The Commission of Investigation’s Report into the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse against priests operating in or under the aegis of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has finally been published.
It is worthy of note that it is almost 14 years since I first moved information into the public domain to the effect that the Catholic Church in Dublin had a practice of moving priests with a record of child sexual abuse into other parishes in the Diocese, a practice which clearly put other children at great risk. It is almost 11 years since I first wrote to the then Taoiseach Ahern requesting an inquiry into this practice and only now is the State ready to publish a report detailing how such allegations of child sexual abuse by priests were handled. This inability to respond more efficiently does not say much for this Government’s attitude to the protection, welfare and rights of children. Those who turn a blind eye to these offences are as much a part of the problem as those who actually commit them. Looking the other way causes more children to be sexually abused.
No matter how much I may have already known or anticipated I was nonetheless shocked by the content of this report. This report details consistent practices by the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin to cover up child sexual abuse and cause children to be sexually abused by priests that should never have been allowed to continue in ministry.
Many times in the past the Archdiocese has claimed that such priests were only reappointed following medical advice to the effect that it was safe to do so. Repeatedly in recent years the Catholic Church has claimed that it felt very let down by that medical advice.
The truth, as spelled out in this report, shows that in many cases the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin misled the medical professionals it referred offending priests to and even when it received recommendations to send priests for residential rehabilitation or remove them from having access to children this medical advice was ignored.
Never again should the Catholic Church in Ireland attempt to blame others for its own decisions to reassign priests who were clearly a danger to children. Furthermore anyone who believes that what has been revealed in Ferns and Dublin has not happened elsewhere in the country is not living in reality, and such denial only causes more children to remain at risk.
This Report is a shocking indictment on the Catholic Church in Dublin. Its publication may bring closure for some victims, it may also serve as the only justice some victims ever receive, but its publication if not acted on will have been a wasted opportunity to raise standards of child protection in this country.
In July of this year Children’s Minister Barry Andrews published as 99 point plan in response to the Ryan Report. So many of the measures set out Minister Andrew’s plan include measures that so many people and organisations working with children have been demanding for years. But it took the horrendous revelations contained in Ryan before the government could be bothered to act. The 99 point plan needs to be implemented in full and on time. The time frame given for some of the changes to be made go as far as December 2011 which is strangely generous and implementation must be monitored by all to ensure that the agenda doesn’t slip once media attention is focused elsewhere. I would have preferred if non compliance with Children First Guidelines was a criminal offence instead of a breach of employment contract but in time we will see if the new arrangements are strong enough. There is also no mention of a duty to report by any member of the public who may have concerns or even knowledge about physical or sexual abuse of a child or child neglect.
A referendum on children’s rights being properly enshrined in the constitution is apparently back on the agenda though no date is set to bring about that much needed change. In 2007 then Minister for Children Brian Lenihan said the amendment was ‘the high point of the Government’s reforming programme of action in relation to children which had focused minds on children’s issues in a manner unprecedented in this country which will be of lasting benefit to all our children into the future’ and it was all a great credit to then Taoiseach Ahern. I assume both Lenihan and Ahern would now agree that their combined failure to make any progress beyond posing at press conferences and congratulating themselves is quite a low point. This government has never had children’s rights or child protection as a high priority. They may well point to their setting up of the Child Abuse Commission, The Ferns Inquiry or the Dublin Commission but these were not inquiries they wanted – they resisted these inquiries and only relented when embarrassed into action by the television programmes States of Fear, Suing the Pope and Cardinal Secrets. Earlier this year we saw a state agency, the HSE, carry out a shabby piece of work with its so called audit of each Diocese in the country and is consequently itself currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.
A serious response to the Dublin Report ( on top of Ferns and Ryan ) must include the following measures:
The rights of children have to be enshrined in the constitution so that their rights as individuals have its protection and it is time the government presented the wording and a date for that referendum. It should specifically reflect the following:
The inclusion of an express reference to the rights of children, and to the special and vulnerable nature of childhood, asserting that all children must be treated equally.
The right to have their voices heard and to be represented in any proceedings affecting their welfare.
The right to be protected from abuse and exploitation.
The right to appropriate alternative care outside the family where needed. Also included should be obligations on the State:
To supply that care, but always with due regard to the rights and welfare of the child.
To promote their welfare fairly.
To safeguard with special care the interests of children who are disadvantaged by economic, social or cultural exclusion, or by disability, and to support parents as far as practicable who cannot meet their children’s needs unaided.
· Minister Andrew’s 99 point plan of work in response to the Ryan Report needs to be monitored closely so that it is implemented in full and on time and strengthened where needed.
· The monitoring and support of convicted sex offenders in Ireland is almost non-existent. The government has issued aspirational statements about changing the current system but much more is needed including:
-Those responsible for monitoring sex offenders should make regular unannounced visits to the homes of people on the sex offenders register.
-Parents and Guardians should be able to register a concern about an individual who they may be concerned about and in some cases it should be possible for them to be told if such an individual is a registered sex offender or not. This measure is already at an expanded pilot level in the UK.
-Monitoring of sex offenders should include polygraph testing, electronic tagging and polygraph testing. The government is currently examining electronic tagging of released sex offenders. Other jurisdictions have being using electronic tagging for 20 years, it does not need year long consideration, it needs to be resourced, rolled out and implemented.
-It is not appropriate to offer shorter sentences to offenders who participate in treatment programmes in prison as the government has considered - those who don’t participate voluntarily should be considered very high risk on release and should be monitored accordingly.
This week is another week of shame for the Catholic Church in Dublin: many abuses of children occurred because so many people turned a blind eye. Let us as a society not turn a blind eye to this government’s failures on child protection over the last 12 years and insist on higher standards at the next general election.