lack of trust in the Church over the issue of child protection according to Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of Ireland’s Episcopal conference, who will represent the country next week at the special safeguarding conference being held at the Vatican.
In the run-up to the 21 to 24 February conference, the Primate of All Ireland solicited responses from the public on the issue of abuse.
“Many good people practising their faith have told me there is still a lack of trust in the Church, a lack of belief that the Church has really taken this issue seriously,” he said in an interview with iCatholic.ie. “And every time another story comes out (and often these are about historic abuse which happened decades ago) it re-opens the wound of distrust.”
Archbishop Martin said that the clear message coming through to him was not to become complacent. “People are saying ‘Do not be complacent. Do not be in denial or think that somehow we have this issue sorted, we certainly don’t.’”
He continued “And when I speak with victims and survivors and I hear from them the immense pain that they are still carrying, even though they may have been abused many, many years ago – for them this is a lifelong suffering.”
Asked about Irish ‘successes’ in relation to protecting children, the Archbishop of Armagh said he was reluctant to use the word ‘success’ but that one positive step was how the Church is engaging “with our lay faithful – with women and men in every parish and every Church activity who will be our eyes and ears, who will be on the lookout to ensure that children are always safe.”
Many hundreds of volunteers including professionals are working to hold the Church to account, he said, and the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCC) ensures “standards, guidance and protocols are best practice, and then [they] help us to audit and review these things month by month, year by year”.
Meanwhile leading anti-abuse campaigner Marie Collins, speaking recently of her meeting with Pope Francis in August, said she felt the pontiff listened to her but she did not agree with some of his views in relation to handling abuse. “He is of the view that there can’t be any centralised investigations or judgements of Church leaders, that they must be local, and he believes each Bishop should be judged by a different standard because they come from different cultures, and I find that unacceptable,” she told iCatholic.ie. “There’s an international standard for child safety and that should apply no matter what part of the world the child is in. You can’t lower the standard because the culture might be different,” she added.
Ms Collins, founder of the foundation which carries her name, said the summit could not be a re-run of the 2012 Symposium entitled ‘Towards Healing and Renewal’. “In my view what should be done at that meeting is have each of those representatives commit to implementing, in their Episcopal Conference, concrete Zero Tolerence, best practice safeguarding and proper care for survivors.”
Ms Collins said that the Vatican conference could learn from Ireland’s experience. “The example of Ireland is a very good one if the Church would look at it more closely and extrapolate from it out to the wider Church and then from that into society, in areas where there are not good practices.”
The Church could flip this whole crisis on its head, she continued, and make it a positive by learning from the countries that are getting it right, bringing it into everywhere the Church is, and then bringing it out into society.