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The Irish Province of Spiritans: "Failure to create safe environments for children"

Summary of the main findings of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland into the religious order of the Irish Province of Spiritans.

Image: comedy_nose via Flickr

THE PROVINCIAL LEADERSHIP Team of the Spiritans said in a public statement that they fully accept the findings of the review and will implement all of its recommendations.

Speaking on behalf of the religious order, Fr Brian Starken said: “What happened to these victims and their families is inexcusable. As a religious Congregation we are filled with shame but our shame cannot compare with the immense suffering and hurt experienced by victims and their loved ones.”

He added:

We apologise unreservedly to those abused, hurt or damaged by any Spiritan and we seek to participate fully in the process of justice and healing.

The statement states that “as the Patron of five secondary and three junior schools we constantly work with management, staff and parents to ensure that these schools continue to be safe places where children can learn and grow in maturity and faith”.

The report into the Irish Province of Spiritans was conducted at the request of the then Provincial Leader of the religious order. The NBSCCCI engaged in a process of reviewing child safeguarding policy and practice in July 2012.

The Irish Spiritans focus their attention on a number of parishes in west Dublin where they also have a counselling service for disadvantaged communities. They have a service for Refugee and Asylum seekers (SPIRASI) which is also a National Centre for the Care of Survivors of Torture. Kimmage Manor has the Kimmage Development Studies Centre located on its campus. They also run a Spirituality Centre outside of Navan. Other Spiritans are engaged in parish ministry and chaplaincy work.

Management of allegations

The Spiritans have a policy document which sets out the role of the designated person and the requirements around reporting allegations and concerns.

Prior to the issue of this report there does not appear to have been any written specific Spiritan guidance in place around reporting allegations to the civil authorities, however the congregation followed the Framework Document in operation from 1996 and thereafter Our Children Our Church, until 2009 when Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland became operational.

The report states:

The records on individual case files would indicate that some allegations of child abuse brought to the attention of the congregation were reported to An Garda Síochána from 1994 onwards.

However allegations notified to the congregation before that date had not been passed to An Garda Síochána or the Health Authority – latterly the HSE for a significant number of years.

Some allegations – post the requirement to report (following the publication of the Church’s Framework Document in 1996) – were not reported to the civil authorities for up to four years after the congregation was informed.

All allegations have now been reported to both An Garda Síochána and HSE.

A new Provincial came into operation in 1994 and there is evidence he removed men from ministry (who were thought to have caused harm to children) and from contact with children.

Previous to this the report states:

Provincials maintained men in ministry after being informed of abuse and that some of these men went on to abuse again.

In some instances, priests and brothers were moved either out of the country or to other ministries, where they continued to abuse children.

The report states that in some instances this abuse could have been prevented, if the congregation had responded to the information that was available at the time to them regarding risk to children.

Case file management

There was no attempt by the congregation to hide any information and the files in relation to allegations were in “excellent condition”.

However, there is criticism into absence of detailed narrative accounts of recent contact with survivors.

Extent of Abuse

The case files “make for very sad reading” according to the report with evidence that there were serial abusers working in school communities. For the entirety of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s they went unchecked.

There was a failure on the part of the congregation in these instances to create safe environments for children.

The report focuses on one serial abuser – Father A – who abused 28 children between 1968 and 1993.

However he was not removed from ministry until 1996. The records suggest that there may have been other children abused in he USA and in Ireland who have not yet come forward. Father A is now deceased.

A second abuser mentioned in the report – Father B – abused children for a period of 13 years. Even though concerns were raised, he was not removed from his post for a further 10 years, until 1995.

Father B is under the management of a monitoring panel but the report states that as late as November 2011 he appears to have had a public profile on an Internet forum something the NBSCCCI said they have:

Grave concern to his involvement in this activity

Questions over monitoring arrangements

The report finds that another abuser – Father C – until recently was carrying out ministry elsewhere on a temporary basis.

The report says this raises concerns over the effectiveness of the monitoring arrangements within the Congregation itself.

This priest was also not in receipt of a ‘celebret’ (A letter which a bishop gives to a priest, that he may obtain permission in another diocese to say Mass).

Misleading advice

NBSCCCI noted misleading advice from psychologists and psychiatrists around the likelihood of re-offending.

Assessment reports appeared to believe that recidivism was low, based on poor evidence, often on simply what the accused priest said.

The Irish Province of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit: the failings, the measures taken and the recommendations

The Provincial in post in 1994 took the first steps in recognising the abuse by Spiritan priests and began a process of removing abusers from ministry.

However, there are criticisms that other practice in relation to notifying the civil authorities, notifying CDF, responding to victims, putting in place management plans took a lot longer to develop.

As recently as 2011, there is evidence that one accused priest still had limited ministry (unknown to the monitoring panel) another had entered an online forum.

However the audit report said there is much evidence to demonstrate recent commendable initiatives and a serious approach to accepting responsibility for past failures and ensuring that in the future children will be safe from harm, from those already identified as abusers.

These were the sixteen recommendations laid out by the NBSCCCI’s review board for The Spiritans Religious Order:

  • There should be a written policy and reader friendly information on keeping children safe. The report recommends posters and leaflets be displayed in all houses of Spiritan ministries, highlighting current information on policies, procedures, reporting information, along with a list of who to contact within the Spiritan Congregation, the Garda Síochána and HSE, if there is a safeguarding concern.
  • Due to the fact that it was only until 1994 that there was a “greater awareness of child abuse” in the order and that men were removed from ministry, there is a risk that abuse survivors from to that period have not come forward. The recommendation is that the Provincial Leadership Team must extend an invitation to people to come forward who have not yet disclosed their abuse with an array of media platforms and avenues to do so.
  • While the case files were commended for being in “excellent condition” there is criticism about the lack of detail in narrative accounts and lack of contact in recent months with survivors. The NBSCCCI report recommends that all contacts relating to the management of cases and contact with survivors, irrespective of whether the respondent is alive or deceased must be recorded. This should also include contact with the families of survivors.
  • A protocol needs to be established to ensure that the transitional process for Provincial leadership requires a full briefing on the management of current risk in the congregation.
  • A process of appointing a lay designated person, not of the Spiritan order, must be initiated by the Provincial as soon as possible.
  • A plan to reach out to victims of abuse and their families and consult directly with them as to how best meet their needs for healing. Consideration should be given to setting up a series of listening meetings for victims and their families.
  • A review of the effectiveness of the monitoring panel should be carried out annually.
  • A written protocol to ensure that there is adequate exchange of information between leadership teams, a continuation of decision making and appropriate continuity in monitoring and managing risk.
  • The Provincial must ensure that all cases have been notified to the CDF and that preliminary investigations are re-activated in the case of all living priests against whom there are allegations.
  • A number of Spiritans began abusing children within a short time (two years) of ordination. The report says this raises questions about how such individuals were not identified during their formation years. They recommend the establishment of a Safeguarding Committee within the Irish Province to ensure the comprehensive implementation of policy and adherence to procedures, in relation to preventing harm to children, as well as participation in training and safeguarding audits.
  • Each Community Leader should conduct an annual safeguarding audit in line with the expectations in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland and that this be forwarded to the Provincial for collation, analysis and corrective action as appropriate.
  • A database should be maintained of all active personnel which details their ministry and dates on which they have been vetted, alongside dates for re-vetting in line with legal requirements. It should also show that members and co-workers undertake regular (at least bi-annual) retraining in child safeguarding.
  • The Provincial must ensure that all Spiritan Chaplains to schools are also aware of their obligations under the congregation’s policies and procedures around contact with children, creating safe environments and reporting allegations.
  • A training plan needs to be developed by the Safeguarding Committee which identifies needs and modes of delivery of training for all who hold safeguarding responsibilities.
  • A training plan needs to be developed by the Safeguarding Committee which identifies needs and modes of delivery of training for all who hold safeguarding responsibilities.
  • A plan to engage with survivors to hear their stories and respond to their needs through counselling and support.

In general, the NBSCCCI report found the Spiritans’ safeguarding policies and procedures provided the NBSCCCI reviewers with comprehensive materials stating that “it is also worthy to note that in July 2011, the Spiritans re-established their advisory panel, (which was first established in 1995, but later became inactive) who spent a considerable period reviewing cases and as a consequence a monitoring panel has been established.

This is a commendable initiative, the report stated.

However the report finds their were serious concerns about the removal of men from ministry and the lack of information that the monitoring panals had at their disposal.

Read the full NBSCCCI report here.

The Irish Province of Spiritans: "Failure to create safe environments for children"
1 / 7
  • Standard 7: Implementing and monitoring standards

  • Standard 6: Access to advice and support

  • Standard 5: Communicating the Church's safeguarding message

  • Standard 3: Preventing harm to children

  • Standard 2: Management of allegations

  • Standard 1: Written policy

  • Standard 4: Training and education

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