Child protection review severely critical of Divine Word

‘Not acceptable’ that it waited until 2012 to implement child protection policies

It said it was ‘not acceptable that any Church authority in Ireland would have waited until 2012 to begin the process of implementing accepted and agreed Church child safeguarding policies’, the review said. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

It said it was ‘not acceptable that any Church authority in Ireland would have waited until 2012 to begin the process of implementing accepted and agreed Church child safeguarding policies’, the review said. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Tue, May 13, 2014, 06:18

The fact that no child safeguarding case management files existed in the Divine Word (SVD) missionary congregation prior to 2013 “is of great concern and indicates a lack of any focus on child protection within the society over the last 20 years,” the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) review has found.”Case files were constructed by the society in advance of the review taking place,” it said.

The existence of child safeguarding case management files within the congregation “can only be traced back to the beginning of 2013,” it said. “A lot of documentation was either never generated, or was removed or destroyed by parties unknown, or was kept in some file or files the existence of which has not yet been discovered.” it said.

It said it was “not acceptable that any Church authority in Ireland would have waited until 2012 to begin the process of implementing accepted and agreed Church child safeguarding policies, procedures and practices and while there may be explanations offered for this state of affairs, there are no excuses for it.”

It also described as “ truly unfortunate and a great injustice that it is almost impossible to identify the victims of historical child sexual abuse who live in developing countries and whose abuse took place many years ago.

“The behaviour of the few SVD members who perpetrated this abuse has severely undermined the integrity of a Christian brotherhood that aspires to bring the Good News to people who have not yet heard it,” it said.

The congregation fully met none of the four criteria for complaince with training and education as “child safeguarding has only really been actively taken up by the SVD IBP within the past year and much remains to be done.”

Nor did the congregation “place a notice on its website announcing this NBSCCCI review and inviting anyone who had a child safeguarding concern to make contact,” as is required.

What was missing in the congregation’s approach “is a clear and systematic consideration of the potential to identify victims of member.” The reviewers found evidence “on the files of some attempts to assess the risks posed by members about whom there were child safeguarding concerns. However, this approach was hit and miss,” it said.

A total of eight abuse allegations were made against six Divine Word missionaries since January 1st 1975, with one convicted in the courts, according to today’s review. The reviewers read case files on seven accused men, however.

“One of these men had spent some of his formation period in an SVD seminary, but he transferred to a diocesan seminary, from which he was ordained. He was subsequently found to have abused children as a diocesan priest, but no information suggesting that he had abused while an SVD seminarian was found.”

In a second case “the SVD member against whom an allegation of historical child sexual abuse had been made was deceased for a number of years before the allegation was received and so no current risk exists.”

Of the remaining five accused men, “the complaint received is by a third party and the alleged victim has not made a complaint. In these circumstances while the allegation was reported to the statutory authorities, no statutory or canonical investigation can be initiated.”

The four remaining men “are out of of whom has already served a prison sentence for abuse committed in Ireland.” Two of these men “made admissions of having abused children, although no allegations against them have been received; and in the case of the other two, sufficient evidence of concern exists to justify their being asked to step aside from ministry while appropriateinvestigations are being conducted,” the review said.

The reviewers were “very concerned about the potential risks” involving one Divine Word member “ who has admitted to extensive abuse of children in mission countries over a 20-year period, but against whom there are no complaints or allegations.”

It pointed out that this man only joined the congregation “when he returned to the province from overseas, and that the Irish Provincial had no authority over him while he served abroad.”

It continued that “unfortunately this man’s situation was very poorly managed by the international leadership of the society at geneneralate level since concerns about his ministry were first raised. He was moved from one country where the local bishop did not want him, to another country, where it would have been much more appropriate to withdraw him from ministry until his personality and behavioural problems were dealt with.”

It said “however, recent evidence indicates that he abused children until he was returned to Ireland; there have been no admissions or allegations relating to him having abused in Ireland. All admissions were reported to the civil authorities by the Irish designated person.”

While there had been “three specialist assessments of this priest, in 1985, 1997 and 2004, previous provincials had not kept assessment reports on file, if such reports were ever requested by them and the current provincial was not briefed about this man’s problems when he was taking over the leadership from his predecessor.

“Matters were further complicated by the fact that despite a lengthy list of admissions during the most recent specialist assessment, the author of the Assessment Report (which the current provincial had in 2013 to specifically seek from the UK assessment service from which it had been commissioned in 2004) concluded that the man should be considered as being ‘low risk’of abusing children.”

Significantly the reviewers said they “cannot understand how such a determination was made.” It said “it is difficult to comprehend how this situation was tolerated and ignored for almost 30 years. The full details of the case only came to the attention of the current provincial this year. However, it would have been prudent for him to have read the personnel files of living members in the IBP (congregation) over a period of time when he became provincial.”

The reviewers were also “unhappy that in the case of another member, no real attempts were made to supervise him or restrict his access to children between 1988, when he was sent for assessment, and his removal from ministry in 1995.

“Once removed from ministry, he was required to sign an undertaking to not have contact with children and young people, and he had to sign in and sign out of his community house. He was imprisoned in 2003 for child abuse offences in Ireland. In this case and in others, written reports of assessments undertaken are not on file. Efforts should now be made to obtain thesereports.”

The Divine Word congregation was now “working to ensure that all other SVD provinces are informed of allegations and concerns about abuse perpetrated abroad by men who are now members of the Irish British Province. It is hoped that these contacts will be instrumental in identifying victims in other countries to whom the society can provide appropriate outreach responses,” the review said.

While the congregation had been “slow to address the needs for structures and processes required for child safeguarding, the reviewers found evidence of a strong commitment to quickly build a robust and effective system now.”

The reviewers were “impressed with the professional approach to her task that has been applied by the new designated person for the Society of the Divine Word Irish British Province and there is evidence that however belatedly, the society has now committed itself to implementing comprehensive and effective child safeguarding across the province.

“The reviewers had a lengthy meeting with the provincial and members of the Provincial Council at which undertakings were given that child safeguarding will now receive priority within the society.”