Sixteen out of 135 Catholic congregations in Ireland had "unsatisfactory" child protection procedures in place to the end of 2015, according to an audit by Tusla, the child and family agency.
The audit found “a clear shift in attitudes and culture” within the congregation and deemed safeguarding procedures in 29 congregations to be “excellent” and said they were “satisfactory” in 43 others.
Among those Tusla deemed "excellent" were the Christian Brothers, the Spiritans, the Sisters of Mercy, the Dominicans, Benedictines, Legionaries of Christ, Society of African Missions, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Divine Word Missionaries, Vincentian Fathers, and the Loreto Sisters.
The audit, published on Tuesday, examined the management of 1,882 relevant allegations of child sexual abuse and how each congregation adhered, or not, to existing guidelines at the time allegations were made.
It was volume II of the audit, the first part of which was published in 2012 and focused on the 24 Catholic dioceses which, in whole or in part, are in the Republic.
In general the latest audit found that the congregations had made substantial improvements in adhering to/implementing child abuse management guidelines.
Among those found to have “unsatisfactory” child protection procedures were some female congregations, few of which have direct dealings with children anymore, not least because the median age of members is in their 70s.
Among such female congregations were the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle, the Congregation of La Sainte Union, Sisters of St Louis, the Association of the Holy Family, the Salesian Sisters, and the Marist Sisters.
In almost all these cases the Tusla audit concluded there had been “no child sexual abuse allegations against any member of the congregation. The audit team have no concerns regarding this congregation”.
Of greater concern, and not least as child sexual abuse is predominantly a feature of male congregations, was the Tusla audit “unsatisfactory” findings on child protection procedures at the De La Salle Brothers, the Franciscans, the Marist Fathers, the Discalced Carmelites, and the Servites.
Lack of monitoring
At the De La Salle Brothers it found a “lack of individual safety and monitoring plans for those against whom allegations have been made”. The congregation has a membership of 77 in Ireland, North and South, and has faced 61 allegations.
“Bearing in mind that there are currently six alleged accused members living under their aegis, one of whom is high profile with another convicted, without safety plans in place it was stated clearly to the De La Salle Brothers that it was imperative that safeguarding plans and procedures needed to be clearly defined and implemented in each case,” the audit said.
It recommended the De La Salle Brothers “would benefit from significant input from the NBSCCCI (National Board for Safeguarding Children at Maynooth) in relation to the redrafting of the child protection policy, its implementation and ongoing monitoring”.
Where the Franciscans are concerned Tusla said it was “crucial” this congregation “demonstrates its commitment to reporting allegations without delay”.
Its child safeguarding policy document, reviewed by Tusla and found to be “unsatisfactory”, required “immediate attention across all the standards”.
Tusla found that congregation’s practice “of reporting allegations was very poor prior to 2009” and that by then “ three OFM members were convicted and completed prison sentences for child sexual abuse offences”.
A total of 55 allegations were made “against a small number of members. As information was held internally and not shared with the authorities’ potential significant child protection risks were posed by members”, it said.
The Irish Franciscan Province has 138 friars with 99 members based in 12 fraternities in places including Donegal, Galway, Westmeath, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Dublin.
The Discalced Carmelites Fathers “did not provide a clear indicator of their child protection practices”. Their “good work is not however reflected in their current child protection policy document which has been reviewed as unsatisfactory,” Tusla said.
The congregation faced seven allegations. At the time of the audit there were 42 friars in Ireland residing in five communities in Dublin, Galway and Derry.
Work was needed “to improve the current unsatisfactory document and provide a comprehensive, clear and easily understood policy” where the Marist Fathers were concerned, it said.
What they needed was “an all-encompassing standalone document which can be easily understood, is clear and comprehensive.”
In 2013 there were 39 Marist Fathers in Ireland located at five communities in Dublin and Louth. The congregation has had to deal with 15 abuse allegations.