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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Sex abuse complaints fall but church 'must pull up its socks'

The watchdog highlights a lack of clear standards regarding the supervision of priests
The watchdog highlights a lack of clear standards regarding the supervision of priests
Teresa Devlin

Sarah MacDonald

The Catholic Church's child protection watchdog has warned there is no room for complacency over a decrease in abuse complaints.

The annual report from the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland revealed it dealt with 164 allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the last year, down from the 242 it examined the previous year.

The new figures show that 64 allegations were received against priests in Irish dioceses and 100 against figures from religious congregations, totalling 164 for the period April 2013 to the end of March 2014.

Launching the NBSCCCI's annual report in Dublin, chief executive Teresa Devlin said it highlighted a number of areas where the Church and its organisations need to pull up their socks including learning "better and more compassionate ways of responding to victims."

She told the Irish Independent that the Church also needed to work at restoring survivors' sense of well-being.

The watchdog also highlights a lack of clear standards regarding the supervision of priests and religious out of ministry and against whom an allegation has been made or who have been convicted of abuse.

It also calls for clarity around Church canonical processes.

These Church investigations can result in a priest being removed from ministry and defrocked or if allowed to continue be subject to sanctions.

Ms Devlin, who took over from Ian Elliott on his retirement in June 2013, told reporters that last year had been "a really really busy" one as the NBSCCCI had completed 18 reviews of safeguarding practice in Church institutions.

Reviews of all 26 dioceses in the Irish Church have now been completed and the last four to be audited will be covered in the fifth tranche of reviews which is due to be released this month. Eleven religious congregations were also reviewed .

Ms Devlin said people now completely understand their obligations to civil authorities, "but we still have not got it right on how to manage survivors of abuse systematically and compassionately across the Church. There are pockets of very good practice and in other places there is a lot of work to be done."

She said another area of concern relates to the Church's own canonical and Church inquiry processes and how they can be expeditiously carried out once civil inquiries are completed

Ms Devlin added the current canonical processes are not fair for the complainant and the respondent and leave a lot of people sitting in limbo as cases are held up in the Vatican.

On May 15, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith's (CDF) Promoter of Justice, Mgr Bob Oliver, will arrive in Ireland with Irish priest, Fr John Kennedy, to talk to Church authorities about these canonical processes and how they can process urgent cases.

"There are probably thousands of cases sitting on the desks of the CDF," she said.

She said one of the new challenges for the board was the internet. As reports of "contact abuse is decreasing, or may be decreasing because we don't know for sure, abusers are going online to harm children. So we need a knowledge of how to manage the internet better."

She hoped another 40-50 reviews of the remaining institutions would be complete "by this time next year", adding: "It is a stressful process for survivors because every time a report comes out people's memories are evoked; it is a stressful process for the religious congregation and the diocese and it is a stressful process for us, as we are reading fairly toxic stuff. We want to do it properly but quickly," she said.

Irish Independent

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