Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Child-abuse reporting issue raised


By PADRAIG O'MORAIN Writes

CHILD-care professionals, the health boards and the Department of Health are trying to confuse the public about mandatory reporting of possible child abuse, according to the ISPCC. Those who oppose the introduction of a legal obligation to report suspicions or allegations of child abuse are making a simple issue more complex than it needs to be, Mr Cian O Tighearnaigh, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said. He was introducing a survey which the ISPCC commissioned from Irish Marketing Surveys.

The survey asked 1,400 adults whether "the Government should introduce the mandatory reporting by professionals of child abuse". A large majority, 84 per cent, said it should, 2 per cent said it should not and 13 per cent were undecided. Asked if "all appropriate professionals should be obliged by law to report actual or suspected child abuse to the health boards and gardai", 87 per cent said they should, 3 per cent said they should not and 11 per cent did not know. But asked whether "the current health board and gardai response is effective in preventing child abuse and protecting children", only 24 per cent were satisfied with the response, 48 per cent said these agencies were not effective and 28 per cent said they did not know.

Only three questions were asked in the survey.

Mr O Tighearnaigh dismissed some of the objections which have been put forward to mandatory reporting. On the possibility of families being stigmatised because of an allegation, he said that "the notion of stigmatisation is nonsense". If a person has a suspicion that a local house is being burgled, gardai do not refuse to look into it for fear of stigmatising a well-known local burglar who might be up to his old tricks again, he said. Nobody suggested that crime should not be investigated for fear of stigmatising criminals, he added. He also dismissed objections based on doctor-patient confidentiality. "Arguments about doctor-patient confidentiality have no reality." Doctors go into court every day and break confidentiality, he said.

Asked why more questions had not been asked in the survey - the second question, for instance, does not allow for different responses to suspicions as distinct from knowledge of abuse - he said the lSPCC had not wanted to introduce a whole range of complexity into the situation or produce a confused response.

© The Irish Times Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Friday, October 04, 1996

Church and BBC clash over sex abuse insurance claim

THE Catholic Church and BBC Radio Scotland have clashed over claims of a secret fund set up to pay compensation, to victims of sexual abuse by priests. The row marked a new low in relations between the media and Scottish church leaders, already strained after the handling of the Bishop Roderick Wright affair. Leading clergy said a BBC Radio Scotland report claiming that the church used a Channel Islands based insurance company to pay out compensation to victims was inaccurate, and criticised the BBC for its handling of the story.

They insisted that the Catholic National Mutual fund was simply a standard employers' liability insurance policy.

The church in Scotland also criticised the way the BBC approached it for a response to the story, claiming the BBC gave it just two hours to respond. It released the text of a letter written by the church, yesterday to BBC Scotland, which began: "The Catholic Church in Scotland will not respond to the whimsical needs of the media. We will not participate in media games," said the letter from Father Tom Connelly, spokesman for the church in Scotland.

But a BBC Scotland spokesman said: "We stand by our story 100 per cent. In the early 1990s, Catholic National Mutual offered specific liability cover to shareholders on payment of additional premiums, specifically to cover physical and sex abuse claims. "Our story clearly indicates that the Catholic Church is insured for this contingency."

And, he added: "Effectively a fund does exist - it is a fund triggered by a policy against which a claim is made." The BBC said Catholic National Mutual had handled compensation claims since the early 1990s. But church spokesmen in England and Scotland said that Catholic National Mutual was an insurance company set up in 1979, based in Guernsey for cost reasons, which handled property and liability insurance, and provided employers' and public liability cover for diocesan trustees. The Catholic Media Office in London said in a statement: "The policy has standard commercial wording and there is no exclusion of any claim against the Trustees arising out of sexual abuse."

A statement from the church in Scotland said that as far as an individual abuser was concerned, abuse was a "criminal act" and public liability cover would provide no protection.

The Irish Times - Friday, October 04, 1996

© PA

Wednesday, September 18, 1996

Paedophile priest given access to youths, say victims

The "informal" inquiry into the sexual abuse of young people in the south east arises from claims that state agencies placed vulnerable youths in the control of a child-abusing priest and then ignored their complaints - By JIM CUSACK, Security Correspondent

THE abuse victim at the centre of the controversy over the state authorities' alleged failure to protect vulnerable children from paedophiles is now aged 32 and is himself a low level abuser. He has been in and out of orphanages and hostels since he was four, when his father was convicted of incestuously assaulting his sisters. It was also known at the time of his father's conviction that he was sexually abusing his son. However, no charges were brought in relation to this.

The father received a suspended sentence for abusing his daughters, who were taken into care. But the father continued to have access to his son and was able to take him from institutions for the sole purpose of abusing him. Professionals acquainted with the case describe the abuse inflicted on the boy by his father as "horrific". At the time, the family had been living in Dublin, although the parents later moved to Waterford, where they had relatives. The father, an alcoholic, died four years ago and the mother is now in a psychiatric institution.

During the 1970s, the boy passed through a series of Eastern Health Board institutions in Dublin, where he recalls being abused in different institutions by one priest, a member of a religious order who might be a priest or a brother and by one lay social worker. As a boy, the victim spent periods in many of the State's orphanages and residential care institutions, including some which have since been at the centre of abuse allegations from other sources.

Although the victim is said to suffer from several psychological problems, brought on by a lifetime of abuse, professionals say he has remarkable recall and does not have a low IQ. In 1985, he was in a state run hostel in the south east and on probation for minor offences, not sexually related. A Co Kilkenny priest, now serving eight years for serious sexual offences against boys, called frequently at the institution with the purpose of abusing boys.

Eventually, the State ceded control of the victim to the priest in 1985, and he brought him to his house, where he carried out rape and other abuse of the young man for 10 years. During this time, the young man lived mainly in a caravan at the bottom of the priest's garden. In 1994, the then 30 year old man was arrested after making indecent approaches to young boys in a park in Kilkenny town. He was charged with indecent behaviour and assault. It is accepted by gardai and the State that the assault was on the lower end of sexual offences and consisted mainly of fondling two boys without trying to remove their clothes.

During questioning by gardai, the man gave a detailed account of the prolonged sexual abuse he had suffered in the south east, including his time in state institutions and with the priest. (The priest cannot be named because the courts have directed it would be contempt to do so, citing reasons of confidentiality of victims.) The man's accounts were so detailed, including the names of other youths abused by the priest, that investigations were started and the priest was eventually arrested and questioned in late 1994.

Gardai contacted several of the priest's victims and he eventually confessed to his crimes, although it is understood, only after having made attempts to dissuade some victims from giving evidence against him. He was sentenced earlier this year after a brief court appearance. Statements in the case, which did not come out in court, suggested the priest had been allowed liberal access to youths in state institutions, including at least one probation hostel, and St Patrick's Institution for juvenile offenders in Dublin.

There are suspicions that from the late 1980s, authorities in the south east may have suspected the victim in this case was at risk while in the care of the priest.

The second source of the allegations in the case is a slightly younger man, now serving a jail sentence for a violent, non-sexual assault on his common law wife's four year old son. This man has made repeated complaints that the priest was also allowed to abuse him while he was in a state run institution in the south east. He also maintains that complaints about the abuse were ignored over a long period. It is not clear what approach to the complaints the State is adopting as the Minister for Justice, Mrs Owen, has directed that a retired judge, Mr William O'Connell wife is understood to be operating from a room in Clonmel Courthouse carry out an "informal" examination of the allegations. No terms of reference were available yesterday.

It was not clear yesterday if Mr O'Connell will pursue other victims of the priest, who appears to have had access to large numbers of youths, mostly orphans and offenders who had no homes during a long period.

One of the main sources of local concern about the affair is that, after an initial amount of interest by the church authorities, there appears to be little state or Catholic Church support for the priest's victims. The 32 year old man at the centre of the allegations is being kept in St Canice's Psychiatric Hospital in Kilkenny, although the authorities acknowledge he does not suffer from a psychiatric illness. He is being chemically sedated with prozac, valium and a drug to suppress sex drive. The Circuit Court has refused to imprison the man and has criticised the South Eastern Health Board's inability to place the man in a suitable caring hostel. The board, at its last monthly meeting, heard it would cost £700,000 to complete and staff a suitable hostel for people with such problems.

Last week, the man reported that he had been sexually assaulted by another of the patients in St Canice's. This is being investigated by gardai.

© The Irish Times - Wednesday, September 18, 1996

Wednesday, July 24, 1996

New office to deal with sex abuse claims is suggested

COLM KEENA Writes

A NEW office with a central role in the investigation of child abuse allegations has been suggested by the Catholic body, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. ICPJ, in a response to the Department document on the mandatory reporting of child abuse, Putting Children First, concludes that not enough is known about the issue to decide for or against mandatory reporting. In this it differs from the 1989 Law Reform Commission conclusion that mandatory reporting "may on balance do more good than harm".

The ICJP believes a "number of tensions" exist in reporting and investigating child abuse, as a result of the involvement of different agencies and government departments, the divergent therapeutic and investigatory functions of the health boards and the possibility of different approaches by health boards. It suggests consideration be given to establishing an office, which would take over the existing functions of the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to child abuse allegations.

"Whereas the function of the DPP is primarily to vindicate the public interest in deciding whether prosecutions should be brought, a new office could be given the additional right and responsibility to take into account the best interests of the child."

Such an office could also be a focal point for complaints and appeals from those affected by unfounded or unproven suspicions. It could be notified of all reports and allegations, foster a standardised approach to investigations, encourage further co-ordination between gardai and health boards, and promote good practice. "Not enough is known at present about the incidence of child abuse, the rate of substantiation of reports, and about the injury caused by mistaken, ill-founded or malicious reports of abuse, to be able to balance the pros and cons of mandatory versus non mandatory reporting from the perspective both of the human rights of those affected by unsubstantiated reports and the best interests of the child," the group concludes.

The ICJP submission points out that other groups are responding to other questions, and concentrates its comment on human rights safeguards and due process in the investigatory process. Between 1986 and 1995, reports of child abuse of all types increased fivefold, and confirmed cases of all types of abuse, in the aggregate, has more or less kept pace.

Given this rise, in the absence of a mandatory reporting obligation, "it is difficult to judge whether introducing such a law now . . . would effect a significant increase in the reporting of substantiated cases. It is difficult to discern any significant obstacles remaining to maximising reporting and disclosure which a reporting law would be demonstrably effective in addressing."

The group said there were about 5,000 reports of child abuse received last year, of which about 3,500 were non-confirmed. Even if only 5 to 10 per cent of these were "without foundation", as against "unproven/unprovable", it would still represent some 175-350 cases annually. The social repercussions for someone accused of child abuse "are likely to be severe, even on occasion savage", the lCJP point out.

With child sex abuse cases, the number of confirmed cases has risen by a smaller factor than with child abuse overall. "We understand that possibly four out of every five cases of child sexual abuse currently being reported involve adult complainants ranging from their early 20s to their 50s".

© The Irish Times Wednesday, July 24, 1996

Friday, March 29, 1996

Inquiry on Letterfrack abuse claims

By KEVIN O'SULLIVAN

AN investigation has begun into allegations of child sexual and physical abuse against four Christian Brothers who were based at the former industrial school at Letterfrack, Co Galway.


It follows 23 complaints by former residents at St Joseph's Industrial School in Salthill, Galway, of sexual and physical abuse at the facility which was also run by Christian Brothers, the Garda confirmed yesterday.

"The allegations relate to the late 1960s and early 1970s and so far two former pupils have made statements to the Garda complaining of being abused by Christian Brothers. At this point we are only at an early stage of our investigations," said a senior Garda spokesman at Mill Street station in Galway. One of the former pupils had complained of sexual and physical abuse between 1967 and 1969 while another, it is understood, alleged physical abuse between 1972 and 1974 at the Letterfrack school, which was based in northwest Connemara up to the late 1970s.

The Garda have confirmed that four brothers were named in the allegations. The spokesman added that attempts were being made to track down other former pupils who may also have been subjected to either sexual or physical abuse. Many are now living abroad. Gardai have yet to contact the brothers at the centre of the Letterfrack investigation and could not confirm yesterday if any of them were involved in the St Joseph's inquiry.

Many of those who lived at St Joseph's in Salthill spent a number of years at Letterfrack. The latter catered for boys between six and 16 who were orphaned, abandoned, came from broken homes or where the State ruled a parent or parents were unfit to raise children. It also catered for young offenders. The former school building is now being used by community groups. Part of the property is used by University College, Galway for woodturning and cabinet making courses.

The Garda spokesman added that they expected to take further statements from former pupils, residents and staff at the Letterfrack school.

Meanwhile, a decision on whether to bring charges against four brothers who were based at St Joseph's - two of whom have left the order - and are named in statements by former residents is expected from the Director of Public Prosecutions within weeks. The Irish Times understands that over the past week more former pupils at St Joseph's have contacted the Garda to make statements about being abused.

The school in Lower Salthill was demolished this week to make way for housing development.

© The Irish Times - Friday, March 29, 1996

Wednesday, January 31, 1996

Protection of child above institutional church is right

Kieran McGrath gives a qualified welcome to the bishops' guidelines on clerical sexual abuse

By KIERAN MCGRATH

THERE are many welcome elements in the Irish Catholic Bishops' report on child sex abuse. Prominent among these is the clear declaration that the primary duty of all church officials is the welfare of the child victim of clerical abuse. In the past the church has not always been able to come to terms with this concept and has, on occasion, institution of the church, rather than the individuals adversely affected by abuse. Another welcome development is a clear and unequivocal statement that "where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities.

The fact that it has been necessary to spell this out to the various branches of the church is, in itself, an acknowledgment that the obligation to work with civil structures has not always been adhered to. This has been at the heart of some of the mistakes made in the past. In the foreword to the document, Cardinal Cahal Daly, representing the Hierarchy, and Father John Byrne, of the Conference of Religious in Ireland, give a clear apology for abuse by individual clerics. What is absent, however, is an apology for the church's sins of omission perhaps on legal advice.

They are addressed, implicitly, in terms of recommendations for future practice, but there has been no acknowledgment that the proposals spring from past mistakes. After all, since 1987 the rest of the community has been under a moral requirement to report all cases of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. This obligation has been observed by and large in spite of the absence of an explicit legal requirement to do so. Nine years on, after a very traumatic period in church history, this is now official policy. The proposed structure being set up under this report to deal with allegations (delegates, support persons, advisers for the alleged abusers and advisory bodies for bishops) while containing useful elements appear at first glance to be unnecessarily bureaucratic.

Child sexual abuse is a complex issue. The child protection system itself is also complicated. While obviously the church authorities need a mechanism to deal internally with abuse issues, from the point of view of the children and families whom it is meant to serve, the simpler the mechanism the better. To add another layer of people and roles above and beyond that which is already in place should only be done if it is unavoidable.

I see some overlap, for example, in the mind of the families, between the roles of the proposed support person and that of the health board social worker. It is unfortunate, in this regard, that a practising child protection 5 social worker was not asked to join the committee. Many families are so angry with the church that they may want as little contact as possible with church officials. Unless it is made clear how the roles of health board social workers and ecclesiastical support persons are to be coordinated, confusion is quite possible.

It is proving difficult to coordinate the services provided by the health boards, Garda and voluntary bodies. To add another set of roles has the potential to make the picture even more complex. Another related recommendation of the committee that could cause confusion is the suggestion that each diocese and religious congregation should develop its own set of procedures and protocols, using this new set as a guide. This seems an unnecessarily awkward way of going about things. The guidelines issued by the Department of Health have been hugely successful. These are now affirmed by the bishops' document and there should be no need for each congregation to develop its own individual set.

One of the thorny questions not addressed by the Bishops' Advisory Committee is that of financial compensation for victims of clerical abuse. While one can argue that a set of procedural guidelines is not the place to deal with such an issue, the question of compensation will not go away. The church's official line on this is that the giving of financial compensation is purely a matter for the individual perpetrator. However, abuse does not occur in a vacuum and, in some cases, the issue of negligence on the part of bishops or other officials must be taken into account.

In the US huge settlements have been paid to victims and their families. Indeed, it was the financial strain this put on the US church that forced it to develop a better pastoral response. As far back as 1990, I predicted in this newspaper that exactly the same issues would arise here, and already we know that several large settlements have been made by individual abusers, in some instances with official backing from the church. Overall, this set of guideline's constitutes a welcome step forward in dealing with clerical sexual abuse. In spite of weaknesses, they do represent a sort of child protection Rubicon from which the church can never retreat into an institutional model of dealing with this problem.

© The Irish Times - Wednesday, January 31, 1996

Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse

Revelations of abuse by priests and religious has had `an immense impact on Catholic Church'
Summary of the report of the Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse, as prepared by the Catholic Press and Information Office.

THE primary task of the Bishops Advisory Committee on Child Sexual as to recommend procedures for bishops and religious superiors in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse against priests and religious.


Reporting policy
The committee recommends that in all instances where it is known or suspected that a priest or religious has sexually abused a child, the matter should be reported without delay to a senior ranking garda for the area in which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Where the suspected victim is a child, or where a complaint by an adult gives rise to child protection questions, the appropriate health authority should also be informed. In the case of a complaint by an adult, a child protection question arises if an accused priest or religious holds or has held a position affording unsupervised access to children.

The document says that the complainant should also be advised by the church authorities to consider reporting the complaint directly to the Garda and relevant health authorities. The committee recognises that the reporting policy it recommends to church authorities may cause difficulty as some people who come to the church with complaints of current or past child sexual abuse by a priest or religious seek undertakings of confidentiality. Such people may wish to safeguard the privacy of alleged victims in cases where even their immediate family is not aware of the situation. Their primary reason in coming forward may be to warn church authorities of a priest or religious who is a risk to children.

This reporting practice may deter such people from coming forward or may be perceived by those who do come forward as an insensitive and heavy handed response by church authorities," the report says. Nevertheless, the committee is clear that no undertakings of absolute confidentiality should be given. The information should be expressly received within the terms of the reporting policy and on the basis that only those who need to know will be told. In making its recommendation on reporting practice the committee "considers to be paramount the safety and protection of children and the need to prevent where possible, further abuse".

Paramount concern for victims
The document describes the sexual abuse of children as a grave violation of their right to bodily integrity and an invasion of their physical and emotional privacy. The negative impact of such abuse "should never be underestimated or minimised". It can affect the child victim physically, emotionally and spiritually, both in the short and long term. "Child sexual abuse by priests and religious is a betrayal of their calling to serve others and of the Christian community which has entrusted them with particular authority and responsibility," the report says.

"Instead of their special position in the church being a means through which God's care for people is revealed, priests and religious who sexually abuse children take advantage of the position to gratify their own desires or sense of power." The shattering of trust in a particular priest or religious can destroy trust in the church and confidence in its ministers and may even weaken or destroy belief in God. "Those victims who come forward to the church to talk about their abuse experiences need to be listened to, heard and have their experiences acknowledged in a caring, sensitive manner," says the committee. Every effort must be made to appreciate fully the impact of the abuse experience on the victims and their families, who may he confused hurt and angry". Those responsible for putting into practice procedures for a response must always be conscious of this hurt. Any church response "must contribute to the process of healing that hurt".

The report asserts that it is the victims of abuse and their families who must have the first call on the church's pastoral care. They should be helped in gaining access to counselling services and if such services are not available the church should be willing to assist victims obtain the help they require. "Furthermore, just as the church, throughout its history, has provided services where these have been absent or inadequate, so now it should be prepared to take initiatives, in cooperation with the statutory authorities, to set up therapeutic services which, would be open to all victims off child sexual abuse," says the, report.

Rights of accused
A church response must include respect for the rights of the accused under natural justice, civil law and canon law. "Care should be taken that the good name and reputation of a priest or religious who is accused is not unjustly tarnished. The fundamental presumption of innocence must be upheld and respected, unless the contrary has been established," the report states. "Further, if it is found that an accusation is without foundation, extreme care is to be taken that the person wrongly accused is completely reinstated in good standing and that all blot or stain is entirely removed from his or her character and good name."

The spiritual and emotional well being of the accused person must be given careful attention.

Impact of revelations
The committee says that the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious has "shocked and angered" church members and Irish society generally. It says a debt of gratitude is owed to those who have had the courage to come forward and reveal the abuse they suffered. "Their courage has resulted in a breaking of the secrecy which is a particular feature of child sexual abuse. The greater degree of openness that now surrounds the issue means that other people who have suffered abuse but have kept it secret may now feel enabled to come forward."

The committee recognises that the revelations about the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious has had "an immense impact on the Catholic Church in Ireland and has provoked a crisis of faith and confidence among many of its members. But, it says, there must be hope that "this time of crisis may be also a time of opportunity for renewal and that from the current upheaval a better church will emerge".

This would happen only if all its members worked with considerable energy and commitment. "There must not be any complacent belief that the time of crisis will pass, after which, and without any special effort on anybody's part, life will be back to normal again." The greater degree of collaboration and shared responsibility required for the future "will place significant demands not just on those who occupy leadership positions but on all members of the church".

Procedures for dealing with complaints
The definition of child sexual abuse used in the committee's report is that adopted by the Law Reform Commission in the Republic for the purpose of a proposed mandatory reporting law. The committee recommends' that each diocese and religious' congregation adopt a protocol for responding effectively to complaints. This should be communicated to all priests and religious and be available to the public. The recommended procedures reflect eight "guidelines to action" . The safety and welfare of children should be the first and paramount consideration following an allegation of child sexual abuse

  • A prompt response should be given to all allegations of child sexual abuse
  • In all instances where it is known or suspected that a priest or religious has sexually abused a child, the matter should be reported to the civil authorities
  • Care should be given to the emotional and spiritual well being of those who have suffered abuse and their families There should be immediate consideration, following a complaint, of all child protection issues which arise, including whether the accused priest or religious should continue in ministry during the investigation
  • The rights under natural justice, civil law and canon law of an accused priest or religious should be respected
  • An appropriate pastoral response should be provided for the parish and wider community, with due regard to the right of privacy of those directly involved and to the administration of justice
  • Adequate positive steps should be taken to restore the good name and reputation of a priest or religious wrongly accused of child sexual abuse.

The report recommends that each bishop and religious superior appoint a delegate to oversee the implementation of the protocol, including the reporting policy, a support person to be available to those who suffered abuse, and an adviser to be available to the accused priest or religious. Each should receive appropriate training. Bishops and religious superiors should also appoint an advisory panel which would be available for consultation on a confidential basis as required. The panel should include lay people with qualities and expertise relevant to the issue of child sexual abuse.

Information exchange
The report calls for exchange of information between a bishop and a religious superior where a complaint has been made about a member of a religious congregation. It recommends that diocesan bishops adopt a system of "formal referencing" for accepting priests from elsewhere for service in their dioceses.

Parish and local community
If an allegation is made against a priest working in a parish, and he is given or takes leave of absence, the bishop should appoint a priest to replace him as soon as possible, even as parish administrator as an interim measure. The committee recognises an understandable desire" of parishioners to be given the facts when a priest has been accused of child sexual abuse. However, a public statement should only be made where the bishop is satisfied that the privacy of any suspected victim will not be jeopardised and the right of the accused priest to a fair trial will not be jeopardised.

At an appropriate time, the bishop should make a pastoral visit to affected parishes. A programme of pastoral support and spiritual renewal for the parish could be jointly prepared by the bishop, the local priests and pastoral council. A spiritual retreat/mission aimed at healing and reconciliation in the light of concerns expressed by the community, might be arranged. Religious congregations with expertise in this area should be invited to develop suitable programmes.

Assessment and treatment
The committee recommends if, as a result of clinical assessment, an accused person is deemed to require treatment, the opportunity should be offered to him or her.

Those who abuse
In cases where a priest or religious has been found to have abused, the report recognises that some people may feel that any care and concern for the abusers misplaced. This feeling is understandable, given the gravity off child sexual abuse and the knowledge that offenders may continue to offend even after the discovery of their abuse. However, it says that priests and religious who offend are members of a church "which is founded on the Gospel message means that those who have offended can be helped to hope for and work towards "healing and regeneration in their lives".

The hope of renewal and reform should mean that those who offend should be supported in whatever efforts they make to effect a change in their behaviour which would enable them to live a life free of abuse," the report says. Offering therapeutic help to offenders is vital in helping them cease their abusive behaviour. "It is thus an important element in the prevention of abuse and the protection of children."

But the report states that because of the grave breach of trust involved the options for the future of an offending priest in the ministry are greatly curtailed. Reassignment to some form of limited ministry which would not involve unsupervised contact with children may be possible, but only in exceptional cases and under very strict conditions.

Such a decision could only be made after careful consultation with professional clinicians, trained and experienced in assessing sexual deviancy, and when morally certain that this reassignment will not present any danger to children. "The protection and welfare of children must be always the paramount and over riding consideration in arriving at a decision."

Selection of candidates
The selection and screening of candidates for the priesthood or religious life is seen by the committee as immensely important. Candidates should have an affective maturity which includes awareness and acceptance of their sexuality and an ability to relate to both adults and children. The selection process should be guided "by the signs of a real vocation and not by any shortage of candidates". The screening of candidates should normally include a full assessment by an experienced psychologist, well versed in and supportive of the church's expectations of candidates for the priesthood or religious life, especially in regard to celibacy.

Seminary and religious house of studies
Seminaries and religious houses of study "should enable candidates to be open about their inner struggle towards fuller maturity". Formation "must be evenly balanced between the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral," the report says. It should "foster an integration of human sexuality and the development of healthy human relationships within the context of celibate living. The committee recommends the involvement of trained lay men and women in the formation of priests and religious. The report recommends that candidates have reasonable access to counsellors. Those responsible for formation should be informed, with the candidates' permission, of any factors which become apparent during counselling which would have a bearing on their suitability for the priesthood or religious life.

On going formation
The committee says that the complex emotional and social nature of ministry in present day Ireland requires a deepening of faith, a renewal of commitment and a readiness to examine existing approaches to ministry among priests and religious. Good spiritual direction and counselling are invaluable for priests and religious since "serious personal inadequacies can hide behind questionable spirituality". On going education promoting psycho sexual maturity, healthy living, and human wholeness is essential. Dynamic leadership of the Christian community demands greater collaboration between bishops, priests, religious and lay people. Priority needs to be given to adult religious programmes in which each person in the church can be offered the possibility and challenge of on going formation.

Towards greater awareness
The committee maintains that despite recent media and public attention on child sexual abuse many people have difficulty accepting that it is present in all strata of society. People may also be unaware of how they should respond when faced with child sexual abuse. To overcome this, it calls for the promotion, especially at local level, of increased awareness and better informed attitudes about the multi faceted issues surrounding child sexual abuse.

It says church authorities should focus especially on their responsibilities in respect of priests and religious, those working with children and young people in educational or other institutions run or managed by the church, and others occupying leadership positions within church organisations.

Among the proposals the report makes are
  • In service training for priests and religious on the nature and effects of child sexual abuse.
  • The continuation of information days/seminars already in place for priests and religious, ideally with input from health authorities, Garda/RUC and other professional bodies.
  • Wider dissemination of information about policies and procedures in force from statutory and church sources.
  • Priests and religious be alerted to the necessary links between their role and that of agencies with statutory obligations for child protection.
  • Programmes of information and awareness about child sexual abuse for students in seminaries/religious houses.
  • Information days in Catholic schools.
  • School based programmes be encouraged to enable children become aware of their right to say no to certain behaviour by adults and of their right to disclose having been abused. Such programmes should be developed in the light of emerging information and out of the experience gained from those currently in use.
  • Diocesan adult religious educators should consider how they might contribute to public understanding of child sexual abuse issues.

The Irish Times
- Wednesday, January 31, 1996

Report all child sex abuse suspicions to police, say bishops

By ANDY POLLAK, Religious Affairs Correspondent

A CATHOLIC bishops' committee has said that all suspected or known cases of child sex abuse by a priest or religious should be reported without delay to the local gardai or RUC.

The 70 page report of the committee on clerical child sex abuse, which has been in preparation since April 1994, was formally presented to and welcomed by the Primate, Cardinal Cabal Daly, in Dublin yesterday afternoon. The Cardinal said it had already been discussed by the bishops at provincial level and in many dioceses. The committee laid down eight "guidelines to action". These include Children's safety and welfare should be the "first and paramount consideration" following an allegation. There should be a "prompt response" to all such allegations.

In all instances, the matter should be reported to the civil authorities. Care should be given to those who have suffered abuse and to their families. There should be immediate consideration of whether an accused priest should continue in ministry during an investigation. The rights in law and natural justice of an accused priest should be respected and positive steps should be taken to restore the good name and reputation of a priest wrongly accused.

The report made no mention of compensation, which the bishops have always insisted is the responsibility of the abusing priest himself.


It proposed a detailed structure to deal with complaints of abuse against clerics, centring on a specially appointed priest in every diocese. As the bishops "delegate", he would be responsible for informing the police and the health boards and for initiating the church's own parallel canon law procedures. He would be helped by a support person to facilitate those who had alleged child abuse an `adviser' to be available to the accused priest and an `advisory panel' of legal and child care experts to advise the bishop.

In an effort to prevent the kind of ignorance which allowed Brendan Smyth to practise abuse in many dioceses and jurisdictions, it recommended that formal, written references should be required of a priest moving to work in another diocese. It emphasised that only in exceptional cases and under very strict conditions would an abuser be allowed to return to limited ministry without his contacts with children being supervised. However, at the press conference Mgr Alex Stenson, Chancellor of the Dublin Diocese, said he could foresee very few such cases for a diocesan priest who abused, "the future would be very bleak."

The report said the screening of candidates for the priesthood was "immensely important" and should normally include an assessment by a psychologist well versed in the church's expectations of its priests, especially in regard to celibacy. The committee recognised that the revelation of sex abuse by priests had had "an immense impact on the Catholic Church in Ireland and has provoked a crisis of faith and confidence among many of its members."

After again apologising to victims of clerical child sex abuse, they noted that the "particular evil" of child sex abuse by priests and religious had led to "low morale, a sense of isolation, confusion, pain and anger" among Irish Catholics. At the press conference, the secretary general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), Father Damian Byrne, announced that CORI had decided in principle to set up a telephone `help line' for abuse victims and their families, with back up counselling services.

© The Irish Times Wednesday, January 31, 1996

Report strong on reporting abuse but weak on removing priests

THE long awaited report (January 96) of the bishops' committee on how to deal with clerical child sex abuse contains this paragraph. "in all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities". Shouldn't this also be the rule where an adult complains of past abuse in childhood? Just asking!

The Gardai should be notified immediately

The Conference of Religious (CORI), which has been running a child protection office for the past year, announced that it had decided to set up a telephone help line for victims and their families as soon as possible. They say that the church sees the Government's Stay Safe programme against bullying and abuse as a necessary foundation for future school based programmes to enable young people to "become aware of their right to say `no' to certain behaviour on the part of adults".

Mgr Alex Stenson, one of the Irish church's leading canon lawyers said yesterday that a bishop could only impose administrative leave on a priest if at the same time he initiated a "canonical penal process" against him. He pointed to the right of a priest and any Catholic under canon law to a "good reputation" and to privacy.
However, Mgr Stenson said that, even with safeguards to protect an accused priest's rights, the proposed structures would ensure that he could be removed within 48 hours of an allegation being passed to the police from any position where he might abuse children.

Blog Archive