St John of God project funding terminated over child protection failings

Audit of Malawi scheme found governance and safeguarding fell ‘far short’ of required standards

Br Aidan Clohessy, who was moved to  the city of Mzuzu, Malawi,  in 1993. Early last year, serious child protection concerns were raised over the order’s operation in the African country

Br Aidan Clohessy, who was moved to the city of Mzuzu, Malawi, in 1993. Early last year, serious child protection concerns were raised over the order’s operation in the African country

 

Funding for an overseas aid project run by St John of God (SJOG) religious order has been terminated, after an audit identified a number of serious child protection and governance failings.

The religious order runs projects in Malawi that received funding from Misean Cara, an Irish overseas aid charity with a religious missionary ethos.

In 2017 Misean Cara received €15.5 million in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, under Irish Aid grants. The majority of the funds were then distributed by Misean Cara to overseas missionary aid projects. In 2017, SJOG received just under €700,000 in grant funding from Misean Cara.

Early last year serious child protection concerns were raised over the order’s operation in Malawi, southeast Africa. Services run by the order in Malawi include two psychiatric hospitals, and community programmes that assist children with intellectual disabilities and elderly people.

Blackrock

Concerns centred around allegations of child abuse made against a former school principal and member of the order, Br Aidan Clohessy.

Br Clohessy was head of St Augustine’s, a school for boys with special needs in Blackrock, Co Dublin, from 1970. The first child-abuse allegation made against him in relation to his work at the school was received by the order in 1985. He continued as head of the boys school until 1993, at which point he was moved to the city of Mzuzu, in Malawi.

‘Potentially serious issues’

Misean Cara said it became aware of “potentially serious issues” related to Br Clohessy in January 2018, following media reports in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. The charity suspended funding to the order and commissioned an independent audit into the matter.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the aid charity said the audit – now completed – “identified a number of failures in relation to governance and safeguarding”.

As a result of the “deficiencies” around child protection standards, the charity has terminated all funding to the order. Policies at the Malawi project fell “far short of the standards we expect”, the spokeswoman said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has received a redacted copy of the audit, which officials are considering.

Both the department and Misean Cara said they would not be making the report public.

A spokesman for SJOG said the order “engaged with and cooperated fully with Misean Cara” on the audit. The order said it would not comment on the report, as it was not in the public domain.

‘Inaccuracies’

However, the spokesman said “the order is disappointed that numerous attempts to address inaccuracies in the report were ignored”.

“The Saint John of God order reiterates its unreserved apology to any individual who has suffered any form of abuse while in its care . . . The order reports any allegations it receives to the relevant authorities and co-operates as required,” the spokesman said.

The order said the termination of grant funding s had “adverse consequences” on its services, “resulting in reduced service and day to day effects for people who are already facing challenging circumstances”.