Church watchdog urges Cloyne to introduce whistleblower policy

Review finds diocese made good progress in child protection but urges further improvement

A special policy to facilitate whistleblowers concerned about possible clerical child sexual abuse should be established by the Diocese of Cloyne as part of its protocols to safeguarding children, a new report has recommended.

The review by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland was generally very positive about the progress made in the diocese in its implementation of child protection policy since its last review was published in 2008.

On that occasion, the board was highly critical of child protection practices in the diocese and in particularly how the then Bishop, Dr John Magee, handled a number of complaints against a small number of priests in ministry in the diocese which covers much of east, mid and north Cork.

The latest review found Cloyne fully met 41 of 48 criteria it used to examine practices and partially met the remaining seven and it published a series of recommendations to address these including one relating to the development of a policy for whistleblowers concerned about possible abuse.


The board recommended that “a specific whistle blowing policy is included in (the diocese’s document) ‘Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Persons in the Diocese of Cloyne’ to include the procedures a member of the Church can use to express concern about a child”.

“”It may be helpful to outline a number of reporting options which could be utilised by an individual who is considering making a report, regardless of who their concern is about,” added the authors of the review which was conducted in December 2013.

In its previous report published in December 2008, then chief executive, Ian Elliott, concluded children had been "placed at risk of harm within the Diocese of Cloyne" through the diocese's failure to respond appropriately to information it received about child protection issues.

It led to the Government to include Cloyne in its Commission of Inquiry into Clerical Abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese and the report published in July 2011 was highly critical of the failure of the diocese to report allegations of child sex abuse to An Garda Síochana.

By then Bishop Magee had stepped down, resigning in March 2010 when he extended his “sincere apologies” to anyone who was abused by any priest during his tenure as bishop and he accepted fully responsibility for all the failings in child protection identified in the board’s 2008 report.

Today his successor, Bishop William Crean said that the new reports showed that the diocese had come a long way but the work continues to ensure that best practice in safeguarding every child in the 46 parishes of the Diocese of Cloyne is achieved.

“The report has been very complimentary of all the effort that has gone into ensuring the safety of all children in the Diocese of Cloyne. That will, I’m sure, be welcomed by all the people of Cloyne, clergy and laity but it does also show us certain improvements can be made and this is welcome,” he said.

In all, the board made eight recommendations and in addition to that relating to whistleblowers, it also recommended improvements to training for safeguarding personnel, additional recruitment of victim support personnel and better risk management protocols for respondent priests.

The report notes that some 19 priests in the diocese were the subject of allegations and were living at the time of the review in December 2013 and of these 12 remain in ministry, six are out of ministry while one has left the priesthood since an allegation was made against him.

Among the six priests who are out ministry but remain attached to the diocese is Fr Brendan Wrixon, the only priest in the diocese to be convicted of sexual offences, who received an 18-month suspended sentence in November 2011 for gross indecency with a teenage boy in the 1980s.

The report went on to note that the diocese had only partially met a criterion to have a policy that states how those who pose a risk to children are managed but it did acknowledge that “the diocese is taking practical and reasonable steps to monitor those individual priests”.

Bishop Crean, who pledged upon his ordination in January 2013 to bring new hope to the victims of abuse in the diocese, acknowledged as much today when he said that “while the report is generally very complimentary of our efforts, safeguarding children is still a work in progress”.

“Vigilance must be our watchword and in an ever-changing world, we continue to review our protocols, standards and procedures so that if there are any suspicions, concerns or allegations of abuse, they are dealt with expeditiously and correctly,” he said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times