FEW institutions have taken as severe a battering as the Catholic Church. A series of reports has highlighted horrific litanies of abuse, a culture of secrecy and, most damning of all, an institution more preoccupied with preserving its own interests than the protection of children.
This is the context that makes yesterday's revelations published in the annual report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children so depressing. According to its chief executive Ian Elliott its work had been frustrated until March of this year by its own sponsoring bodies which include the bishops, Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union.
Given the black cloud that has hung over the church in Ireland since the abuse scandal first broke, this seems astonishing. The watchdog revealed that just 53 new allegations had been reported to it by church authorities until a recent 'final pro-forma check' revealed that a total of 272 new allegations had been received during the year. This is inexcusable. It calls into question the spirit of compassion that the church promised to foster to guarantee that putting victims first would be paramount.
Mr Elliott said that the church had received legal advice that they should not co-operate due to possible breaches of data protection legislation.
The board's chairman John Morgan said it was "insufficiently appreciated that the inculturation required to overcome the difficulties which have been made manifest in the church through the inadequate safeguarding of children will, regrettably, take a considerable time". One has to ask, how much more time is necessary for the church to learn the lessons of the past?
Maeve Lewis of the One in Four survivors group was less circumspect. She spoke for many in saying: "They -- the board -- are clearly being impeded by forces within the church in their monitoring role. This must be frustrating in the extreme, and may also endanger children."
Abuse victim Andrew Madden also voiced dismay that the board could not move any child protection concerns or findings into the public domain without the consent of Catholic bishops.
It has been observed that truth is the best vindication against slander. If the church is to regain its standing and repair the breach of trust that has rocked it to its foundations it must stop behaving like a corporate institution and put victims, and not its reputation first.