Number of clerical child abuse allegations declines

Child protection reviews in all 26 Irish Catholic dioceses completed

The National Board for Safeguarding Children  has now reviewed child protection practices in all 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland, as well as those of eight religious congregations and two missionary societies. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

The National Board for Safeguarding Children has now reviewed child protection practices in all 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland, as well as those of eight religious congregations and two missionary societies. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Thu, May 1, 2014, 16:21

The number of clerical child abuse allegations of a physical, emotional or sexual nature received by the Catholic Church child protection watchdog - the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) - continues the downward trend of recent years, with most now being historical.

The NBSC annual report for the year to March 31st last, published today, had received 164 new allegations of clerical child abuse since April 1st, 2013. All were reported to the Garda/PSNI and relevant health authorities.

Most allegations related to decades between the 1940s and 1990s, with the largest number from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

In the year to April 1st, 2013, it received 242 such complaints. The report also discloses that the NBSC is to undertake “a fundamental and comprehensive review” of its 2008 Safeguarding Children document.

Of the 164 allegations received to March 31st this year, 64 were against diocesan priests, with 100 against priests and religious from the congregations.

The highest monthly number of allegations in the year were received in December last when, following publication of the NBSC’s fourth tranche of child protection reviews in dioceses and congregations, 25 were made concerning members of religious congregations, compared to six for diocesan priests.

A similar pattern emerged in April and May of last year when, respectively, the NBSC received 16 and13 new allegations against clergy who were members of religious congregations, compared to seven and six, respectively, for diocesan priests.

The report raises caution over such data, pointing out that “due to the diverse range of notifications (allegations, concerns and suspicions), some of the information is presented in anonymised formats” and therefore its staff were “unable to identify precise numbers of priests and religious against whom allegations have been made” during the year.

It points out that “a more reliable record is obtained through the ‘review process’ when case files and specific cases and allegations are examined”.

The NBSC has now reviewed child protection practices in all 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland, as well as those of eight religious congregations and two missionary societies. The fifth tranche of reviews, including those of the remaining four dioceses, is due to be published later this month.

NBSC chair John Morgan said it was “currently satisfied with the total financial resources now available to it”. Its sponsoring bodies, the Catholic bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) and the Irish Missionary Union (IMU), were supplying it with “€600,000 for this year”, he said, while its reviews and services provided were being paid for by relevant Church authorities.

Income it generated through services provided came to €106,000 in the financial year to December 31st last.

He also welcomed the five new directors appointed to the NBSC in April 2013, Fr Tony Mullins, Fr Paul Murphy, solicitor Jim O’Higgins, Sr Colette Stevenson and Mary Waddell, former director of nursing at the Mater Hospital Belfast.

He said of the NBSC: “ We continue to be well poised in seeking to serve as a critical conscience for the Church throughout Ireland as we pursue the highest standards and quality in the safeguarding of children and young people.”

The NBSC’s new chief executive, Teresa Devlin, said that following in the footsteps of her predecessor Ian Elliott was “quite a challenge”. It was her intention “to build on his good work and continue to develop relationships and practice both inside the Church and with partner agencies in the best interests of safeguarding children”.

She pointed out that “over the last year we have undertaken 18 reviews of safeguarding practices, initiated a busy three-year training programme and on a day-to-day basis, offered advice and support across the various church bodies”. In the coming year it was hoped to complete reviews of “40 to 50” of the smaller congregations, she said.