Bishop hopes child protection becomes ‘integral part of Church life’

Leo O’Reilly’s view differs from that of Pope Francis on issue of accountability tribunal

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

 

An Irish Catholic bishop has said he hopes Pope Francis introduces structures of accountability at the Vatican which “ensure that child safeguarding will be an integral part of Church life”.

“I am deeply conscious that such an objective is a huge challenge for the universal Church,” Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly said.

“From our experience here in Ireland, we know well that it takes time to effectively establish the kind of robust procedures and practices that are now embedded in our own parishes.”

The pope had previously supported the idea of setting up an accountability tribunal at the Vatican but later changed his mind.

Speaking to journalists as he flew back to Rome from Dublin on Sunday, Francis said “it was seen that this was not practicable and it was not even convenient for the different cultures of the bishops to be judged”.

He also said Dublin abuse survivor Marie Collins seemed “a bit fixed on the idea” of such a tribunal.

“She has remained fixed on the idea of that written ‘Like a Loving Mother’ (an apostolic letter he wrote in 2016), in which it was said that to judge the bishops it would be good to make a special tribunal.”

‘Dark clouds’

Bishop O’Reilly said he was “encouraged to hope” the pope would introduce such a tribunal. He said “the stormy weather on Sunday, the dark clouds and the sun struggling to shine through, were symbolic of the shadow of abuse hanging over the Church, and not just here in Ireland.

“Pope Francis’ humility and forthrightness in acknowledging and begging forgiveness for the sins of the past, and in asking forgiveness during his moving Penitential Prayer at the Mass in the Phoenix Park, encourages me to hope that he will introduce the necessary structures of accountability to ensure that child safeguarding will be an integral part of Church life, not just here in Ireland, but throughout the Church across of the world.”

In his meeting with the Irish bishops before leaving for Rome, the pope spoke of “the Church’s need to acknowledge and remedy, with evangelical honesty and courage, past failures with regard to the protection of children and vulnerable adults”.

He noted how in recent years Ireland’s bishops had “resolutely moved forward, not only by undertaking paths of purification and reconciliation with victims of abuse, but also, with the help of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Church in Ireland, by establishing a stringent set of norms aimed at ensuring the safety of young persons.”

‘Gravity’

He added how “all of us have had our eyes opened to the gravity and extent of sexual abuse in various social settings.

“In Ireland, as elsewhere, the honesty and integrity with which the Church chooses to confront this painful chapter of her history can offer an example and a warning to society as a whole,” he added.

Bishop O’Reilly said he thought the visit of the pope was “a huge success”. He said that at the World Meeting of Families events last week “there was a real sense of family about the occasion and a feeling of positivity” which was a “welcome contrast to the negative tone of the much of the commentary preceding it”.