Bishops agree to seek way around audit difficulties

 

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have agreed during a meeting with the Minister for Children to try to find a way around legal difficulties that they say have prevented them from divulging to the HSE whether all cases of clerical child sex abuse have been reported to the authorities.

The commitment follows a meeting yesterday in Dublin between Minister Barry Andrews, Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Seán Brady and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.

The Irish Bishop’s Conference held a meeting in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth on Friday following which they said they would sign a written commitment to implementing guidelines on safeguarding children within their dioceses.

The Bishops said they had agreed “to invite the NBSCCC [National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church] to undertake a review of current practice and risk in the safeguarding of children within their dioceses”.

The Bishops said they had agreed a number of measures, including that they would try to provide all information requested by the HSE in an audit form on child protection. The HSE issued a questionnaire on child sexual abuse to all dioceses in the Republic two years ago, but it went uncompleted. The bishops cited legal difficulties with reporting "soft information" on abuse allegations.

Section 5 of the questionnaire, issued in October 2006 as part of a HSE national audit, sought detailed information on complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse against members of the clergy. It also sought to discover whether these allegations had or had not been brought to the attention of civil authorities.

The bishops responded that Section 5 "presented insurmountable difficulties" in relation to confidentiality and constitutional issues, as appropriate legislation was not in place. 

In a statement last night, Mr Andrews welcomed the Bishops’ “commitment to providing all of the information in Section 5 of the HSE audit; the Bishops’ statement to sign a written commitment to implement the new safeguarding and guidance materials of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church; and, their review of current practice and risk in the safeguarding of children within their dioceses.”

“In the light of agreement by all present to separate the completion of Section 5 of the HSE audit, from issues of soft information, which all accepted present legal difficulties, it was agreed that a fresh mechanism would be found to enable Bishops to provide the information that had been requested in the HSE Audit, Section 5.”

The meeting also discussed the potential for statutory and voluntary authorities to strengthen cooperation, within the State and at an all-Ireland level, in the best interest of child protection.