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David Quinn: The vast majority of abuse allegations received today relate to incidents that date back at least 10 years, usually more

ACOUPLE of years ago I was interviewed by SBS, an Australian TV channel, about the situation of the Catholic Church in Ireland and specifically about the vocations crisis.

I said it was worse than a crisis, that it was a catastrophe and that Ireland was one of the vocations black spots of the world, which it is. I went on to add some context and nuance to this but that was all left out in the edit. All that was used was me talking about the catastrophe. I should have known better.

This is what happens when you agree to give interviews that are later subject to editing. In my case, it doesn't matter a whole lot, but if you are in a position of real responsibility and authority you have to be extremely careful what you say.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was interviewed about the abuse crisis by '60 Minutes', produced by CBS News in the US. His remarks were widely reported.

He conceded that the church in Ireland had reached "a breaking point" because of the scandals, adding: "There's a real danger today of people saying the child-abuse scandal is over, let's bury it, let's move on. It isn't over.

"The protection of children is something that will go on for the rest of our lives and into the future, because the problems are there."

How is the average person supposed to interpret this?

Undoubtedly, Archbishop Martin meant we can never let our guard down and that we can never assume scandals aren't happening now and won't happen in the future. If that's what he meant, then he is absolutely correct.

Unfortunately, many people will interpret his words differently. When Archbishop Martin says the child-abuse scandal isn't over, they are quite likely to believe that things are as bad, or almost as bad, as they ever were.

But that is not true because the scandals aren't even remotely as bad as they were and the church in general has in place what is probably the best child-protection system in the country.

Obviously Cloyne diocese was an exception to that and other exceptions may be found. But in general, it holds true.

Recently, the National Board for Safeguarding Children released reports of its investigations into how well six dioceses were implementing the church's child-protection protocols. Other reports are in the pipeline, along with the HSE's audit of the dioceses.

The reports revealed that Archbishop Martin isn't the only bishop in the country who has been up to the mark with regard to child protection. Among others who were highly rated were the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, and the Bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O'Reilly.

The report about Tuam archdiocese says of Michael Neary that since his installation as archbishop "all allegations of child abuse have been passed to An Garda Siochana" and that he has met allegations with "a steadily serious approach".

It has similar praise for Bishop Leo O'Reilly, of whom it states: "The overall view of current practice is that it is of a consistently high standard ... to a significant extent, this is seen as a consequence of the personal commitment and diligence of Bishop O'Reilly."

Michael Neary has been in office since 1995 and Leo O'Reilly since 1998. Diarmuid Martin is Archbishop of Dublin since 2004. In other words, some of Diarmuid Martin's fellow bishops have been implementing high-quality child-protection standards since before most of us had even heard of Diarmuid Martin.

The fact that most of us don't know this is partly the fault of Michael Neary and Leo O'Reilly themselves because they don't make use of the media to anything like the same extent as Diarmuid Martin.

They ought to, especially as they, like Archbishop Martin, "get it" so far as child protection is concerned and have been "getting it" for pretty much as long as they have been bishops.

THIS would help to rebuild public confidence in the church. But Archbishop Martin himself should use his unrivalled media profile to spread the credit more evenly. He should be more willing to point out that dioceses other than Dublin have good child-protection systems in place.

He should also be more willing to point out the truth that the vast majority of abuse allegations being received today relate to incidents that date back at least 10 years and usually by much more.

The fact that more people don't know this is one reason why the average member of the public believes that a quarter of priests have abused a child. This is a gross overestimate.

Archbishop Martin is, of course, right to stress the damage done to the church by the scandals and to say that we can never let down our guard. But he should be more willing to give credit where it's due and he needs to do it not once, but often, so the message gets through even to those in denial about the progress that has been made.

Irish Independent