Clerical sex abuse involves 'tiny' minority


CLERICAL SEXUAL abuse needs to be reported on in correct proportion to the “tiny” minority of the population affected, delegates at a child protection lecture heard yesterday.

Addressing media coverage of child protection services, Dr Helen Buckley, senior lecturer in the school of social work and social policy in Trinity College Dublin, said serious scandals such as that in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne attracted huge media focus disproportionate to child sex abuse cases in general.

“A lot of the [media] activity in the past few months concerns Cloyne, and while it is very serious, it’s quite tiny,” Dr Buckley said.

“I feel there’s a danger because clerical sex abuse touches such a nerve in this country, and the [child protection] system could become skewed. It needs to be seen in proportion,” she said.

Recently appointed to the Health Service Executive’s advisory committee on children and family services, Dr Buckley voiced concern at the proposed introduction of mandatory reporting of cases of child abuse.

“People need to be trained to know what is to be reported. I’m not sure the politics of this recognises the unintended outcomes it might bring. [The Government] needs to think out precisely how that will be handled so it works properly to protect children.”

Dr Buckley delivered her lecture at the first open day at Bessborough Care Centre, Blackrock, in Cork, which offers services for pregnant women and mothers in crisis. Up to 120 social workers, health professionals and members of the public attended the lecture.

The centre focuses on keeping children safe and empowering women, children and families to improve their quality of life.

Dr Buckley said there needed to be a “public articulation of commitment” to care for children in society, as Irish people tended not to challenge parents or strangers when they saw a child placed in a vulnerable position.

Reform of the child protection system was imminent and wel- come, she said, but the system would never have enough capacity. “It’s not just a question of resources, it’s about what is right for children and families. It’s not right to take a child from a family unless absolutely necessary.”

Opportunities for the provision of more inclusive child protection already exist and need to be utilised, Dr Buckley told delegates.

“Resources should be put into schools to help children there. In Ireland we are not good at making the most of our resources.”

The executive said yesterday it was appointing an additional counsellor in Donegal for adults with a history of childhood abuse.

It said it was responding to concerns and distress following revelations in the case of Michael Ferry, who was recently jailed for 14 years for child sex abuse.