REPORT PRAISES CURRENT CHILD SAFETY POLICY IN CLOGHER DIOCESE – BUT ASPECTS OF PREVIOUS PRACTICE CRITICISED

26 April 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Twenty-three allegations of the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by Catholic priests serving in the Diocese of Clogher were made to police authorities between January 1975 and November of last year, a report published yesterday has revealed.

A review of the child safeguarding practice in the diocese conducted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI), launched at a press conference in St Macartan’s College in Monaghan Town, is predominantly positive in its assessment of the current system of safeguards the diocese operates. “It is clear that the issue of safeguarding children effectively is prioritised in this diocese,” it states.

However, the report finds shortcomings in the manner in which two cases in particular were handled in the past, stating that: “The reviewers would draw a line between the practice of this diocese today and some of the practice that existed previously”, and describing the response under past practice to abuse concerns in the diocese as “often unsatisfactory”.

The NBSCCCI review of child safeguarding policy and practice in the diocese was carried out at the request of Bishop of Clogher Dr Liam S MacDaid and took place from November 5-7 last year.
Bishop MacDaid, his staff and volunteers engaged in safeguarding work in the diocese are praised for their openness and willingness to engage in the review process. “The NBSCCCI would wish to commend the enthusiasm and commitment to effective safeguarding that was found during the visit to the diocese,” the report states.

The challenges posed by the geographical extent of the Clogher Diocese – which covers Co Monaghan, most of Co Fermanagh, and portions of counties Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan, with 37 parishes and 73 priests in active ministry – are acknowledged by the reviewers, who point out that child safeguarding there entails engagement with both An Garda Síochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the Health Service Executive and the North’s HSC Trusts. Bishop MacDaid, the report states, has “worked strenuously” since his ordination on July 25, 2010 to ensure that good working relationships are maintained with the key statutory safeguarding agencies in both jurisdictions.

The review makes seven recommendations for enhancement of safeguarding practices in the diocese. These include having a clearer policy definition of what constitutes a vulnerable adult, the development of an induction programme for the two lay volunteers working in this area in the diocese, and the creation of a communication strategy.

The review in full is available on the diocese’s website, www.clogherdiocese.ie

ALLEGATIONS
The review refers to 23 allegations reported to the Gardai or the PSNI involving priests of the diocese since January 1, 1975 up to November, 2012.

It also states that 22 allegations were made since 1975 to the HSE or the Health Board structure that preceded it.

The document defines allegations as both complaints and expressions of concern, and points out that in one instance an allegation was reported to the HSE in relation to an overseas matter and was not reported to the diocese. This allegation did not contain a named victim.

Of the thirteen priests of the diocese who have been the subject of allegations during the period concerned, two have been convicted of having committed an offence or offences against a child or young person since January 1, 1975.

Seven of the priests against whom allegations were made are now deceased. Two are out of ministry or have left the priesthood. One priest against whom an allegation was made is described as being “in ministry, or retired”, and another priest is referred to as being not of the diocese but residing within it, and being known to be the subject of an allegation arising from their past ministry.

No priests are named in the document. With regard to the management of allegations, the review states:
“The reviewers would draw a line between the practice of this diocese today and some of the practice that existed previously.

“From the cases examined it was clear that opportunities for preventative interventions were consistently missed when concerns of abuse by clergy were highlighted in the past.

“In one particular case, there was an unacceptable delay in taking action against a priest and removing him from all ministry, following receipt of a credible allegation.

“In another, a priest of the diocese was suspected of multiple incidents of abuse, but he was not removed from ministry, transferred to another parish and eventually was sent overseas for therapeutic help. He remained outside the jurisdiction and was eventually extradited back to this country several years later but died before he could be brought before the courts.

“In a number of cases, allegations emerged against priests following their death, making it impossible for any investigation to take place. The impression formed by reviewers of past practice was that the response to abuse concerns was often unsatisfactory and that risky behaviour was not addressed as strongly as it should have been.”

The reviewers comment that the response to allegations that is now expected within the Church involves timely referral to the appropriate statutory agencies.

“As the diocese of Clogher is located in both Northern Ireland and also in the Republic, the reviewers made contact with both An Garda Síochána and the HSE, and the PSNI and the HSC Trusts. All reported that they had a very good working relationship with the diocese and made reference to the leadership of the present bishop. It was reported to the reviewers that he always made it clear that the safety and protection of vulnerable children should be seen as paramount within his diocese.”

The review makes a recommendation in relation to the keeping by the diocese of case files, asking it to ensure that the recording of safeguarding practice within the files should follow its own NBSCCCI template and include “telling the narrative of the case as an aid to understanding.”

It also recommends that each of the safeguarding roles created in the diocese should have a role description detailing the tasks and responsibilities associated with each. It applauds the development of a framework of volunteers and staff within the diocese with safeguarding duties, but describes it as “confusing” to have “personnel involved with a multiplicity of potentially overlapping roles.”

PREVENTING HARM
The review finds that the diocese is fully compliant with all 12 criteria set out under its standard for preventing harm to children.

The authors say of their engagement with the volunteers, staff and priests of the diocese involved in safeguarding that: “Their enthusiasm was real and their commitment exceptional.” They also note: “Each parish has a safeguarding representative and most have several. All the parish safeguarding representatives have received training and several have been involved for a number of years.”

It is recommended that Bishop MacDaid in consultation with NBSCCI develop an induction programme for two new lay volunteers, one of whom has already been appointed with the other to take up their post shortly, who will occupy the roles of “diocesan designated person”. “This may include engaging with more experienced occupants of the role from neighbouring counties,” the recommendation states.

The reviewers point out that the suggestion was made to them by some of the volunteers working in the diocese that many people there did not realise how much has been achieved in the area of safeguarding and the full extent of the work that had taken place to date.

The review notes: “The suggestion was made that a diocesan newsletter should be issued which focused solely on the safeguarding of children. This has been successfully introduced in other dioceses and it has proven to be helpful both in validating the volunteers already involved and in awakening the interest of others not yet engaged.”

Eight of the nine criteria with regard to a written policy on keeping a child safe are deemed fully met by the reviewers, with the remaining criterion, referring to a child protection policy that is written in a clear and easily understandable way, regarded as partially met.

It is recommended that the safeguarding policy include a definition of a vulnerable adult “which provides sufficient clarity to enable those involved in safeguarding to decide whether an individual falls within the scope of the policy.” An amendment to the Operation Guidelines for the Advisory Panel operating in this area in the diocese is also recommended in the review.

The review concludes that two of the four criteria set in the area of education and training have been fully met, with the remaining two partially met.

The NBSCCI suggests that attention be paid to looking at the training needs of all parts of the safeguarding framework rather than simply the parish representatives.

“Areas highlighted would include developing a better understanding of sex offending behaviour and the impact that sexual abuse can have on those that suffer it. Both of these would be particularly relevant to the roles of “designated officers” and also for the bishop.”

Four criteria with regard to “Communicating the Church’s Safeguarding Message” have been met fully in the diocese – two other criteria are deemed partially met.

The review recommends that Bishop MacDaid should consider creating a communication strategy for safeguarding in the diocese “that could include an annual volunteer conference as a means of thanking them and strengthening them in their efforts in taking forward this vital work.”
Pointing out that relevant safeguarding documentation is available at each church in the diocese and on the diocese website, the NBSCCI says it is clear that there is a lot of “good news” to communicate in the diocese with regard to the safeguarding of children: “There would be benefit in creating a communication plan at the level of the diocese to try to co-ordinate more effectively the dissemination of knowledge about the good work being undertaken.”

The Clogher diocese has met fully all five criteria set out with regard to “Access to Advice and Support’, the reviewers find, including the provision of information to those who have experienced abuse on how to seek support; and the provision of appropriate support to those who have perpetrated abuse “to help them face up to the reality of the abuse as well as to promote healing in a manner which does not compromise children’s safety.”

The review states that statutory agencies working with the diocese all report a positive relationship “and a shared commitment to the effective safeguarding of children”.

With regard to “Implementing and Monitoring Standards”, the report finds that three of the criteria have been met fully, including the stipulation that “All incidents, allegations/suspicions of abuse are recorded and stored securely.” Two other criteria under this heading are considered partially met.

It is recommended that Bishop MacDaid, in consultation with his safeguarding team, should enhance the Implementation Plan the diocese has prepared for 2013 to include how each objective will be approached and who will be responsible for that work.

The reviewers remark: “It is gratifying to record that all of the staff and volunteers who were interviewed confirmed that the provision of appropriate financial resources to support the safeguarding work in the diocese has never been a problem. There was recognition and appreciation of the priority placed on this work by the bishop and his staff.”

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