Saturday 23 September 2017

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin seriously concerned that child protection rules may be interpreted differently by some orders

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was seriously concerned by audits carried out last autumn
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was seriously concerned by audits carried out last autumn

One of the country's leading clerics has said it is appalling that some religious orders delayed bringing in the most up-to-date child protection rules.

As watchdogs exposed seven congregations for lax efforts to prevent abuse, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was seriously concerned by audits carried out last autumn.

Only two religious orders inspected by the Catholic Church's own reviewers demonstrated good compliance with rules to safeguard youngsters.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) warned seven congregations have considerable work to do on the issue and praised two - the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts and the Dominican Sisters.

Archbishop Martin said some of the delays in reporting allegations were appalling and that failures cast a shadow over the credibility of the entire church's safeguarding efforts.

"Survivors trying to regain their confidence in the church will be disillusioned once again. The many lay men and women who work voluntarily in church safeguarding structures in our parishes must feel disheartened," the Archbishop said.

"Failure of any church organisation to implement fully and robustly the agreed clear norms is a direct affront to the desire of Pope Francis."

Archbishop Martin said he was particularly concerned that rules on child protection may be interpreted differently by some orders which have priests working in the archdiocese.

During the audits, inspectors found poor record management in many cases, making an assessment of child protection practice difficult.

Opportunities to safeguard children were missed and known abusers were allowed to remain in ministry in the 1990s, the board reported.

And while the review found management of accused priests and nuns has improved significantly, it warned there is still room for improvement including in the sharing of information.

It noted that support for survivors is good in many cases but warned of variable delays in reporting allegations to the authorities up until 2009 and that some practices did not improve until 2013.

Archbishop Martin said he will hold meetings with the heads of religious orders working in Dublin to get commitments on child protection.

Teresa Devlin, chief executive of the NBSCCCI, warned that much work was needed for seven orders to fall into line with the official child protection standards.

"In relation to the large reviews, I'm disappointed that, for the majority of orders, the whole area of safeguarding is only being bedded down in the last couple of years," she said.

Religious orders have been told to make progress reports on recommendations in nine months.

In the case of the Franciscan Friars, the watchdog points out that there were three "prolific" abusers within their ranks, although allegations had been levelled against 28 friars since 1975.

The watchdog said the Franciscans either delayed or failed to notify state authorities about the abuse and also delayed taking action under the Order's own canon law.

Furthermore, the Order had poor records of contact with victims and of monitoring friars under supervision.

"It is the opinion of the reviewers that civil settlements provide financial compensation but do not address other needs including counselling, care and support for the survivor," the report states.

"A more caring pastoral response is required and this is being reflected in the current Minister Provincial's willingness to reach out to survivors publicly in recent months."

In a statement, the Order's Minister Provincial, Hugh McKenna, apologised and said: "We regret that there were significant missed opportunities, as highlighted in the report, in terms of protecting other children from abusive behaviour.

"I also know that no apology can ever be sufficient, and acknowledge with deep shame and sadness that the Franciscan Order failed you."

The report notes a change in safeguarding practices since 2009, which it says was further strengthened under Fr McKenna since his appointment in July 2011.

The Augustinian Order was said to have fallen short of expectations for child protection in 2014.

Inspectors identified a series of issues up to 2013 including poor maintenance of records, incomplete files, gaps and inconsistencies in records of reporting to authorities and very little recorded emphasis on preventing abuse.

The Order faced 33 allegations of abuse against 11 priests from 1958 to 1995 and none after that period.

The review estimated that 17 complaints had not been reported to the Garda and 12 had not been reported to health chiefs at the time of the audit but a ll detail has since been handed over.

The board estimated that about 30 were the victims of abusers in the Order and in a number of instances victims have not been identified.

"None of our members have been convicted of abuse. However, we fully acknowledge that abuse involving a small number of our members has occurred in the past - and we are determined to do everything possible to ensure that this will not occur again in the future," the order said.

The Augustinians said they accept the shortcomings highlighted.

The Passionist Order - which recorded allegations against 20 priests in a 60-year period - said they were determined to ensure past failings are not repeated.

The board raised concerns that the congregation did not establish five individual files, one per priest, detailing allegations, as required under official recording guidance.

"The Passionists sincerely apologise for the pain experienced by those who have been hurt by the abuse perpetrated by our members, and acknowledge the deep suffering of the survivors and their ongoing trauma. We are committed to continuing to support survivors and their families now and in the future," the order said in a statement.

The Discalced Carmelites were advised to issue more comprehensive guidance relating to confession.

"A priest must be clear about the status of any conversation relating to an allegation of abuse and make sure there is no misunderstanding about whether the seal of confession applies," the review found.

The board said priests should make it clear that they cannot hear the confession of anyone facing a child abuse allegation.

The Discalced Carmelites said they were committed to working with the watchdog, gardai and health chiefs to get the highest level of child protection on the island of Ireland.

"On behalf of the OCD Order, I apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused to persons by any of our friars for the betrayal of trust placed in them," Fr Michael McGoldrick said.

The Friar Servants of Mary, known as Servites, were criticised over unclear records and o ne case reported after 2008 - when the order had signed up to the board's child protection standards - was found to have a two-month delay in being passed to authorities.

In a statement the order said: "The Servites uphold the safety of children as paramount. In accordance with the recommendations of the NBSCCCI Review Report, the order has revised its safeguarding structure, updated its policies and procedures, and appointed key safeguarding personnel."

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