Real progress achieved by Catholic Church on child protection

Board for Safeguarding Children has adopted robust integrity since it was set up in 2006

The publication of the final tranche of current reviews by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland has tended to be overshadowed by another appalling case of church cover-up and mishandling of clerical child sexual abuse.

In this instance it involved serial abuser Fr Paddy McDonagh and his Salvatorian congregation superiors. It should not be forgotten that this came to national attention because the board published its stark review of that case.

It was the latest example of a robust integrity which has characterised the board’s work since it was set up in 2006.

Based at Maynooth and funded by the Irish Bishops' Conference, the Conference of Religious of Ireland, and the Irish Missionary Union, it has operated with a studied independence of those bodies. This has been so even as tensions developed but also, as proven repeatedly, in its published reviews. These, frequently, have been unsparing of relevant church personnel and institutions.


Crucial to the board's success has been a consistent, rigorous but fair approach to assessment of how church authorities deal with child protection. This template was established firmly by its first chief executive Ian Elliott, appointed in 2007, and has been continued since his retirement in June 2013 by his successor Teresa Devlin.

An early example of this commitment, whatever the cost to the church, was its exposure in 2008 of shocking practices in Cloyne diocese even as that same diocese was given a clean bill of health on child protection by the HSE. What the board uncovered led to the subsequent and truly shocking Cloyne report of July 2011.

Since 2009 the board has undertaken and published reviews on child protection in all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland and had also investigated all 138 male and female religious congregations based on the island. It is a significant achievement. A consequence is that today, and thanks also to a small army of lay volunteers in parishes throughout the island, such places are now among the safest in Ireland for children.

In 2010 board chairman John Morgan said that "clearly a cultural correction is required in the Irish church to deal with the problem of abuse". It remains an ambitious aspiration but great progress has been made.

This work has been assisted by senior church figures such as Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who introduced stringent child protection measures in the archdiocese after he became archbishop in 2004, and by the current Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin who was himself an active and committed member of the board until his episcopal ordination in 2013. There is no room for complacency but credit is due for the advances made.