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Support group says some Churchmen believe they are "above the law of the land"

One in Four has also called on the Gardaí to initiate an investigation into senior Church figures.

Bishop John Kirby
Bishop John Kirby
Image: Photocall Ireland!

THE GARDAÍ HAVE been called on to investigate if certain senior leaders in the Catholic Church in Ireland are guilty of recklessly endangering children.

Support group for abuse survivors One in Four has said that, where possible, senior churchmen should be investigated to see if they are in breach of the Criminal Justic Act 2006.

The calls come after reviews into child protection policies in a number of dioceses and religious orders found “poor practices” in some areas. The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI), said the mixed results were disappointing and that there were lessons to be learnt.

The seven reviews revealed 378 allegations of abuse relating to 146 individuals, with a higher incidence rate within the three religious orders. CEO of the watchdog, Ian Elliot said the higher figures within those bodies were worthy of further consideration and investigation. The board said this could be of particular importance as the reviews also found “examples of significant practice deficits such as the non-reporting or delayed reporting of allegations when they emerged”.

Although One in Four welcomed the reviews, praised the watchdog for such rigorous, independent reporting and said it was heartened by how some dioceses and orders have embraced a policy of transparent child protection and are working hard to implement good practice, it was also “shocked and alarmed” by some of the revelations of appalling practice “where the pain and suffering of victims could have been prevented”.

“In some areas of the church it is as if the Ferns, Ryan, Dublin and Cloyne Reports had never happened,” it said.

The advocacy group singled out the Diocese of Clonfert, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Spiritans for particular criticism.

The audits show that there is a lack of structure and policy, very low awareness of the safeguarding issues and little documentation to show how allegations have been deal with.

The NBSCCCI said that the reporting of many allegations of abuse to the appropriate authorities were “very much delayed” which allowed suspected and convicted abusers abuse for longer.

“These audits examined child protection practices right up to the present day,” commented One in Four’s executive director Maeve Lewis. “It is beyond belief that children are still at risk of sexual abuse in certain areas of the Catholic Church and that the lessons of the statutory reports have not been learned.”

She said the revelations have undermined the “very positive efforts” that have been made in other congregations.

“It is particularly worrying that in the case of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, it was only when a Senator used Senate privilege to name an alleged offender that action was taken by the order and the civil authorities despite a long series of credible allegations being made against priests in that order,” added Lewis.

It is as if certain Churchmen continue to believe that child protection procedures are optional and they are above the law of the land. We know from that past that children were abused because church leaders protected sex offenders.

The watchdog found that there were no written procedures in place for the management of allegations in the Diocese of Clonfert at the time of the review.

The Bishop of the Diocese John Kirby apologised yesterday for his handling of cases in the early 1990s and admitted that he had a “lack of understanding” about the sinister nature of the child abuser and the lifelong damage it could inflict on victims.

The board said his views represented a “gross innocence and naivety” but some survivors believe it equates to something more of a deliberate cover up.

Speaking on radio following the publication of the report, Kirby said that he “hadn’t a clue” about how paedophiles operated when he was dealing with allegations of abuse in his diocese. He also said that he believed that the separation of the priest from his victim would solve the issue, adding that he understood the abuse to be a “friendship that crossed a boundary”.

The 73-year-old’s most profound apology was reserved for his “grave mistake” moving two repeated priest abusers to different parishes after complaints were received against them. This, he said, placed others “at serious risks”.

The review into The Spiritans (previously the Holy Ghost Fathers) who manage a number of schools across the country, found that there were a number of serial abusers working in school communities “unchecked” for decades.

Case files made for “very sad reading”, according to the auditors, with the report focusing on two priests who were granted access to children until 1995 and 1996. One priest, called Father B, has been under the management of a monitoring report but in late 2011, it was discovered that he had a public profile on an Internet forum, something which caused “grave concern”. A third priest, Father C, was also found to be carrying out ministry until “recently”.

Audits are due to be carried out across 188 church authorities in ministry in Ireland. However, some of the authorities are small and membership skewed towards older people and not children. The NBSCCC hopes to finish the overall task – including reviews of the remaining 16 dioceses  within two years.

Read: Child protection reviews reveal 378 abuse allegations about 146 individuals>

Reports: Findings of child protection reviews published >

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