Church change welcome, albeit much too late
AS A teacher, it is horrifying to read that a religious order, the Spiritans, which ran some of the country’s most prestigious schools, regularly moved abusers from school to school. Untold and completely preventable suffering ensued.
As someone with a link to the women’s Dominican order, it is terrible to read that up until 2010, the men’s Dominican order still had unacceptably long delays in reporting allegations of crimes to authorities. As a Catholic, it is very depressing to hear a bishop, Dr John Kirby, say that until the 1990s, he thought of an instance of paedophilia as a “friendship that crossed a boundary”.
When you hear these things, including the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy in the Sacred Heart Missionaries, it leaves you feeling nothing has changed.
And yet, when you read the National Board for Safeguarding Children reports, it is clear a shift has occurred. It’s much too late to prevent harm to many young people – and involves a shameful stance from which the Catholic Church will never recover – but it is a change nonetheless. The very existence of the reports proves it.
Few institutions in Ireland invite in independent auditors, and when the report is damning, publish it. Employing a tough Northern Presbyterian, Ian Elliott, whose career has been dedicated to protecting children, and mandating his team to reform an entrenched culture, is a most worthwhile exercise for the church to engage in.
Elliott can only recommend publication of the reports. In spite of the fact they are damaging, they are still being published. If we had more of this in other areas of Irish life, we might not be in the economic and social mess we are in. Publication does not at all excuse disclosed church failings. It is often incomprehensible how allegedly mature leaders could make the decisions they did. And yet, the most repeated sentence in the board’s report on the Diocese of Clonfert is: “[The board] is satisfied with the development of the new policy and procedure manual in January, 2012, that these criteria are now met in full.”
The board examines each diocese and religious order for compliance with seven criteria. The sentence about there now being full compliance is found after six of them, and Clonfert was already fully compliant with the seventh.
Late? Yes. Disastrously late? Absolutely. But tangible improvement? Yes.
I am appalled by Dr Kirby’s stated belief about paedophilia. The 1990s are such a short time ago – could anyone really believe paedophilia had anything to do with friendship? And is this grossly naive statement the last word on him? Is all the good he has done in his tiny diocese of 24 parishes, all the good he has done for people in the developing world through Trócaire, to be wiped out by this admission?