Divine Word missionaries severely criticised by child protection watchdog

National Board for Safeguarding Children expresses ‘great concern’ over congregation

Bishop William Crean of Cloyne prepares to speak on the review of child safeguarding in the diocese by the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Bishop William Crean of Cloyne prepares to speak on the review of child safeguarding in the diocese by the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Mon, May 12, 2014, 22:07

That no child safeguarding case management files existed in the Divine Word (SVD) Missionary congregation prior to 2013 was “of great concern and indicates a lack of any focus on child protection within the society over the last 20 years”,

the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog has found.

In its review of child protection at the congregation, published yesterday, the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) also found that 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 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.”

‘Truly unfortunate’
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 review disclosed that a total of eight abuse allegations were made against six Divine Word missionaries since January 1st, 1975, with one convicted in the courts. 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”.

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”. However, they “found evidence of a strong commitment to quickly build a robust and effective system now”, at the congregation.

Yesterday saw the publication of the fifth and largest tranche of reviews of Catholic Church institutions in Ireland by the NBSC. With publication of the reviews on the Dublin archdiocese, as well as Cloyne, Meath and Killaloe dioceses, it means all 26 Irish Catholic dioceses have now been reviewed.

Vigilance urged
At a press conference in Cloyne diocese, attended by papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, Bishop William Crean said its review had “been very complimentary of all the effort that has gone into ensuring the safety of all children in the diocese”. But, he added, “vigilance must be our watchword in an ever- changing world”. The Cloyne review recommended a policy to facilitate whistleblowers concerned about possible clerical child sexual abuse be established there.

Reviews of the Presentation Brothers, the Patrician Brothers, the Benedictines at Glenstal and the Columban Missionaries were also published. In general, apart from the Divine Word missionaries, reviews were positive, particularly of the dioceses. NBSC chief executive Teresa Devlin said, “all dioceses are making very good progress in adhering to the board’s standard”. All reviews are available at safeguarding.ie.