Dromore faced 'significant challenges'

 

Some 35 allegations of child sexual abuse were made against priests of the Diocese of Dromore but no priest has been convicted of an offence, according to the review of safeguarding practice in the diocese.

The review by the NBSCCC says it does not believe there are currently any priests inappropriately in ministry and against whom credible allegations have been made.

It says that in the past, the Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavey, reported all allegations to the statutory authorities, but in some instances “this should have been done more promptly”.

The report recommends that the bishop hold annual meetings with the social service and the police, and that he should write to all complainants offering them support and counselling. When a priest is removed from public ministry, the bishop should set down in writing the restrictions imposed on him, it also recommends.

Dr McAreavey said he accepted all the recommendations. Many of them had already been implemented and the remaining ones would be implemented “as a matter of urgency”.

Allegations have been made against 10 priests in the Dromore diocese since 1975, of whom seven are alive and three are dead. A total of 35 allegations have been made to the RUC or PSNI in respect of these priests.

Seven priests against whom allegations were made are out of ministry or have left the priesthood. No priest against whom an allegation was made is still in ministry or retired. There have been no convictions of priests of the diocese for offences against children or young people since 1975.

The board’s fieldwork team examined the cases of all 10 priests against whom allegations were made and noted the seriousness of the allegations. It said it was satisfied all had been referred to the statutory authorities.

The report says Bishop McAreavey deal with many of the victims. “The reviewers were impressed by the personal interest Bishop McAreavey has taken in supporting these victims and their families, some of whom he remains in contact with.”

The report says the records show that in the past there was a strong reliance on legal advice. “There is a place for legal advice but care must be taken to also ensure that other sources of guidance are appropriately drawn upon as well.”

“There should be a comprehensive assessment of risk and an emphasis on the welfare of the victims or on supporting any vulnerable person who may be at risk.”

The report says it is also clear that in the past not all allegations were promptly referred to the statutory investigating agencies. “NBSCCC would strongly urge the diocese to ensure that all allegations are referred to the statutory authorities in a timely way in line with current church guidance.”

The report says there was one example in which it appeared the bishop wanted to notify the police but was advised that this was not required. After some time, the view of the bishop was acted upon and a referral was made.

“The reviewers acknowledge that a short time after receiving a complaint this priest was removed from ministry. This action, along with additional safeguarding measures concerning this man, ensured that at all times risk to young people was minimised.”

The review says it is evidence from the records that Dr McAreavey was distressed by the allegations of abuse which were made in the diocese. “He reviewed previous cases referred to the former bishop and in some instances renewed contact with complainants whose cases may not have been appropriately managed.”

“It is not uncommon from those against whom allegations have been made to try and resist the necessary safeguarding actions. To his credit where these attempts were made Bishop McAreavey consulted appropriately to ensure that the safety of children remained his priority.”

Given the closeness of the bishop to cases, his independence could have been compromised, the review states, but to his credit this did not occur.

Although diocesan procedures on safeguarding children are currently being redrafted to ensure they are in line with national standards within the Church, the report says from a review of an early draft that it is clear they will meet the required standards.

It commends the safeguarding coordinator and committee for the “very comprehensive preparatory framework” they have public in place and urges them to bring this work to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Dr McAreavey has been in his post since 1999. The report says in relation to his predecessor, Bishop Francis Brooks, in some cases the practice followed placed too much emphasis on maintaining the good name of an accused priest rather than ensuring the safety of children.

The board said it recognised the considerable personal pressure on the bishop as a result of the murder of a family members and the consequent media attention. This is a reference to the killing of Michaela Harte, a relative of Dr McAreavey, in Mauritius.

Accepting the findings of today’s report Dr McAreavy again expressed his “deepest sorrow” to survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

He told mass-goers in Newry Cathedral that many of the report’s findings have already been put in place and plans exist to implement the remaining ones as a “matter of urgency”.