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Church abuse watchdog reports increase in allegations

The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church says reports grew by 38 per cent on last year.

Image: Vintage Collective via Flickr

Updated, 20.06

A GROUP which aims to protect the safety of children in the Catholic Church has reported a 38 per cent increase in the number of allegations of abuse on the part of members of religious orders and dioceses.

The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC), publishing its 2010 annual report, said that there had been 272 new allegations of abuse between April 2010 and March 2011.

The number of allegations – which include physical, emotional and sexual abuse – was up significantly on last year, when 197 cases were reported.

While the vast majority of the new alleged cases were historic in nature, NBSCCC said, a precise breakdown was not available. 166 of the allegations had been received by religious orders, with the other 106 received by officers of the country’s 26 Catholic dioceses.

12 of the people against whom allegations were made are still in ministry; 174 of the alleged perpetrators have either retired, left the clerical state or been removed from ministry.

The report said that while the NBSCCC’s National Office expected to be informed about all allegations at the same time as they were reported to civil authorities, this was not “the practice across the Church”.

The body also reported that it was unable to continue its review of each of the 26 Dioceses, aimed at ensuring that the Church’s current policies on safeguarding children were properly handled.

CEO Ian Elliott explained that the three bodies sponsoring the review – the Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, and the Irish Missionary Union – had received legal advice not to cooperate with it.

This was in spite of the fact that the three same organisations had been involved in setting up the review in the first place.

Children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald said she was “gravely concerned to learn of the very serious difficulties and obstacles” seen by the board, and remarked that “anything less than full cooperation… cannot be tolerated.”

Clerical abuse survivor Andrew Madden said it was “totally unacceptable” that the NBSCCC was not able to relay its findings “into the public domain without the consent of Catholic Bishops”.

Madden also criticised the agreement reached by the NBSCCC with the sponsoring bodies, which saw it refuse to comment publicly on the findings of its reviews, and called on Fitzgerald to introduce legislation giving legal effect to the Children First guidelines as “a matter of absolute urgency”.

Separately, PA reports that a priest has been suspended from duty in Co Down on foot of a PSNI investigation into alleged sexual abuse.

Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey told parishioners that the allegation had been immediately reported to the authorities, but that the priest denied any wrongdoing and was entitled to the presumed innocent.

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