Low number of prosecutions in clerical child abuse cases noted

Great majority of abuse allegations against priests historic

File photograph of Ian Elliott (left) outgoing chief executive of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church with board chairman John Morgan in 2010. Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

File photograph of Ian Elliott (left) outgoing chief executive of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church with board chairman John Morgan in 2010. Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Mon, May 20, 2013, 13:57

Fewer than one in 12 priests accused of child sex abuse has faced prosecution, according to latest annual report of the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog published today.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) report also disclosed that it was notified of 242 “allegations, concerns and suspicions of abuse” brought to the attention of Church authorities in 2012.

Most were of a historica nature and related to alleged incidents of abuse between the 1940s and 1990s, with the biggest number relating to the 60s, 70s, and 80s. All have been notified to relevant civil authorities.

The NBSC was also notified in 2012 of two allegations of abuse having taken place since 2000 and one allegation of abuse taking place in 2012. “This would underline the continued need for vigilance, good safeguarding practice and prompt action when the allegation or concern is notified to Church authority.”

It noted that following completion of its first two tranches of reviews, involving 10 dioceses and three religious congregations, “some striking trends” emerge.

“The number of convictions from both dioceses and religious orders for serious offences against children is low. There were 26 prosecutions out of a total of 723 allegations involving 320 priests.”

The findings from those first two tranches of reviews undertaken by the NBSC were published in November 2011 and September 2012. Each looked at records going back to 1975. A further tranche of reviews was published last month while a fourth is underway.

To date, 16 of Ireland’s 26 Catholic dioceses have been subject to a NBSC review with a further six to be completed by September next. It is expected that all 26 dioceses will have been reviewed by the end of this year. So far, five religious congregations have been subject to review with the intention of having all major congregations reviewed b y the end of 2014.

In a statement accompanying the report, NBSC chairman John Morgan noted “the success of our National Case Management Reference Group” which “has been a cause of pleasant surprise. A total of 15 dioceses and 22 religious congregations now subscribe to it for specific advice.”

He also disclosed that “a comprehensive review” of the NBSC is to take place over the summer months.

He noted that NBSC chief executive Ian Elliott retires at the end of June. “His record as chief executive over the last six years has been superlative. We are all in his debt for the leadership he has provided in seeking to bring best practice child safeguarding to all aspects of Church activity.

“We are conscious that Mr Elliott’s services will be eagerly sought after, and we hope he will be successful in all he undertakes and that our relationship with him can continue, in some form, after his retirement.”

In his contribution to the report, Mr Elliott observed that his six years as inaugural chief executive at the NBSC “was for me a fantastic learning opportunity in which I felt privileged to meet and work with many wonderful people who shared my passion for protecting the vulnerable child. A great deal of progres has been made and a number of significant challenges have been faced.”

Mr Morgan also paid tribute to Sr Martina Barret who has retired from the NBSC having served as a director since 2006 and to the new Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin who resigned from the NBSC last Febraury following his appointment to Armagh.

Mr Morgane also remembered Dr Kathleen Garner, who died in July 2012, for “her helpful contributions to our discussions.”