In 1996 the Catholic Church in Ireland published its new guidelines Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response (the 1996 Guidelines). It was widely reported at that time that all allegations of child sexual abuse against Catholic priests that were brought to the attention of any Diocese in the country would be reported to the civil authorities from that point on. I did my best to point out at that time that what the 1996 Guidelines actually said was that where it was known or suspected that a priest or religious had sexually abused a child the matter should be reported to civil authorities. I was concerned at the time that the qualification of knowing or suspecting that abuse of a child had actually taken place was a loophole that would be taken advantage of. On reading the Murphy Report some 14 years later I could see that my concerns were well founded.
In addition, more recently it was learned that only 1 year after the Guidelines were published, the Vatican let it be known to the bishops that if the Guidelines were applied the consequences could be highly embarrassing for them. That same correspondence also stated that the 1996 Guidelines were only a study document and that the procedures followed must instead be those in accordance with canon law.
At no time did Irish Catholic bishops move this information into the public domain, quite the opposite. Even after publication of the Murphy Report bishops continued to claim that their covering up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests ceased in 1996 on publication of the new Guidelines, even though the Murphy Report itself contained many examples of this being completely untrue.
Now we have publication of the Cloyne Report: a representative sample of allegations of child sexual abuse made against 19 Catholic priests in the Diocese of Cloyne over the 13 year period 1996 - 2009. The Report found allegations against 33 priests.
So how did the Catholic Church in Cloyne handle these allegations? Were all allegations reported to civil authorities as people were led to believe in 1996?
No they were not. We learn in this Report that the response of the Diocese of Cloyne to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in the period 1996 to 2008 was inadequate and inappropriate. The principal feature of this Report can be simply expressed. The Diocese of Cloyne accepted the Framework Document and promised to implement it. It did not do so. On the contrary, Bishop Magee appears to have taken little real interest in its implementation for 12 years. He allowed the authority of the diocese in this regard to be exercised for that period by others, in particular Monsignor O’Callaghan. Monsignor O’Callaghan acted in what he perceived to be the best interests of the Church. Bishop Magee told the Minister for Children that the Framework Document guidelines were fully in place and were being fully complied with. This was false. The same must be said of his assurances to the HSE given in 2007.
It is clear to the Commission that the Diocese of Cloyne, while ostensibly supportive of the procedures outlined in the Framework Document, was never genuinely committed to their implementation. The main person involved, Monsignor O’Callaghan, clearly was not fully supportive of the procedures. It is, therefore, not surprising that the procedures were never properly implemented. Bishop Magee must take primary responsibility for the failure to implement the procedures.
During all of this time, Catholic bishops were hiding behind the 1996 Guidelines or their subsequent replacements. This has implications for child protection and safety today in the context of the Catholic Church. The Church’s current procedures Safeguarding Children are derived from and compliant with the State’s child protection guidelines Children First. But as today’s Report clearly shows, publishing guidelines is no proof that they are being implemented at local, diocesan or national level. Catholic bishops did set up the National Board for Safeguarding Children: a primary objective of the Board for 2010 was to conduct a review of each Diocese in the country to ensure that the Church’s current child safeguarding policies and practices were appropriate. However we learned in May of this year from the National Board’s Annual Report that this process was stopped, after a review of only 3 Dioceses had taken place, because the bishops would not co-operate, citing data protection concerns. The Data Protection Commissioner however has confirmed that there is no data protection concern that hinders the bishops’ from co-operating with the National Board’s review.
It came as no surprise to me to read in the National Board’s Annual Report that as part of the agreement, which only now has apparently secured the bishops’ co-operation, the National Board will not comment publically on what it finds in its review of any Diocese: the introduction of any such information into the public domain is possible only with the consent of the bishops. It is totally unacceptable that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church cannot move any child protection concerns or findings into the public domain without the consent of Catholic Bishops. Imagine HIQA being similarly constrained by the HSE. A genuine data protection concern would have been resolved with a genuine data protection solution, not one where bishops get to control a National Board while at the same time trying to pass it off as independent.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I have huge confidence in any review process set up by the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was investigated by a Grand Jury Investigation and its Report, published in 2003, made very similar reading to the Murphy Report, with the same tactics employed there to conceal known child sexual abuse by catholic priests. Yet despite those revelations and the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States set up national and local review boards to appraise their child protection and reporting practices, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia still went on to leave a further 37 priests in ministry despite credible allegations of child sexual abuse having been made against them, and the review boards were completely unaware of this because this information had been successfully hidden from them.
Here in Ireland, with the publication of the Cloyne Report, it is proven yet again that the Catholic Church is not an organisation that can be trusted with the safety, welfare and protection of children. I have no doubt that at a local level there are people working hard to make sure that child protection practices are to a high standard within their parishes, but we don’t know how widespread good or bad practice is at parish level.
A second Grand Jury in Philadelphia, this year, made several recommendations but I want to draw your attention to their final recommendation:
Report sexual abuse allegations directly to law enforcement authorities. The horrors inflicted … by sexual predators not only wound bodies, rob innocence, and betray faith. They also violate laws. As crime victims, those injured by sexually compulsive priests should do what victims of criminals in any other profession should do – contact law enforcement authorities.
In some circumstances, introducing law enforcement into the equation might also help change the calculations both of sexual predators and those who would grant them revered positions with access to children.
With occasional exceptions, Catholic Bishops cannot be trusted with allegations of child sexual abuse.
Author Altar Boy, A Story of Life After Abuse