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Child Sex Abuse

HSE report recommends 'closer State monitoring' of dioceses

The HSE’s Diocesan Audit Report of the safeguarding arrangements in the Catholic Diocese in Ireland was published this afternoon.

AN AUDIT BY the Health Service Executive into safeguarding arrangements in the Catholic Church in Ireland has recommended that the State should monitor dioceses closely and apply its resources to intervene and work with all dioceses to address various shortcomings outlined in the report.

It advocates a “hands on” approach by the State until such a time that there has been a “substantial and demonstrable improvement in child protection practices across all dioceses”.

The publication of the Diocesan Audit Report, which was ordered by the late Brian Lenihan in 2006, has been broadly welcomed today.

The HSE examined 24 dioceses across Ireland, taking account of 579 allegations of child abuse in relation to 189 priests. Of the 189 priests, 39 were in Ministry at the time of the claims. In total, there were 31 criminal convictions.

Similar to other reports, the audit identified a number of historical poor practices, including failure to take precaution in relation to known offenders, lack of recognition of abuse as a serious criminal offence, a desire to protect reputation without recognising the paramount need to protect children and the removal of priests from parishes but not from direct contact with children.

It also noted the Church’s failure to understand the psychological damage resulting from abuse and its failure to educate priests about its impact.

“For too long consideration of reputation, livelihood and institutional damage were put before the rights of children,” said Gordon Jeyes, the National Director of Children & Family Services in the HSE. ”No institution, organisation or profession can ever again be allowed to put the protection of its own interests ahead of the protection of children. The reports like this Church Audit are important milestones in the journey towards a society that always puts children first.”

As a final part of the audit, in November 2011, the HSE reviewed the practices in place in each diocese against the seven standards for safeguarding children as set out in the Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The improvements made by the 24 dioceses in the recent past were recognised by Jeyes. However, he added that a number of dioceses still have “considerable improvements” to make, particularly in relation to data collection and record keeping.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she is “very pleased” that the audit is now in the public domain but is aware of it serving as a “very painful reminder to many victims of the abuse they suffered”.

In a statement, Fitzgerald said she believes that this audit, together with reports published in recent years in relation to the Diocese of Ferns, the Dublin Archdiocese, the Diocese of Cloyne, and the recent Church Safeguarding Board reviews, have contributed to a significant body of knowledge on the subject of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland and the ongoing initiatives and efforts to improve child protection practice in the Church. However, she added that she remains concerned by some aspects of the findings.

The focus must remain on addressing the need for ongoing improvements, she said. In some instances, dioceses had stated in their audit returns that they had reported all allegations promptly but the HSE then found that this was not the case.

“There is no room for complacency,” she continued. “While progress is welcome, ensuring implementation of best practice must remain an ongoing and continuing priority.”

Support group One in Four noted the good child protection polices and procedures in some dioceses but said the audit confirmed implementation continues to be “inconsistent and patchy”.

“While some dioceses have clearly absorbed the lessons of the sex abuse sandals, others continue to delay in making sure that children are safe,” commented executive director Maeve Lewis.

The HSE has acknowledged that the audit is limited because the information was submitted voluntarily and diocesan files were not examined. A number of discrepancies in figures and other details were apparent when compared with other reviews into safeguarding.

One in Four singled out one clarification. Lewis explained, “It is difficult to equate singling out the Diocese of Clonfert for particular praise in the HSE audit when Ian Elliot’s recent review concluded that the diocese did not even have a child protection policy in place as late as 2011.”

Other dioceses that were found to be performing well were Armagh, Waterford & Lismore, Elphin and Dublin. Kildare & Leighlin also proved examples of good practice, it said.

The HSE is currently working on part two of the report which involves a separate review of about 150 Religious Order/Congregations.

Connect provides free telephone based counselling and support at 1800 477 477. One in Four can be contacted at 01 662 4070.

Download the full report here>

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