Latest actions show church is unreformable


ANALYSIS:The Catholic Church is more interested in reaching for lawyers than protecting children

THERE WAS that familiar, sickening feeling at yesterday’s press conference at the publication of the National Board for Safeguarding Children’s annual report for 2010.

It was that nauseating realisation again that despite three devastating statutory reports on its handling of clerical child abuse allegations, with another on the way, the Irish Catholic Church has learned nothing. It has forgotten nothing either of its avid enthusiasm for lawyers.

Yet it is the continuing hypocrisy which is hardest to stomach. As we have seen after every new allegation of clerical child abuse; after every priestly conviction in the courts; after every outrageous statutory report; our Catholic Church authorities can wring their hands with the best of them.

They have promised in abject contrition that all will change, change utterly. But, as with St Augustine’s pleas to God that he be made holy, it is always with the qualification “....but not just yet”. Possibly, even, a mental reservation. Time passes and they are back to their old ways. It goes on and on.

A perfect example emerged with the launch of the board’s annual report yesterday. Seemingly distraught at the uncovering by its chief executive Ian Elliott of “inadequate and in some respects dangerous” child protection practices in Cloyne diocese in 2008, the bishops called an emergency meeting in January 2009 at which they announced that, at their request, of Cori and the IMU, the board was to conduct a review of all such child protection practices in the church in Ireland.

Just a month beforehand we were told they were unable to co-operate with just such a HSE review on legal advice. But indications then were all such worries were over. As soon as the dust settled on Cloyne, they reached for the lawyers again.

They have found other ways of making the board baulk. Last October they withdrew funding for child protection training programmes they asked the board to undertake and, to add insult to injury, they withheld from the board until recent weeks three-quarters of all new clerical child abuse allegations reported to them over the past year.

These are the actions of an unreformable institution. It talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk.

As the board’s chairman John Morgan said yesterday, “it is insufficiently appreciated that the inculturation required to overcome the difficulties which have been made manifest in the church through the inadequate safeguarding of children will, regrettably, take a considerable time”.

But why should we wait? Why should any of us wait for the Catholic Church to mend its ways? “The whole problem here is clericalism,” he said. “There has to be a new relationship between the clerical caste and lay people.”

Mr Elliott was as frank. In his 37 years dealing professionally with child protection issues his recent experiences with the Catholic Church have been “the most challenging situation I’ve been in”.

Asked why they did not resign, both men emphasised they were “passionate about the issue of safeguarding children”, as Mr Elliot put it, though it was “a question I have asked myself on several occasions”. Both men met with Apostolic Visitation teams sent recently by Pope Benedict to investigate the Irish church.

“We did relate our frustrations to them,” said Mr Elliott, who spent “12/13 hours” with visitation teams. They were very focused, very interested and committed.”

He said: “If you safeguard children within the church, you will safeguard the church itself. If you protect and value children in the church, you will protect and value the church. However, if you reverse the order you will ultimately end up harming the church.”

But, as he observed in a lecture at Marquette University in Wisconsin last month, “legal opinion is highly prized in the Irish Catholic Church”. When a bishop first hears “of concerns about the behaviour of one of his priests his first action is to call his legal adviser. More often than not, the next action that he takes will be determined by what his lawyer says...”

Those “who receive allegations should ensure that a pastoral response is made rather than one that is driven by legal concerns,” he said.

They might even try reaching for a Bible.