Diocese reports criticise bishops


A number of reviews into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations have found that dioceses failed to respond adequately to the accusations.

Six reports were published this morning as part of an all-island review of child protection policies in all Catholic institutions on the island of Ireland.

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

While many dioceses come in for criticism for their handling of abuse allegations in the past, the reviews conclude lessons have been learned. Most dioceses are praised for the manner in which they have implemented child protection guidelines and for their proactive approach to dealing with accusations.

NBSCCC chief executive Ian Elliott defended criticisms that his investigation was not carried out years ago, saying his aim was to ensure children are safe in church settings in the future.

“We can’t change history,” said Mr Elliott. “But what we can do and what we are hopefully doing through these reports is confirming what the current situation is and that’s very important.

“There is a responsibility which is placed upon all of us to the lay faithful in the church, particularly to children, to parents, to ensuring their children are as safe as they can possibly be within church settings.”

The Diocese of Raphoe in Co Donegal comes in for particular criticism, with the review concluding that "significant errors of judgment" were made by successive bishops in responding to the accusations.

In a statement, Bishop Dr Philip Boyce admitted  there had been "very poor judgments and mistakes made" during the previous decades. "There were horrific acts of abuse of children by individual priests, that should never have happened, and if suspected should have been dealt with immediately in the appropriate manner," he said.

Three heads of Raphoe Catholic diocese, which includes most of Co Donegal, including Dr Boyce, were criticised for their handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the report on child protection practices, which was published this morning.

Former Bishop Séamus Hegarty, who retired as Bishop of Derry last week for health reasons, and his predecessor, Bishop Anthony McFeely, also come under fire for their response to accusations of clerical child sex abuse.

Dr Hegarty succeeded Dr McFeely in Raphoe in 1982 and became Bishop of Derry in 1994. Dr Boyce became Bishop of Raphoe in 1995.

The review into the Diocese of Tuam commends Archbishop Michael Neary for meeting clerical sex abuse allegations “with a steadily serious approach, taking appropriate action under existing guidelines, and rapidly assimilating the lesson of the necessity for the removal of the priest, where there is a credible allegation, pending investigation.”

Prior to Dr Neary’s tenure, “there were on occasions delay in taking such action”, it said.

“It is also a fair reflection to say that the archbishop has met resistance in asking a priest to step aside from public ministry. It is to his credit that in spite of opposition, Archbishop Neary has maintained his authority and kept some men out of ministry where there is evidence to suggest that they should be viewed as dangerous and should not have access to young people,” it added.

The review into the handling of allegations of clerical child sex abuse in the diocese of Kilmore, where serial offender Fr Brendan Smyth served, was commended for having learned from experience. It notes that Fr Smyth's priestly faculties were renewed each year despite allegations against him but said that this was not the fault of the present bishop "or of anyone currently in a safeguarding role in the diocese".

The diocese was described as a "model of best practice" in child protection and its current practice seen as being of "a consistently high standard".

The report into allegations of clerical child sex abuse in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, commended Bishop Colm O'Reilly and his colleagues for their commitment to the review process.

The diocese, which has dealt with allegations of 13 priests since January 1st,1975, was found to have created coherent, easy-to-read documents covering policy and procedures and was praised for having developed a parish audit.

In a statement, Dr O'Reilly expressed his sorrow at how they have been made to suffer and said he wanted to welcome any contact which any person feeling distressed at this time would make with him or with the diocesan delegate for safeguarding of children.

The Diocese of Derry now has “very clear procedures” for the management of allegations against priests in the diocese, the National Board for Safeguarding Children said in its review.

A report into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Diocese of Dromore meanwhile said although all accusations were reported to statutory authorities, in some cases this "should have been done more promptly".