Church change welcome, albeit much too late
AS A teacher, it is horrifying to read that a religious order, the Spiritans, which ran some of the country’s most prestigious schools, regularly moved abusers from school to school. Untold and completely preventable suffering ensued.
As someone with a link to the women’s Dominican order, it is terrible to read that up until 2010, the men’s Dominican order still had unacceptably long delays in reporting allegations of crimes to authorities. As a Catholic, it is very depressing to hear a bishop, Dr John Kirby, say that until the 1990s, he thought of an instance of paedophilia as a “friendship that crossed a boundary”.
When you hear these things, including the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy in the Sacred Heart Missionaries, it leaves you feeling nothing has changed.
And yet, when you read the National Board for Safeguarding Children reports, it is clear a shift has occurred. It’s much too late to prevent harm to many young people – and involves a shameful stance from which the Catholic Church will never recover – but it is a change nonetheless. The very existence of the reports proves it.
Few institutions in Ireland invite in independent auditors, and when the report is damning, publish it. Employing a tough Northern Presbyterian, Ian Elliott, whose career has been dedicated to protecting children, and mandating his team to reform an entrenched culture, is a most worthwhile exercise for the church to engage in.
Elliott can only recommend publication of the reports. In spite of the fact they are damaging, they are still being published. If we had more of this in other areas of Irish life, we might not be in the economic and social mess we are in. Publication does not at all excuse disclosed church failings. It is often incomprehensible how allegedly mature leaders could make the decisions they did. And yet, the most repeated sentence in the board’s report on the Diocese of Clonfert is: “[The board] is satisfied with the development of the new policy and procedure manual in January, 2012, that these criteria are now met in full.”
The board examines each diocese and religious order for compliance with seven criteria. The sentence about there now being full compliance is found after six of them, and Clonfert was already fully compliant with the seventh.
Late? Yes. Disastrously late? Absolutely. But tangible improvement? Yes.
I am appalled by Dr Kirby’s stated belief about paedophilia. The 1990s are such a short time ago – could anyone really believe paedophilia had anything to do with friendship? And is this grossly naive statement the last word on him? Is all the good he has done in his tiny diocese of 24 parishes, all the good he has done for people in the developing world through Trócaire, to be wiped out by this admission?
I have been struck by the lack of condemnation of the Spiritans, whose practice was far worse than Dr Kirby’s. I hope I am wrong in wondering whether it is the fact the Spiritans educated so many of the great and the good that has muted the response? And what about Bishop Donal Murray? I have long felt a grave injustice was done to him. I have known him at some level since I was 17, when he was one of my lecturers in college, and I know he was one of the main drivers of reform of child safeguarding.
The report on the Diocese of Limerick finds he put in place “robust safeguards and prompt responses to allegations of abuse”. Yet he had to resign for something that occurred when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin. There, he had little authority to change the culture, but when he had freedom to act in Limerick he instituted one of the best programmes for child safeguarding.
It is a great tragedy that all the facts on sexual abuse of children by clergy did not come out a decade or more ago. The “slow death by many self-inflicted cuts” as described by Patsy McGarry could have been avoided. Yet the process is producing something new – something the State has yet to demonstrate practically.
Perhaps I am too cynical, but what a strange coincidence that the Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group into nearly 200 deaths in the care of the Health Service Executive was published on June 20th, and the Constituency Commission report on redrawing constituency boundaries appeared on June 21st – thus diverting media attention.
More than one victim of child sex abuse has said to me their case merits no public attention, as they were not abused by a cleric or religious. I see how painful that is for victims of sexual abuse not committed by clerics or religious, but also understand it.
It is right that people who claim to live by Christ’s standards should be excoriated when they fail so horribly. But the board’s work, and church people who accept it with humility, should be given due credit for changing the culture, even if painfully slowly.