Thursday, September 17, 2009

Concerns Over Church Child Abuse Guidelines

Original article

GRAVE CONCERN was expressed yesterday about a continuing lack of adherence by Irish Catholic bishops to implementation of the Church’s own child protection guidelines.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, which helps people who suffered abuse as children, told The Irish Times that as recently as Monday last the agency had been contacted by three people on the matter.

Each had complained about clerical abuse to the bishops in their three separate dioceses and in no case had the bishop concerned acted in accordance with church guidelines, she said. In one case the allegation was brought to the bishop’s attention three months ago, since when nothing had been done. In another case, the accused priest still remained as chairman of the local primary school board, while in the third case the accused priest had “gone abroad”.

Church child protection guidelines state that a bishop must inform civil authorities immediately an allegation is made. The accused priest is to be stood aside from ministry and contact with children, pending the outcome of church and State investigations.

Ms Lewis said there were only two Catholic dioceses of the 26 on the island of Ireland where she was confident that church child protection measures were being fully implemented. These were Dublin and Killaloe.

In each, “child protection came from the heart of the bishop”. She was referring to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in Dublin and Bishop Willie Walsh in Killaloe.

“On a day-to-day basis it is difficult to make bishops listen” regarding child abuse, she said. This had heightened her concern for child protection regarding primary schools, the great majority of which had the bishops as trustees.

“Following the [Louise] O’Keeffe case, no one is responsible for the protection of children in those schools,” she said.

It had further unnerved her to learn that the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, has no authority over the implementation of such measures in church-run schools.

Ms Lewis was speaking at the launch of One in Four’s 2008 annual report in Dublin yesterday.

Since the Ryan report was published last May, the agency had been contacted by 700 people seeking help, she said. This was more than in all of 2008.

She was “very disappointed that Minister Barry Andrews has been unavailable to meet to discuss once-off emergency funding. Apologies to survivors without action are meaningless.”

In 2008 the agency accommodated 75 new psychotherapy clients and 426 advocacy clients, with 22 sex offenders taking part in treatment programmes at the agency. Of the abused it had helped in 2008, 21 per cent had experienced clerical abuse.

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