Sunday 21 January 2018

'Unacceptable' delay by church on abuse claims

Paul Melia and Breda Heffernan

THE Catholic Church took almost four months to report allegations of child sex abuse despite new guidelines requiring that all incidents be immediately notified to gardai and the HSE.

A HSE audit has found "significant weaknesses" in how children are protected in some of the country's 24 dioceses, and says the State should take a hands-on role and make sure protection standards are fully implemented.

This is because some dioceses had "misinterpreted" guidelines introduced in 2009 with a "wide variation" in reporting procedures and "significant weaknesses" identified.

Clogher diocese showed an "unacceptable" delay of up to four months to report three allegations made in 2009, it found, while some claims were still not being reported in Ferns.

The report examined all allegations of abuse made against diocesan priests dating from the 1970s up to November last.

The HSE Audit of Safeguarding Arrangements in the Catholic Church in Ireland found that 579 allegations about 189 priests were notified to the dioceses subject to the audit.

Some 31 diocesan priests have been convicted of sexual abuse. One had more than 40 allegations made against him.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the report was a "mixed picture" and showed the need for improvements.

"There are still concerns that a number of dioceses have yet to make improvements and they could do more in terms of protection of children," she said.

"It also expresses some concerns about delays in reporting allegations. It's a mixed picture, and work still needs to be done."

The audit found that some dioceses "misinterpreted" the guidelines, including notifying allegations to gardai, but not the HSE, on the understanding that gardai would do so.

It also found that just 15pc of abuse allegations received by the church were reported to gardai and health chiefs with "immediacy", or within three days.

Other findings include:

• There were "significant" delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities by some dioceses.

• Some dioceses told the HSE they had reported promptly, but this was not the case.

• However, since 2009 where there was an "immediate" risk to children, the response was generally good and included prompt removal of priests from ministry.

• Dioceses with good procedures included Kildare & Leighlin, Armagh, Waterford & Lismore, Clonfert, Elphin and Dublin.

• Ferns, Ossory and Clonfert "did not perform satisfactorily".

The report recommends that the State work with the church to address the problems identified, and that a single child protection policy be put in place.

This would include a requirement for the dioceses to regularly provide updates until there has been a "substantial and demonstrable improvement" in child protection practices.

The church's own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), should remain in place, it adds.

Anyone distressed by publication of the HSE audit can contact the following support services:

Connect - 1800 477 477, 00800 47777 from Northern Ireland and the UK. 6-10pm Wednesday to Sunday. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre - 24-hour helpline - 1800 778 888 One in Four -- 01 6624070

Irish Independent

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