Expert says Church now better at child protection
THE Catholic Church's independent child protection chief has claimed that Irish bishops are much better at safeguarding young people than they have been given credit for since the damning Murphy report.
Ian Elliott said the focus on the mistakes of the past have obscured improvements that have taken place in the Catholic Church in Ireland in recent years.
Writing in 'Intercom', a magazine run by the Irish Bishops' Conference, Mr Elliott said: "Ultimately what matters today is how well we are safeguarding vulnerable children and young people in the church now.
"I would argue that we are doing a much better job than we are credited for and far beyond what happened in past years."
The Murphy report into clerical sex abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin detailed a litany of rapes and attacks on children by priests from 1975 to 2004 and revealed the systematic way that hundreds of cases of abuse were covered up by the church and other state authorities.
It was released last November, just six months after the Ryan report had uncovered decades of abuses in industrial schools controlled by Catholic religious orders.
In his article entitled 'Abuse: Looking Beyond the Murphy Report', Mr Elliott, the chief executive of the church's National Board for Child Protection, writes that there is an army of trained volunteers who give freely of their time to create and maintain safe environments for children within parishes nationwide.
"These people are learning more each year and increasing their competence to protect children and ensure that best practice is followed whenever concerns arise," added Mr Elliott.
He said that at every level of the church, people who occupy roles that bring them into contact with children are more aware of the dangers and risks that can exist for them, and they are more ready to intervene and protect a child if they see them as being at risk.
Those in leadership roles in the church who previously would not have seen child protection training as being something that related to them, are participating in training events aimed at developing their competence in this vital area of the church's life, he added.
Mr Elliott's national board recently ran three two-day training events which focused on the role of recording and exchanging information in the field of child protection.
"Each course was attended by members of the hierarchy, provincials and religious superiors, each of whom contributed greatly to the proceedings.
"In a very tangible way, this evidences a profound change in the priority that is given to these matters by those in authority in the church."
He added: "The church has now endorsed and adopted a single, uniform and standards-based approach.
"The publication of the 'Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance' document last February brought everybody on to the same page in relation to how safeguarding concerns are responded to within the church.
"The guidance was acknowledged as being compliant with legislation and best practice in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.
"It was also in line with canon law. For the first time, guidance existed that, if followed, would ensure that practice in the church was up to and above that which existed in other agencies on the island."
But Mr Elliott warned that church leaders have to acknowledge and learn the mistakes of the past, while not allowing anything to jeopardise their commitment to the safety of children.
"The child must always come first before the reputation of any individual or any organisation," he said.