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Diocese of Clonfert: "No written procedures for management of allegations"

Summary of the main findings of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland into Clonfert diocese.

Bishop John Kirby of Clonfert Diocese
Bishop John Kirby of Clonfert Diocese
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

A REVIEW OF the Diocese of Clonfert’s efforts to implement child safeguarding procedures made eight recommendations of improvement. A lack of co-ordination and support for complainants, a burden of responsibility on the bishop alone to deal with complaints and a falling out between the bishop and a 2007 safeguarding committee all came under the spotlight.

Bishop John Kirby, on publication of the report this morning, said that he accepted the NBSCCCI’s review of how clerical abuse was handled in the diocese “in its entirety”. He said that the diocese had “rectified the deficiencies noted by the review and has implemented all eight of the formal recommendations in the nine months since last November”.

On a personal note, he admitted that he had shown a “previous lack of understanding of the sinister and recidivist nature of the child abuser, and the lifelong damage that this destructive behaviour has on victims”. His 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”.

These two priests were the main focus of the Clonfert allegations in 1990 and 1993/5. In the case of the first priest, Priest ‘A’, in 1990, the allegation was reported by the diocese to the Western Health Board, within three days. The review published today found that “It was not reported to An Garda Síochána (by the WHB) until a year later). A 1993 allegation made against the second priest, Priest ‘B’, was not reported that year at all to the WHB but was included in a report made at the time of a separate 1995 allegation to the Board. A separate report was made to gardai on this matter.

The NBSCCI review found that Bishop Kirby had thought that separating a priest against whom an allegation was made and the young person who made it would “remedy the situation”. The review reads:

With increased awareness of how abusers work, he now realises how naive this perception was and that this was an inappropriate response and provided no protection for children.

Bishop Kirby, who oversees Clonfert diocese and is also the chairman of Trócaire, said:

Finally, I wish to reiterate my regret for the terrible damage caused by these two priests. Whilst their evil and criminal actions cannot be undone, I can, at least, seek to assure you that the current safeguarding procedures and practices in the diocese are sufficiently robust to ensure that such abuse will not take place again.

Clonfert: the failings, the measures taken and the recommendations

Clonfert Diocese is one of the smallest of the 25 Catholic dioceses in Ireland and covers parts of Co Roscommon, Co Offaly and east Galway. At the time of the review by the NBSCCI last year, it did not have a full written policy and procedures document for dealing with the safeguarding of children. However, “somewhat confusingly”, said the review board’s report, its website carries a “Summary Child Safeguarding Policy” which the board deemed “not sufficient” to meet standards. A final draft policy and procedures document is due to go to Bishop Kirby for his approval and circulation.

These were the eight recommendations laid out by the NBSCCCI’s review board for Clonfert:

  • A policy and procedures document must be finalised as a “matter of urgency” and Bishop Kirby should ask for help from colleagues in the Area of Tuam Archdiocese to get this finished and circulated.
  • While priest ‘A’ was convicted, imprisoned and later laicised (at his own request), the review board found that in the case of priest ‘B’, the first complaint was “not properly managed”. Priest ‘B’ is now dead and no criminal or civil legal process was ever initiated against him. The review board noted that Bishop Kirby had no advisory committee to refer complaints to and “managed all cases by himself”.

The board recommends that the bishop “should divest himself of the responsibility of dealing with allegations alone” by referring them to designated persons to notify the authorities and implement risk management plans. While Bishop Kirby’s notes of complaints were found to have been detailed, new cases “should all be recorded using the NBSCCCI case file template”.

  • Clonfert Diocese is to join the new National Case Management Advisory Group established by the NBSCCCI and seek advice from them on all future complaints of child abuse.
  • Bishop Kirby is to appoint a support person for victims “at the point of disclosure”. That person is to attend all initial interviews with the complainant or victim along with the designated person.
  • Bishop Kirby is to write to every complainant, offering support and counselling, “upon receipt of a credible allegation”.
  • If a priest has to be removed from public ministry, Bishop Kirby is to write down the restrictions to imposed on the priest and the management and reporting arrangements for supervising them.
  • The bishop is to stand down the current Safeguarding Committee, which was formed in the diocese in 2007, and form a new one “from suitably experienced and interested people within the diocese”.

The review board found that relations between the 2007 committee and Bishop Kirby “have broken down irreparably”. The committee claimed that they felt they did not receive the required responses to the concerns they brought to the bishop about safeguarding procedures in the diocese. The bishop withdrew from the committee in May 2010, as did two other members of the committee “being unhappy with the manner in which the bishop was being challenged.

Apart from recommending that a new committee be formed, this review said that it was not within its remit to comment further on the conflict between the bishop and the original committee.

  • Bishop Kirby is to appoint a Safeguarding Co-ordinator to support, monitor and advise the four safeguarding representatives in the parishes covered by Clonfert diocese. The review board was concerned that while these people were happy about the training they received, they were limited by the lack of a written policy and procedures document and did not have any contact with the Safeguarding Committee.

In general, today’s published report found that training in the Clonfert diocese “is well developed” – in total 178 people have been trained in safeguarding practices, including all priests of the diocese, local parish reps, sacristans and volunteers, including choir leaders and a Lourdes pilgrimage group.

These tables break down the exact standards recorded by the NBSCCCI group in seven areas during its review of Clonfert:

Diocese of Clonfert: "No written procedures for management of allegations"
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  • Standard 1: A written policy

  • Standard 2: Management of allegations

  • Standard 3: Preventing harm to chldren

  • Standard 3: Preventing harm to children

  • Standard 3: Preventing harm to children

  • Standard 4: Training and education

  • Standard 5: Communicating the Church's Safeguarding Message

  • Standard 6: Access to advice and support

  • Standard 7: Implementing and monitoring standards

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