Downward trend in reports of new clerical child sex abuse allegations continues

‘A note of caution has to be sounded against any over confidence’ about risks to children

 Teresa Devlin,   chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children,  said only constant vigilance will keep children safe. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Teresa Devlin, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, said only constant vigilance will keep children safe. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog received reports of 72 new allegations of clerical child sex abuse as well as 10 of physical and emotional abuse in the year to March 31st 2017, as a downward trend in such allegations continues.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), based at Maynooth, also received one allegation relating to boundary violation during the year and three where the abuse was unspecified. Most allegations related to a period from the 1950s to the 1990s, with a sharp drop after the year 2000.

The figures were supplied in the latest annual report from the NBSC published on Tuesday morning. They represent a significant drop in new allegations, from 153 in 2015/16, and 265 in 2014/2015.

Teresa Devlin, NBSC chief executive, noted however that an examination of the downward trend “shows we cannot assume the work is complete.” Since 2009, when the NBSC began compiling such figures, “there have been years where the figures rose and only constant vigilance will keep children safe,” she said.

The national board has now completed reviews of child safeguarding practices in all 26 Catholic dioceses and 142 religious orders/congregations, prelatures and institutes who have or have had ministry with children on the island of Ireland. It amounts to 168 Catholic Church bodies in total.

As of May 2016 findings were published in 30 reviews, each by relevant Church authorities, with a final four reviews of congregations, also subject to investigation by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland, published last month by the congregations concerned.

Lessons learned from the review process have been applied in a new Safeguarding Children: Policy and Standards for the Catholic Church in Ireland 2016 document, with two new standards introduced; Standard 3 Caring for the Complainant and Standard 4 Care and Management of the Respondent.

Ms Devlin said the NBSC made “the deliberate decision not to conduct reviews against the revised Standards during 2017, as Church authorities need time to implement the standards and to make the changes required of them.”

More generally she commented that “following years of criticism and failures to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse, it needs to be acknowledged that the Church’s policy, standards and practices are now among the most up-to-date and progressive in Ireland, and reflect a Church that is learning from the past.”

But, she added that, while acknowledging this progress, “a note of caution has to be sounded against any over confidence that risks to children and young people no longer exist.”