Friday 18 October 2019

John Cooney: Church needs 'forces' of child protection supremo

John Cooney

FOR the past week Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has caused many Catholics to scratch their heads about the "strong forces" not wanting the truth to emerge about the scale of clerical child abuse.

Some have even wondered if the archbishop knows the answer to this question.

Among them is Ian Elliott, the Catholic Church's child-protection supremo.

Mr Elliott wants the archbishop to tell him what he knows that he himself does not know.

Yesterday Mr Elliott's ground-breaking news conference was somewhat overshadowed by media questions centring on last Monday's address by Archbishop Martin in which he told the Knights of Columbanus that there were worrying signs that new protection rules were not being followed with "the rigour required".

On the basis of yesterday's report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, of which Mr Elliott is chief executive, the two men may find a lot of common ground when they sit down for their chat.

No doubt, the archbishop will be eager to cite the Gospel according to Elliott, by reading out a pivotal passage from the report.

This reads: "The past 12 months have been eventful and challenging in a number of respects. Significant progress has been made in developing and implementing a single, coherent strategy to safeguarding children in the church."

But it adds: "This has proved to be demanding for some within the church who have had difficulty in changing their attitudes to fully embrace a single safeguarding approach."

Does this not echo Archbishop Martin's allusion to "strong forces"?

Likewise, a convergence is to be found in chairman John Morgan's comments in the report where it states: "Clearly, a cultural correction is required in the Irish church to deal with the problem of abuse. This will involve a re-planning of the church's journey and the discovery of new forms of commitment."

Mr Morgan concludes emerging evidence indicates that this is now beginning to happen.

But he offers the caveat that "there is little apparent recognition that Vatican II decisively moved the role of the church lay faithful from collaboration to co-responsibility".

Mr Morgan's hope that a form of recognised collective authority in the safeguarding of children might assist the ushering in of a wider recognition of the principle of co-responsibility will certainly meet with the archbishop's blessing.

Mr Elliott and Mr Morgan make an unlikely couple, but between them they are good news hot-gospellers. Their mission is to wage ceaseless war against clerical paedophilia.

The two child-protection crusaders do not belong to the hierarchy nor the enclosed elite who run religious orders and missionary societies. They represent the Church of the Future.

John Morgan is an experienced corporate lawyer with the mild-mannered aura of a benevolent grandfather. He is chairman of the board, which is independent but funded by the Catholic Church authorities. He has been an influential guiding force since 1999.

Ian Elliott, a Presbyterian, is a graduate of Trinity College and the University of Ulster. Formerly the lead child-protection adviser to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, he was appointed chief executive of the National Board in July 2007.

Like President Teddy Roosevelt, Mr Elliott knows how to talk softly while carrying a big stick.

This lesson was painfully learned by former Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, who in 2008 tried to elude Mr Elliott's vigilance by not applying agreed protection procedures. Convinced that Bishop Magee's negligence was putting children in danger, Mr Elliott shamed the now ex-Bishop Magee into publishing his Cloyne report last year. This, in turn, led to the Government extending the Murphy inquiry into the Cloyne diocese. Its report is expected later this year.

The second Murphy report may close a chapter of Government-led investigations, because there are indications that the Irish and Stormont governments may see Elliott as the man to undertake an all-Ireland audit of religious abuse.

Certainly, Mr Elliott's 'outing' of Magee has given him the badge of "the Little Sheriff". He is a man who can be trusted by church and state alike to put the safety of kids above individual reputations and the image of the church.

Last year, he won the approval of the 186 decision-makers in the Irish church -- including the 26 bishops -- to audit all dioceses, religious orders and missionary societies. He expects to get the go-ahead at next month's meeting of the bishops in Maynooth.

He plans to start with the dioceses first, in a four-stage approach that will approximate to the four provinces. High on his list may be the troubled dioceses of Raphoe and Derry.

Yesterday Mr Elliott unveiled the map by which he will proceed. This is his annual report which for the first time has outlined the geography of clerical child abuse in the whole of the island.

It showed a total of 197 new abuse allegations by adult survivors were reported to his office from April 1 of last year until the end of March 2010.

With Cardinal Brady staying on in Armagh, Archbishop Martin needs to convince the public as well as Mr Elliott that he was not brandishing the big stick at individuals.

All three need to bring the remnants of once "strong forces" forward on the road to reform and recovery.

Irish Independent

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