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David Quinn: RTE should shine a light into non-clerical abuse

A DISPUTE of sorts broke out this week between Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) over the issue of media bias.

Archbishop Martin had said that he didn't think there was a general anti-Catholic bias in the Irish media. The ACP agreed that it would be wrong if "all media are tarred with the same brush in the way that priests are", but complained again of the bias it believed was shown in the Fr Kevin Reynolds case.

There was a good opportunity this week to ascertain whether there is still a problem of bias at RTE and it came in the form of the station's coverage on Wednesday of the audits of child-protection procedures in six Catholic dioceses.

The audits were carried out by the church's own National Board for Safeguarding Children. This is the body that first investigated child-protection failings in the diocese of Cloyne, leading eventually to the resignation of Bishop John Magee.

The audits investigated how well the six dioceses are currently following proper child-protection procedures and how well, or how badly, historic cases of abuse by priests were dealt with.

The period investigated was from January 1975 until roughly the present.

There appears to have been no first-order child protection failings in any of the dioceses in recent years. By this I mean failings that put children at risk.

The recent failings uncovered tended to be of a second-order nature, for example, not offering enough pastoral support to alleged victims, which is bad enough.

Several dioceses were highly praised, most notably Kilmore and its present incumbent, Bishop Leo O'Reilly.

Unfortunately, the historic failings uncovered were often first-order failings of the type we're all too familiar with -- that is the civil authorities not being informed of allegations, or priests being sent for treatment and then put back into parishes.

It would have been helpful if the audits had made clear exactly which bishops were responsible for which first-order failings. It would also have been helpful if the audits had told us when the alleged incidents are supposed to have occurred so we could ascertain exactly how historic these cases are.

To judge from American data and from the Dublin report, the great bulk of allegations appear to date back to the 1970s and 1980s, with the worst period by far being roughly 1975 to 1980.

So, how good, bad or indifferent was RTE's coverage of the audits? Actually, on the whole, one or two headlines aside, it wasn't too bad. The tone was dispassionate rather than hysterical, and the various audits were presented fairly instead of cherry-picking those portions that would cast the church in the worst possible light.

However, what stood out about the coverage was the sheer extent of it. Almost the whole of the TV news programmes on Wednesday were devoted to the audits even though huge events were playing out abroad that affect the future of the euro. This needs to be justified.

Why do reports into how well, or how badly, the church is implementing child-protection guidelines receive such extensive coverage, when reports into how well, or how badly, the State is implementing its child-protection guidelines receive such scant coverage?

For example, in 2009 the then minister for children launched a three-volume report, running to hundreds of pages, which was an investigation into whether 'Children First', the State's child-protection policy, was being properly implemented.

The audit found that it was not (and is not) being implemented properly. For example, when those working in the area of child protection were asked whether the HSE and gardai are "acting in accordance with 'Children First' guidelines in child-protection cases", a mere 13pc said 'Yes'. That is potentially disastrous.

Alan Shatter at the time said the failure to properly implement 'Children First' was "abject and scandalous".

But the publication of these three volumes uncovering failings affecting numerous children now, today, received almost no coverage at the time, let alone the very extensive coverage given on Wednesday to the six audits.

It is almost as though victims of sex offenders other than priests are somehow considered lesser-status victims because they generally receive so much less attention than the victims of clerics. But the hurt and injury is the same and all children deserve equal protection wherever they are to be found.

Of course, I can be accused of being a church 'apologist' and therefore of attempting to distract attention from the failings of the Church.

But no such accusation can be hurled at CARI (Children at Risk in Ireland). In its latest annual report it pleads that "it is about time that the situation of children experiencing child sexual abuse in other settings (other than the church) gets similar attention".

So, when will that happen and why hasn't it happened yet? This is one more question the various inquiries into RTE might consider.

Irish Independent