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Accused 'Kiltegan Fathers' on African missions "afforded too much tolerance"

In one case, a priest believed to have abused at least 50 victims since 1966 did not leave the society until 2002.

Image: church in Ghana image via Shutterstock

A REVIEW ON the safeguarding of children in the Catholic Church has found a “historical failure” to react appropriately to abuse at St Patrick’s Missionary Society, also know as the Kiltegan Fathers,  in Wicklow.

In one of eight reports published by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCCI), particular failures were identified in the society’s handling of abuse allegations outside of the State.

There were 50 allegations made about 14 members of the society since 1975 with 47 of these were reported to gardaí and the HSE. Three allegations were not reported in Ireland as the offences occurred in other jurisdictions and so were reported there and none of these priests reside in Ireland.

Just one priest has been convicted of having committed an offence against a child or young person.

On assessing case files, reviewers expressed concern that abuse identified outside Ireland “has not in every case given rise to an appropriate and robust response”.

Missions in Africa

In one case, there were several reports in the mid to late 60s of “homosexual activity between Fr X and young Goan boys” in Kenya. This local information was never communicated to the central leadership until specific questions were posed in 1997 and though the priest stepped aside in 1986, he remained a member of the society until 2002.

He was dismissed from the clerical state at his own request, which was the only way in which this could happen while the Society was under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

It is believed he may have abused at least 50 victims since 1966 and to date the society has made contact with 34 of them.

The reviewers accepted the logistical difficulty in identifying and tracing adults who might have been abused in childhood in locations where there are rudimentary communications technologies and where there may not be cultural acceptance and support for coming forward as a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In another case, a priest was accused in 2006 of abuse of a young person when on the missions in Africa 26 years previously. He admitted to the offence but said he had not abused any other young person. After an assessment, he was reported to have a low risk of reoffending.

However in 2012, a second allegation emerged which led to him being sent for another assessment. Through this process, several previous incidents of offences against young people by this priest when he was on mission in Africa were identified.

“Because of the passage of time, it is extremely difficult to identify child victims abroad who are now adult and who have not come forward themselves to make a complaint,” the review commented.

The review said that the society is likely to move its headquarters from Wicklow to Africa in the coming years.

Failures

The review said it appears that there were failures on the part of authority within the society to always ensure that the adopted policies and disciplinary code of the organisation and the church as a whole was adhered to.

Accused priests were afforded too much tolerance and so found it too easy to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

The report also said it appeared that the identification of abuse on the missions “did not always evoke the actions that evidence an empathic response to the experiences of victims”.

“The Society must ensure into the future that there is no lower standard of safeguarding afforded to children abroad than that which is available to Irish children,” it said.

Regret

A letter in which a society leader expressed regret to a member that he has decided to leave was criticised by reviewer.

Though the priest suffered with serious mental illness, he was also a “self-confessed abuser of young boys” while serving on missions.

Men, occupying leadership roles in a missionary Society or religious order, have to take great care in how they write to members who are known to have abused children, as the tone of such letters has to clearly indicate an abhorrence of the abusive behaviour and the primacy of the need to protect children.

Reviewers were not satisfied that canonical sanctions against priests known to have abuse children were being sought as many of them requested to leave themselves.

Recommendations

In total, the society has already implemented nine of the report 14 recommendations and the implementation of the remaining five is “well advanced”.

These included outlining clear policy on managing those who pose a risk to children, having a robust process for recording allegations and a process for dealing with them, and implementing guidelines and training on appropriate behaviour towards children.

Commenting on the review, Kiltegan Society Leader Fr Seamus O’Neill, apologised “unreservedly” to all of those who have been abused by members and renewed its commitment to reach out to survivors.

While the report did note progress in the society’s efforts to establish good practice, Fr O’Neill accepted that it also pointed out some failures in approach.

“Again, we apologise for the unspeakable abuse of innocent children and pledge to do our best to ensure that it never happens again,” he said.

In its statement, the national board said the audit of the society did demonstrate an “anomaly” regarding the safeguarding standards for organisations whose headquarters may be in one jurisdiction but whose activity is carried out in another.

“We have no remit beyond these shores,” commented Teresa Devlin, acting CEO of NBSCCCI. “At the same time, the standards for a missionary society’s operations in other countries may well be set here. This is an issue we will be discussing with our Sponsoring Bodies”.

Read the full report here>

For more from the fourth tranche of reports:

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