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Hidden horror of audits on abuse

THERE would be a lot of areas in my life for which I'd need "awareness training". Like most people, I try to be aware of the important things, such as other people's feelings. But I know I fall short: very few of us don't, at least from time to time.

But one thing I do know: nobody needs to make me aware that children must be loved and cared for, and that anything which outrages their trust defiles society. Just as nobody needs to make me aware that seriously criminal behaviour, particularly against helpless people like children and the old, must be dealt with by the judicial authorities. And nobody needs to make me aware that as a citizen it is my basic duty, a sacred duty if you like, to do all I can to ensure that the civil and judicial authorities are made aware of the mistreatment of a child.

Not to be aware of that duty, indeed not to know it instinctively at the core of my being would make me less than human. It would certainly, I believe, indicate a deeply flawed psyche, maybe even verging on the sociopathic.

So what does it say about the senior clerics of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, or at least in six dioceses of Ireland, that they have now accepted that they need "awareness training" in the area of understanding the gravity and horror of child sexual abuse?

Ian Elliott, the head of the Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children was interviewed on Wednesday by Sean O'Rourke on RTE's News at One following publication of audits of the Church's handling of child abuse in six dioceses, including Raphoe, where the notorious child molester Eugene Green "ministered" for many years. O'Rourke pulled no punches. But the reports from the six dioceses surveyed reported "very accurately" on the history of child abuse and how the Church authorities dealt with it between the years of 1975 and 2010, Ian Elliott said.

"We can't change history," he told O'Rourke and added that the reports "confirm what the current situation now is". The language in relation to the past was measured, as it is in the audits themselves. It contrasts with the almost hysterical tone of praise for the current bishops and their practices: "models of best practice" with "industrious case management teams".

But the holes are already in that fabric. Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, one of those commended in the Committee's audit, has said that "an excessive concentration on child abuse in the Catholic Church risks problems of abuse in other areas of society being missed". Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe, one of those criticised in the audit of his diocese, had the gall to refer to the "tiny minority of priests" who had been guilty of abuse. Edward Daly, the former Bishop of Derry, said he greatly regretted "any failings or shortcomings that I may have had in dealing these matters whilst I was in office". There's no "may" about it.

The position now is that the current bishops, including those already indicted by public opinion and previous statutory reports for their failures to consider the welfare of children above the reputation of the Church and the protection of individual criminal priests, have implemented "a number" of the recommendations of the Safeguarding Board, and have accepted that understanding of the "phenomenon of child abuse" requires training, again according to Ian Elliott.

Sean O'Rourke asked him if he could give parents a categoric assurance that their children would be completely safe in a church environment? The answer was equivocal, even evasive. "A policy framework now exists." And there are "recommendations" a number of which have already been implemented, which are "as effective as they can be". And, of course, all the bishops "appreciate" the pain caused by their failures in the past.

I do not have a 12-year-old child who is being reared a

Catholic. If I had, I would be fearful. The answers were cautious and mealy-mouthed. There were more holes in them than I could count. There were "recommendations" not regulations so strict that failure to comply would result in immediate de-frocking of the cleric, no matter what his rank.

There was not even an assurance that all of the "recommendations" had been implemented. How long, in the name of all that should be holy, does it take to issue an order to protect the innocence and safety of children, and threaten immediate serious punishment for failure?

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin suggested earlier that there was a contrast in media and public attitudes towards senior executives in RTE dealing with the case of Fr Kevin Reynolds and the approach taken towards the failures of various bishops in the area of child abuse. In the latter, he reminded us, there had been calls for immediate resignations of the clerics involved. And he suggested that the same fate should be suffered by the RTE executives who have merely stood aside for the duration of the various inquiries into the Mission to Prey programme.

He certainly had a point, as is usual with Dr Martin's logical and compassionate execution of his hierarchical office. But there is a caveat: on the same day as the publication of the six diocesan audits, Cardinal Sean Brady reached a settlement in the High Court, said to be worth more than €250,000 with Brendan Boland, now 50 years old. In 1975, Sean Brady conducted a Canonical investigation into the sexual abuse of Mr Boland and another boy, by Ireland's most notorious priestly child rapist Brendan Smyth. He believed the evidence of the two youngsters but then swore them to secrecy concerning it. (Dr Brady has already been sued by and has compensated the other man in the case.) One: the men had to sue for compensation. Two: There was a storm of calls for the cardinal's resignation when the matter became public, but he's still in office.

Fr Kevin Reynolds has received settlement from RTE said to be in excess of €1m, possibly double that. Certainly, he was the victim, as Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said, of an egregious injustice. His reputation was destroyed, falsely accused of a crime that would be heinous for a layman, doubly so for a Catholic priest. But two little boys had their bodily integrity destroyed, and were subjected to the mental torment of adult lives warped by abuse. Where do the cases stand on the comparative scale?

Martin Gallagher, a "survivor" of clerical child sexual abuse, has said that the Raphoe audit, and the others published with it, are not worth the paper they are written on. All denial, he said; there's nothing about what they're going to do now.

It is possible, as has been claimed, although one hopes not, that the Reynolds verdict may make the priesthood in general feel that the heat is off them. That terrible injustice to Kevin Reynolds is very real; but the Raphoe and other audits seem ultimately to be a matter of shadow-play, with little achieved. Except that they too are dealing with terrible, multiple injustice.

They do share a hidden horror, however: how many men and women who spent their childhoods cowering under the sheets, tormented by nightmares, have had those nightmares re-activated by the accounts of the diocesan audits and their lame language? How many of them also sweat in shame because they resent the spotlight on Fr Kevin Reynolds and the sympathy for him?

Sunday Independent