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Sunday 19 November 2017

Independent body was set up to ensure children were kept safe

Bishop John Magee Picture: Gerry Mooney
Bishop John Magee Picture: Gerry Mooney

SHANE PHELAN Public Affairs Editor

THE National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church was set up by church authorities in 2007 as a response to the clerical sex abuse scandals.

Its aim is to offer advice on best practice in safeguarding children to Catholic organisations, assist in the developing of procedures, and to monitor ongoing safeguarding practices.

Funding for the board is provided by three major religious organisations: the Irish Bishops' Conference; the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union.

Although funded by these bodies, the board was set up to be independent and has a memorandum of understanding with all Church bodies "to enable the unfettered delivery of its functions".

For its first chief executive, it chose Ian Elliott, the former lead adviser on child protection at the North's Social Services Inspectorate and a former divisional director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. A key part of the board's work has been entering Catholic dioceses and organisations and conducting audits. This included examining how diocesan authorities responded to abuse allegations and safeguarded children in the past, as well as assessing what improvements needed to be made for the future.

It wasn't long before Mr Elliott came into conflict with a high-profile bishop after the board encountered resistance in accessing child protection files in the Diocese of Cloyne.

A subsequent report on the diocese in 2008 was highly critical of Bishop John Magee. It also found child protection practices in the Co Cork diocese were inadequate and dangerous. Dr Magee held on to his position for a further two years before finally bowing to pressure to resign.

In 2009, the board published revised child protection guidelines, which have been adopted by Catholic organisations around the country.

It has published four tranches of safeguarding reviews to date. These have dealt with 22 of the 26 dioceses and seven of the major religious orders.

The latest tranche of reviews, published last December, were broadly positive about the current approach of six dioceses inspected.

However, they found a litany of failures by two religious orders, the Christian Brothers and the Kiltegan Fathers, in dealing with cases of abuse over four decades.

The board found the level of abuse in the Christian Brothers was substantial and highlighted the case of a brother who was returned to ministry after an allegation was made.

It found there had been 870 allegations of abuse against 325 brothers, around 50 of whom were still alive. However, despite the huge number of allegations, just 12 convictions have been secured since 1975.

The Kiltegan Fathers were also criticised for inadequate recording of allegations.

Concerns were raised about one missionary's abuse of children in Kenya as far back as 1966, but he remained in ministry for another 20 years. He remained in the order until 2002.

Sunday Independent

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