Diocese sex abuse concerns 'omitted from official report'
Published 08/03/2014 | 02:30
The former head of the Catholic Church's child safety watchdog has told the Government that serious concerns he had about the handling of an abuse case were omitted from an official report.
Ian Elliott alleges that the Diocese of Down and Connor blocked the release of information it held about its handling of the case of ex-priest Jim Donaghy, who was jailed for 10 years in 2012 for abusing two altar boys and a trainee priest.
He came to this conclusion after investigating the diocese last May, a month before his retirement from the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
However, the report on the diocese that was subsequently published by the safeguarding board last December did not refer to his concerns and gave the diocese a clean bill of health.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has demanded an explanation from the safeguarding board.
The Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, declined to answer questions about the "contents and integrity" of the report, saying it was a matter for the safeguarding board. He said the diocese was "fully open" and "transparent" in its dealings with the board.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Elliott said the report that was published did "not accurately reflect the child protection situation" in Down and Connor.
He said he tried to investigate the Donaghy case last year, but was blocked by the diocese from doing so on the grounds that there was no basis for a review. However, he later uncovered records that indicated to him an investigation of the handling of the case was necessary.
Last night, the board issued a statement and said that it "rejects any implication that any external pressure was brought to bear on the authors of the report. The allegations made by Ian Elliot appear to question the professionalism and integrity of our board, our CEO and our staff. Consequently, we are seeking legal advice regarding our options and will make no further comment at this time".
Mr Elliott has previously clashed with Dr Treanor, who accused him of spinning against the church in media briefings.
An inquiry led by retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness found there was no basis for this claim.
Mr Elliott conducted "field work" in the diocese – covering Antrim, Down and parts of Derry – last May.
"I was directly involved in this investigation, so I know exactly what the findings were," he said. "The report was issued in December of last year, after my departure.
"The concerns that I raised with the minister were that the report does not equate with the findings of the field work."
He continued: "It was attributed by the bishop as coming from me, but nothing could be further from the truth."
Mr Elliott contacted the safeguarding board seeking an explanation, but said none was forthcoming.
Before his retirement, Mr Elliott said he held face-to-face meetings with Dr Treanor and the chairman of the safeguarding board, John Morgan.
"They are both intimately aware what the concerns were and they are not reflected in the report," he said.
The report on Down and Connor found the diocese had met 46 out of 48 of its child protection objectives and properly managed all of the incidents of child welfare concerns that have come to it in recent years.
Mr Elliott said he could not go into the specific detail of what he found in relation to the Donaghy case.
Ms Fitzgerald said she had written to the safeguarding board about Mr Elliott's concerns. Her letter is to be discussed at its board meeting this month.