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Leon Farrell Photocall Ireland

'Significant developments' in child safeguarding in Diocese of Ferns

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church of Ireland has undertaken a comprehensive review of safeguarding practice in church authorities across Ireland.

A REPORT INTO child protection practices in the Diocese of Ferns, which was the subject of the Ferns Report into allegations of clerical sexual abuse, was published today.

The report was published by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI), as part of a review of safeguarding practice within all the Church authorities on the island of Ireland.


The 2005 Ferns Inquiry Report was an official government inquiry into clerical sexual abuse allegations made against the Diocese of Ferns. One of the offenders was Fr Seán Fortune, who abused a large number of teenage boys. Fortune took his own life before his trial.

Today’s report found Ferns met 47 out of its 48 criteria fully, and one partially.

There are approximately 100,000 Catholic residents in the diocese, across 49 parishes. Its bishop, Bishop Denis Brennan, was installed on 1 March 2006

There have been allegations made against 24 priests in the Diocese of Ferns since 1 January 1975, with 100 allegations overall, 99 of which were reported to the gardaí.

There are no priests who are in ministry against whom an allegation was made, but there are three priests in the diocese against whom an allegation was made and who are out of ministry but remain in the priesthood. Three priests from Ferns have been convicted of having committed an offences or offences against a child or young person since 1975.

The reviewers are satisfied that the diocese did everything possible to follow the leads that were given cases where a concern was raised but where there was not a complaint, and that the threshold for intervention was not reached in any of them.

Management practices

The Ferns Inquiry Report was very critical about how the diocese and the statutory agencies responded to concerns about clerical child sexual abuse.

Today’s report says:

It is obvious that historical case management practices in the Diocese of Ferns were poor and inadequate, but began to improve in 2002 when the Apostolic Administrator was appointed with the remit of implementing a robust case management approach.
The reviewers spoke at length with the bishop and the diocesan secretary about the standard of proof that existed in the three cases that had arisen since 2011. The reviewers accept that the bishop had received sufficient evidence of concern to ask each priest to step aside while the complaints against them were being investigated by the statutory authorities, and subsequently, while the appropriate canonical procedures were being followed.

The reviewers said they have a concern about the amount of sensitive information that is communicated by diocesan safeguarding personnel through email, which the reviewers would not consider sufficiently secure. The diocese provided advice from an IT consultant supporting their position that e-mails are secure.

Excellent example

The diocese reports all allegations of abuse to the civil authorities without delay, as it is expected to do. Its Interagency Review Group that operates was described as “an excellent example of best practice in child safeguarding”.

It includes Garda Chief Superintendent, a HSE Child Care Manager, a HSE Principal Social Worker, Bishop Brennan, and others.

The reviewers were impressed by the focus maintained in the Diocese of Ferns on the dissemination of the safeguarding message at diocesan and at parish level.

The report says it is clear that the diocese has developed channels for consultation and feed-back, and the next stage in this open approach could involve planned consultation with children and young people about their experiences of being involved in Church related activities and ideas about keeping themselves safe.

The fieldwork team were provided with evidence of a commitment to maintaining and secure filing of all concerns, suspicions and allegations about the abuse of children and young people by priests.


The report makes a number of recommendations, including that Bishop Brennan request the safeguarding committee to further develop the Five Year Plan.

Read:Catholic Church audits show progress in child protection>

The report found It met 47 out of 48 criteria fully, and one partially.

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