Too much emphasis placed on the accused priests, too little on victims


REPORT SUMMARY:THE CATHOLIC diocese of Raphoe has one of the highest incidences of child sexual abuse so far recorded in Ireland, according to figures from the audit of child protection practices in the diocese published yesterday.

Over a 35-year period from 1975 until last year there were allegations against 14 diocesan priests of the sexual abuse of 52 children.

Some 22 of these cases involved paedophile Fr Eugene Greene, who was jailed for 12 years in 2000.

There are currently 62 priests serving in the diocese. The diocese at the time of writing did not have a figure for how many priests in total would have served in Raphoe over the 35 years. Nonetheless, 14 accused priests represents a high percentage of alleged abusers compared with the numbers of priests who ministered in the diocese.

Bishop of Raphoe Dr Philip Boyce and two of his predecessors who were bishops in the diocese over the 35 years – Bishop Séamus Hegarty, who has just retired as Bishop of Derry due to illness, and Bishop Anthony McFeely – were criticised in the report.

Bishop Boyce, at a press conference in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, yesterday acknowledged the Raphoe diocese had one of the worst records of all dioceses in Ireland. At one stage of the conference he went so far as to say it probably had the highest incidence of child sexual abuse in Ireland.

Since 1975, allegations of child sexual abuse were made to the Garda and health services against 14 priests, all living, according to the 23-page review of safeguarding practice in Raphoe. These involved allegations of abuse against 52 children.

Four of the 14 priests were convicted, and of the 14 eight are now “out of ministry” or have left the priesthood. Of the remaining six, five are still in ministry and one is retired, said Bishop Boyce. Some of the allegations against these six were “tenuous” and it was agreed with him through the Garda and the health service that they could remain in ministry, he said.

The report also referred to two additional priests who live in the diocese but were not of the diocese and who were known to have faced allegations of child sexual abuse. A separate audit will cover these priests.

The review was critical of Bishop Boyce and his two predecessors. “It is clear that significant errors of judgment were made by successive bishops when responding to child abuse allegations within this diocese,” it said.

“Too much emphasis was placed on the situation of an accused priest and too little on the needs of their complainants,” it added.

The review referred to judgments being clouded for a number of reasons, such as alcohol abuse being presented as the problem or “an inability to hear the concerns about abuse of children”.

“More attention should have been given to ensuring that preventative actions were taken quickly when concerns came to light,” the report added.

It continued: “It is a matter of great regret to Bishop Boyce that his focus on victims’ needs was not greater in the past and he now acknowledges that he has a very different appreciation of his safeguarding responsibilities as to when he came into office [in 1995].

“The reviewers would accept that this is the case and would wish to commend Bishop Boyce on his willingness to learn the painful lessons of the past and to apply them to the current practice in the diocese.”

The audit stated there was evidence from diocesan files that “insufficient emphasis” was placed on ensuring complainants received support compared with the supports for alleged or convicted priests. Church authorities must “ensure a greater balance between support for the complainant and the respondent”, it said.