Clergy urged to listen to victims


Clergy should devote more time and effort into listening to abuse victims, a Vatican report on the child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in Ireland has recommended.

The report produced by a delegation of senior Catholic Church officials sent to Ireland by Pope Benedict in the wake of a series of clerical sex abuse scandals also proposed a number of reforms to improve child protection.

A seven-page summation of the report by the apostolic visitation was published at the Columba Centre in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth this morning at a briefing attended by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the director general of Cori Sr Marianne O'Connor and papal nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown.

The report was completed after seven teams of Vatican-appointed church leaders visited Ireland. The teams visited the four Irish Archdioceses, two seminaries and the male and female congregations.

It found that while guidelines to protect children are being followed, academic programmes in seminaries should put more focus on the issue.

The report also called for changes be made to seminaries and admission criteria for would-be priests and urges the Church to devote more time and effort into listening to and providing support for abuse victims.

During their stay in Ireland, the "visitators" were able to see just how much the shortcomings of the past gave rise to an inadequate understanding of and reaction to the terrible abuse of minors, the report said.

“With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively,” the report found. “The visitors were able to verify that beginning in the 1990s progressive steps have been taken towards a greater awareness of how serious is the problem of abuse, both in the church an society."

The report said the current standards for safeguarding children and guidance document for the Catholic Church in Ireland are being followed.

It said Irish archbishops gave assurancea that all newly-discovered cases of abuse are being notified to the Garda and church authorities and the visitors were struck by efforts made by the clergy to implement guidelines and to create safe environments for children.

Among the recommendations included in the document are:

- A proposal to re-evaluate the pastoral programme

- A proposal to introduce more consistent admission criteria to seminaries

- A proposal to reinforce structures of episcopal governance over seminaries

- A proposal to ensure that seminary buildings be exclusively for seminarians "to ensure a well-founded priestly identity"

The visitors also called for a continual examination of the child safety guideliness in order to formulate standards for handling cases involving priests who have been accused of clerical sex abuse but not prosecuted, and for those who have been falsely accused.

Policies regarding the pastoral care of those who are convicted of abuse should also be amended where necessary, the report said.

It recommended that all institutes carry out an audit of their personnel files and monitor the implementation of guidelines set by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Martin said the extent of the abuse that happened in the church was "shattering".

Cardinal Brady said the report "provides us with a helpful snapshot of a key moment on the ongoing journey of renewal, and a signpost to future priorities and directions".

He added: “In expressing true sorrow and regret we make our own heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for those terrible crimes and sins.

“We particularly welcome today the call in the report for 'a new focus on the role of the laity, who are called to be engaged both within the church and in bearing witness to Christ in the world.”

Dr Brown said the pope had been “outstanding” in his efforts to address issues around clerical sexual abuse. “There has been a progression and learning and an improved dressing of problems,” he said.

Sr Marianne O'Connor, director general of Cori, said all religious congregations would take time to review the findings with a view to ensuring that the work already undertaken in regard to safeguarding children and supporting abuse survivors continued.

The visits followed Pope Benedict XVI’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland which was published two years ago today following the publication of the Murphy Report into clerical sexual abuse in November 2009. The report documented some 70 years of child abuse by a number of priests across the State.