Report critical of Raphoe bishops


A review into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Diocese of Raphoe has concluded that "significant errors of judgment" were made by successive bishops in responding to the accusations.

Bishop of Raphoe Dr Philip Boyce said he fully accepted the recommendations contained in the review, which was undertaken by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC).

In a statement, Dr Boyce admitted that during the past decades there had been "very poor judgments and mistakes made.

"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.

"Insufficient emphasis was placed on the needs of victims, often in the misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the Church. There were frequent cases of delays or non-reporting of allegations and complaints about child sexual abuse," he added.

Dr Boyce said he was "truly sorry for the terrible deeds that have been inflicted on so many by a small minority of priests.

"We offer our humble apologies once more and seek their forgiveness for the dreadful harm that has been done to them, their families and friends."

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 said the bishops should have acted to stop child abuse when fears were first raised.

“More attention should have been given to ensuring that preventative actions were taken quickly when concerns came to light,” it said.

The audit singled out Bishop Boyce over a serious case of abuse in which he tried to protect the priest’s family rather than have the cleric removed from ministry.

“Bishop Boyce in at least one serious case was keen to protect the family of the convicted priest from further trauma by not initiating laicisation,"  it said.

“Although the case was referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, the further laicisation process has not yet been completed. This, whilst pastorally understandable, is inappropriate and should
be reviewed.”

The report on Raphoe is one of six such reports to be published today as part of an all-island review of child protection practices in all Catholic institutions on the island of Ireland.

Reports are also being published this morning following similar board reviews of Derry diocese, Dromore (Down), Kilmore (Cavan), Ardagh Clonmacnoise (Longford, Leitrim, Offaly) dioceses as well as on Tuam archdiocese.

The Raphoe review said that in dealing with allegations, too much emphasis was placed on the situation of the accused priest and too little on the needs of their complainants.

"Judgements were clouded, due to the presenting problem being for example, alcohol abuse and an inability to hear the concerns about abuse of children, through that presenting problem," it said.

"More attention should have been given to ensuring that preventative actions were taken quickly when concerns came to light," the report added.

The Raphoe review examined all case files from 1975 to 2010 to determine how allegations and concerns were dealt with.

Its purpose was also to interview key persons involved in child safeguarding, judge how cases are currently assessed, how the statutory authorities are notified and determine if there are any current risks to children.

The review found that 52 allegations of abuse were reported to the Garda Síochana and the HSE against 14 priests incardinationed into the Diocese during the period January 1st to August 2010. Eight of those priests against whom an allegation was made are now "out of Ministry2 or have left the priesthood.

A total of four priests from the diocese have been convicted of having committed an offence or offences since January 1st.

More than 20 of the complaints were against notorious paedophile priest Eugene Greene, who abused dozens of youngsters while being moved from parish toparish.

Greene was jailed for 12 years in 2000 after pleading guilty to 41 sample charges against 26 victims between 1962 and 1985. He was freed in 2008.

The review concludes that the diocese now has a robust safeguarding policy and procedure in place for safeguarding children, that files are kept n a satisfactory and orderly fashion, that there is a prompt referral system to the state authorities and good co-operation with the Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

At a press conference held this afternoon however, Dr Boyce admitted that 20 people working for the chuch in the Diocese of Raphoe, had still not been vetted.

Bishop Boyce said he “didn’t think” anyone had refused and that he did not know the breakdown of priests and lay people who had so far declined to return vetting papers.

Asked about the prevalence of clerical child abuse cases in the diocese, Bishop Boyce accepted it was proportionately higher than many other dioceses and “probably” the worst in the country.

“I haven’t seen all the other dioceses to confirm that, but I would say it has one of the highest,” he said.

Bishop Boyce was confronted by John O’Donnell, an abuse survivor, who rubbished the report during a press conference.

Branding it a whitewash, he said the church and gardai ignored his complaints about being abused by a lay member of a church choir when he was between the age of nine and 15.

Mr O’Donnell said there were many other victims who had yet to come forward and he called for a full judicial inquiry into an alleged cover-up of a paedophile ring.

While he expressed reservations, Bishop Boyce said he would not stand in the way of such an investigation.

“It wouldn’t really be of any great advantage but I’m open to whatever is asked, and I will accept whatever is asked for and whatever is good for the safeguarding of children,” he said.

The Diocese of Raphoe is to put notices in local newspapers next week to invite other abuse survivors to come forward with allegations against priests.

Additional reporting: PA