Day-long special meeting fails to clarify matters


ANALYSIS:THERE WAS little new contained in a statement issued last night by the Irish Episcopal Conference following their day-long special meeting on safeguarding children, writes Patsy McGarry

On January 2nd, Cardinal Brady said the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church would “seek a written commitment from every Bishop, every Religious Congregation and Missionary Society to implement all statutory guidelines and the agreed policy of the Bishops’ Conference, the Irish Missionary Union and the Conference of Religious of Ireland.”

According to last night’s statement the bishops agreed to sign such a commitment yesterday.

On January 2nd also, the cardinal said he suggested to the board “that it might explore the possibility of conducting a review of current child safeguarding practice in every diocese across the island in co-operation with the relevant statutory authorities.”

Such a review was announced in last night’s statement. It also said the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, while favouring a NBSC review, could accept it only if it contained specific protocols to verify that the superiors of priests, other than those of his Archdiocese and working in Dublin, subscribed to and sustained the same norms and guidelines as those in Dublin. What was most significant in the bishops’ statement last night was the one line to say they had agreed “to renew their commitment to providing all of the information requested in Section 5 of the HSE audit.” Section 5 sought statistical details on allegations of clerical abuse.

On January 7th last, Cardinal Brady welcomed the publication of the HSE audit, and an accompanying statement by Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews. The bishops had left Section 5 of the audit blank as they felt it presented them with insurmountable legal difficulties.

Cardinal Brady welcomed the announcement that the Minister’s office and the HSE would be engaging with the board to explore how to ensure the highest standards of child safeguarding practice within the Catholic Church. “I am confident that the competence and independence of the national board will play a key role in addressing the deficit of trust noted by the Minister.”

It would appear from the bishops’ statement last night that a way may have been found around the insurmountable difficulties which had prevented them and the religious congregations heretofore from completing Section 5 of the HSE audit questionnaire.

Yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference is the third in less than seven years on child protection issues. Emergency meetings of the bishops are rare and three in succession on a single issue is very rare indeed.

The first such “extraordinary general meeting” on the issue was on April 8th, 2002, and followed the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey as Bishop of Ferns on April 1st, 2002.

The second “special meeting on child protection” was on October 31st, 2005, and followed publication of the Ferns Report.

Yesterday’s “special meeting on safeguarding children” followed reaction to the December 19th report from the board on child protection practices in Cloyne dioceses.

In particular, it followed very negative reaction to Cardinal Brady’s statement on January 13th last rejecting calls for the resignation of Bishop Magee.