Work of Catholic Church safeguarding body limited by data protection rules

National Board for Safeguarding Children received 134 abuse allegations in year to March 31st

A file photograph of the  National Board for Safeguarding Children’s chairman John Morgan and chief executive Teresa Devlin. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

A file photograph of the National Board for Safeguarding Children’s chairman John Morgan and chief executive Teresa Devlin. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

 

The Catholic Church’s child protection body received a further 134 child abuse allegations against priests and members of religious orders in the year to March 31st last, an increase of 18 on the previous 12 months.

However, the National Board for Safeguarding Children said in its annual report that “the value of this information is extremely limited and additionally, it cannot be determined how historic the abuse allegations are”.

The allegations notified to board in the year to March included 42 relating to diocesan priests and 92 relating to members of religious orders.

Teresa Devlin, the board’s chief executive, said that when a diocese or religious order notifies it of an allegation “against a cleric or non-ordained religious, no name or other identifying information is provided”.

She said this meant there was no way for it to “establish whether there is more than one allegation against any particular notified individual, or whether a complainant has alleged that more than one person has abused them”.

“Because of the legal restrictions imposed by data protection legislation compliance, severe limitations exist in analysing and interpreting such information,” Ms Devlin said.

The figures presented in the annual report were “simply the raw data” that the board had received in the 12 months period being reported on.

She said “the inability of reviewers to travel and examine case management files has meant that only those reviews which were already in progress when Covid-19 became an issue could be completed and full reports given to the relevant commissioning Church authorities”.

Reduced resources

The annual report also details how, due to the pandemic, financial resources available to its national office for the year deceased by more than 40 per cent in real terms, which led to staff salaries being reduced by 20 per cent.

However, there was a 51 per cent increase in requests for advice during the year, which increased from 260 to 392.

This “was not unexpected”, said Ms Devlin, as “many local safeguarding teams shrank during the pandemic so the dioceses and congregations turned to the National Board for advice and support”.

The board’s sponsors, the Catholic Bishops and the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland (Amri), in December announced a review all aspects of safeguarding and outreach to survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland. It will also address the issues of vulnerable persons and minors.

Board chair John Morgan said it was hoped that “the opportunity will be grasped to fully evaluate the resources, both in terms of personnel and finance needed” to “further the culture of care surrounding safeguarding ministry and its outreach” throughout Ireland.

“We must not put at risk any dilution in the strength and extent of our service within the community of the Church,” he said.