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, 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


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.