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