Children failed yet again by senior church figures

Thu, Sep 6, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:It is risible for a bishop to suggest he thought in the early 1990s that the sex abuse of a child was ‘a friendship that crossed a boundary’, writes PATSY McGARRY

ANYBODY WHO believed, even hoped, that the Catholic Church in Ireland had passed the peak of its clerical child sex abuse crisis must be in despair. The findings in the seven reviews of child protection practices in four dioceses and three religious congregations published yesterday were “disappointing”, said Ian Elliott, with remarkable restraint.

Chief executive of the church’s child protection watchdog, its National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), he led the reviews in the dioceses of Clonfert, Cork Ross, Kildare Leighlin, Limerick, as well as the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart congregation, the male Dominican congregation and the Spiritan, better known to most people as the Holy Ghost Fathers.

Those who have defended the church on the basis of the “historical” nature of abuse complaints against priests must feel sickened by these reports. Despite their valiant efforts at upholding a beleaguered and beloved institution, they too have been badly let down by senior church figures, again, when it comes to implementing basic child safeguarding practices.

It is risible for the Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby to expect people to believe that in the 1990s he saw the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in his diocese “as a friendship that crossed a boundary line”. He then just moved the accused priest to another parish. He did so where a second similarly accused priest was concerned there, too.

It is beyond belief that anyone in Ireland would have thought, in the early 1990s or beforehand, that sexual abuse/interference with a child by an adult was anything other than wrong. That a bishop did not do so, particularly where a priest was concerned, belongs to the realms of fantasy.

That alone renders meaningless Bishop Kirby’s “if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now” apology yesterday. It was merely repetition of an all-too-empty formula employed by senior Catholic Church figures caught in sticky situations and with which we have become mind-numbingly familiar.

Also undermining Bishop Kirby’s credibility in the matter is a realisation that just two years ago, in June 2010, he refused to act on the advice of a safeguarding committee he had himself set up, that he seek the removal of two priests accused of abuse from the Redemptorist retreat centre at Esker in east Galway, which is regularly attended by young people.

Then, following publicity, both men were moved to a Redemptorist community which has no involvement with children.

A further challenge to Bishop Kirby’s current “regret” is the NBSC review finding that just last November his diocese “did not have a full written policy and procedures document in place”, which had “a knock-on effect on safeguarding structures and practices in the diocese”.

All of which indicates that Bishop Kirby’s commitment to child protection is less than zealous and renders doubtful his assurance yesterday that “the diocese of Clonfert is absolutely committed to ensuring a culture of child safety throughout the local church”.

Where the Sacred Heart Missionaries were concerned, the review found it “difficult to express adequately the failure of this Society to effectively protect vulnerable children”. Its child protection policies were “deeply flawed”. It “failed to take action to protect vulnerable young children and had allowed those who caused harm to them to avoid being held accountable by statutory agencies by not passing critical information” to civil authorities.

Six of the 17 priests in this congregation accused of child abuse had been teachers at the Sacred Heart College at Carrignavar in Co Cork. The congregation’s Irish province includes England, Russia, parts of the United States, Venezuela, South Africa and Namibia. It is just not credible that it was more committed to child protection in any of those countries than it has been in Ireland.

Similarly with the Spiritans. This congregation has run some of the best-known schools in Ireland, including Blackrock College, St Mary’s, Templeogue College and St Michael’s in Dublin, as well as Rockwell College in Co Tipperary.

The NBSC found its child abuse files “very sad reading”. Serial child abusers among its priests worked in its school “undetected and unchecked giving them unmonitored access to children during the 1960s, 70s and 80s”.

The review found it “reasonable to believe that there are other victims of Spiritans who have not yet come forward. These victims may be located in Ireland, Canada, USA, Sierra Leone and any other country where the offending priests/brothers have worked”.

Where this congregation is concerned, tribute must be paid to Mark Vincent Healy who almost single-handedly ensured that the Spiritans were reviewed by the NBSC. In March 2009 Fr Henry Maloney was convicted of abusing Healy and Paul Daly when both had been pupils at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, between 1969 and 1973. Following a difficult life, Daly was found dead in sad circumstances last June in Dublin.

Maloney had already been convicted of child abuse in 2000. He taught at St Mary’s between 1968 and 1973, before being transferred to Sierra Leone. Healy has also been in contact with abuse victims of Spiritan priests in the UK, Kenya and Nigeria.

Where the Dominican congregation is concerned, the findings on the Limerick, Kildare Leighlin, and Cork Ross dioceses were like the curate’s egg, good in spots. The review praised the child protection work of Bishop Donal Murray while bishop of Limerick but noted that an unnamed predecessor there, believed to be Bishop Jeremiah Newman, allowed a priest whom he knew had a history of child abuse to minister in Limerick. That priest then allegedly abused Peter McCloskey (37) who took his own life in April 2006 following a fractious meeting with diocesan authorities in Limerick.

Yesterday’s reviews were further confirmation of a statement made by the Irish Catholic Bishops following publication of the Murphy report in 2009. They said then they were “shamed by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and recognise that this indicates a culture that was widespread in the church”.

Yet further such confirmation of that culture is likely as the NBSC continues its reviews of the remaining 16 Catholic dioceses and 159 religious congregations in Ireland, most of the latter being small. The prospect is of slow death by many self-inflicted cuts for a form of Irish Catholicism.

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