164 abuse claims against 85 priests since 1975


OVERALL SUMMARY:INDEPENDENT REVIEWS into the past handling of sex abuse in six Catholic dioceses criticise senior clergy for failing to respond adequately to allegations. However, they also show major improvements in safeguarding practice in recent times.

A total of 164 allegations have been made against 85 priests in six dioceses since 1975. Of these, eight members of the clergy have been convicted of offences against children or young people.

The reviews were carried out by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church and cover the dioceses of Derry, Dromore (Down), Kilmore (Cavan) and Ardagh Clonmacnois (Longford, Leitrim and Offaly), as well as Tuam archdiocese.

The board was established by Irish bishops and religious orders to provide independent monitoring of church practice in child protection. The reports may be published only with the consent of individual bishops or church authorities. However, these authorities are not allowed to interfere with the content of the reports.

The main emphasis of the reviews is on current risk and examination of the safeguarding framework in each diocese. They do not provide a detailed analysis of past practice in many dioceses.

Overall, the reports are critical of the previous handling of abuse across many dioceses and say allegations should have been dealt with much more promptly.

The diocese of Raphoe, which includes most of Co Donegal, comes in for the heaviest criticism, with a review concluding that “significant errors of judgment” were made by successive bishops in responding to the accusations.

Of the 164 allegations, 52 relate to Raphoe, made against 14 priests. Four priests in this diocese have been convicted of offences against young people.

Three heads of the diocese should have done far more to ensure preventive actions were taken quickly when concerns first came to light, the review says.

In the diocese of Dromore in Co Down, the review found 35 allegations of child sexual abuse were made against priests, but no priest has been convicted.

The review says it does not believe there are currently any priests inappropriately in ministry against whom credible allegations have been made.

While there are concerns over the previous handling of abuse, overall the report highlights “marked improvements” in recent years in the prompt notification of the statutory authorities regarding allegations.

The review into the diocese of Kilmore in Co Cavan, where serial offender Fr Brendan Smyth served, is now described as a “model of best practice” in child protection.

In the archdiocese of Tuam, the review commends Archbishop Michael Neary for meeting clerical sex abuse allegations “with a steadily serious approach” and “rapidly assimilating” the need to remove priests where there are credible abuse allegations.

The diocese of Derry has “very clear procedures” for the management of allegations against priests, according to the board. This represents a “significant improvement” in the management of allegations since the last review of practice in 2009. All allegations now come to a lay designated person based at the pastoral centre in Derry. This individual has the mandate to record and manage cases, including handling formal reporting to the statutory authorities and ensuring complainants receive proper support.

The six reports published yesterday form part of a review of child-protection policies in all Catholic institutions on the island of Ireland. In general they show significant progress being made in the prompt notification of the statutory authorities regarding abuse allegations.

It is encouraging that much of this work is being undertaken by both clergy and volunteers, the reports said, urging a greater focus on the critical role of the “delegate” or “designated officer” in handling allegations. In some of the reviews, it was recommended that, where possible, this role should be undertaken by a qualified and experienced lay person.