New Garda inquiry sought into church practices on child safety
A LEADING advocacy group for victims of child sexual abuse has called for a Garda investigation of senior Catholic Church figures in Ireland following new disclosures concerning child protection practices in four dioceses and three congregations published yesterday.
The findings followed reviews of the dioceses of Clonfert, Cork Ross, Kildare Leighlin and Limerick, and the congregations of the Sacred Heart Missionaries, the Spiritans (formerly Holy Ghost Fathers) and the male congregation of the Dominicans.
The reviews were conducted by the Catholic Church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC). Its chief executive Ian Elliott, who led the reviews, described the findings as “disappointing”.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One in Four group, said after publication of the findings yesterday it was “as if certain senior churchmen continue to believe that child protection procedures are optional, and they are above the law of the land”.
“We know from the past that children were abused because church leaders protected sex offenders. I believe that where possible, the gardaí should now investigate if these senior men are in breach of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 and if there is evidence to show that they may be guilty of the crime of reckless endangerment of children.”
She said in some areas of the church it was “as if the Ferns, Ryan, Dublin and Cloyne reports had never happened”.
The review of the Clonfert diocese found Bishop John Kirby dealt “inappropriately” with abuse allegations in the diocese and that he “did not have a full written policy and procedures document in place at the time of the review – a significant shortcoming” which “had a knock-on effect on safeguarding structures and practices in the diocese”.
Nine allegations were made against three priests in Clonfert and one who had provided holiday cover. One was convicted in the courts.
Bishop Kirby said he had not considered resigning over the disclosure that he moved to other parishes two priests whom he knew had abused children. He said he “hadn’t a clue” 20 years ago about how paedophiles operated, and thought it was a case of “a friendship that crossed a boundary line”. He would handle matters differently now.
The review of the Sacred Heart congregation found it “difficult to express adequately the failure of this Society to effectively protect vulnerable children”.
The Spiritans review found that case files there made for “very sad reading”, and that serial priest abusers who worked in the congregation’s schools in Ireland “went undetected and unchecked, giving them unmonitored access to children during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s”.
Among such schools were some of the best known in Ireland, including Blackrock College, St Mary’s, Templeogue College and St Michael’s in Dublin, as well as Rockwell College in Co Tipperary.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said a statutory inquiry into child abuse in Ireland could be considered “if it fulfils the purpose of protecting children” once ongoing investigations were completed.
She said a comprehensive picture of how child protection was being practised by the Catholic Church would be provided by the NBSC’s ongoing review of dioceses and congregations, and a continuing Health Service Executive national audit.
She was responding to comments by Fianna Fáil spokesman on health in the Seanad, Senator Marc MacSharry, who said there had been a “drip-feed” of information through a series of “isolated” reviews with differing terms of reference. “What further evidence does the Government need to warrant a statutory inquiry? While audits by the HSE and the church’s watchdog are important, they are not enough in isolation,” he said.
However, Mr Elliott said he was not in favour of a statutory inquiry. They tended to be slow, costly and “tell us what we know already”, he told RTÉ’s Six One News. Sinn Féin’s spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the findings as “a further indictment of the gross neglect of the Catholic Church authorities regarding the protection of children”.