Focus shifts to likelihood of abuse by religious in missions
The Spiritans told The Irish Times this week it has been alerted to a total of six complaints from two mission countries and these “are being followed up”.
The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart said nine of the 61 allegations it had identified relate to its work outside of Ireland.
For the Dominicans, Fr Bernard Treacy said he was unaware of specific allegations overseas but he admitted that some of those people against whom allegations had been made in Ireland had also served in the missions.
But are congregations doing enough to identify survivors in mission countries as they are obliged to do in Ireland under church guidelines here?
Fr Treacy said two years ago its leadership began training personnel at its main missionary operation in Trinidad and Tobago on “developing and following safeguarding protocols”.
Part of this would be “putting out an invitation to possible victims”.
However, “whether it is actually happening I cannot say,” he added.
The other two congregations were similarly vague when questioned about the issue. The Sacred Heart Missionaries would only say it was seeking to “respond effectively and appropriately to any information or allegations of abuse” overseas, while the Spiritans said “we are seeking to find new ways to seek out and engage with anybody who has been abused”.
The Irish Missionary Union, the umbrella group for such orders, said it would consider this week’s reports at a board meeting next Tuesday.
It “will decide what to do after that”, its outgoing executive secretary Eamon Aylward said.
Asked whether child safeguarding procedures were being applied universally by its members overseas, he replied: “I could not say all congregations are trying to do it. There are some who are definitely making concrete efforts to do it.” As for the prospect of a comprehensive inquiry into the handling of abuse allegations in the missions, he replied: “It might be a realistic proposal” but it would have to be done by a body such as the NBSC.
“I would still stick by my own personal impression that the incidence of abuse would be less than at home,” Fr Aylward added.
Asked what this view was based on, he replied: “Just having an idea of some cases, the numbers of missionaries overseas and the number of cases we are aware of.”
In the absence of a full inquiry, combined with a genuine attempt to trace survivors of abuse in Africa, Asia and South America, we are left with such speculation.
One question lingers, moreover: why should Irish religious who worked overseas be held to different standards from those at home?
Joe Humphreys is an Irish Times assistant news editor and author of God’s Entrepreneurs: How Irish Missionaries Tried to Change the World (New Island)