“Church change welcome, albeit much too late” & related articles

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The Irish Times

09 September 2012


AS A teacher, it is horrifying to read that a religious order, the Spiritans, which ran some of the country’s most prestigious schools, regularly moved abusers from school to school. Untold and completely preventable suffering ensued.

As someone with a link to the women’s Dominican order, it is terrible to read that up until 2010, the men’s Dominican order still had unacceptably long delays in reporting allegations of crimes to authorities. As a Catholic, it is very depressing to hear a bishop, Dr John Kirby, say that until the 1990s, he thought of an instance of paedophilia as a “friendship that crossed a boundary”.

When you hear these things, including the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy in the Sacred Heart Missionaries, it leaves you feeling nothing has changed.

And yet, when you read the National Board for Safeguarding Children reports, it is clear a shift has occurred. It’s much too late to prevent harm to many young people – and involves a shameful stance from which the Catholic Church will never recover – but it is a change nonetheless. The very existence of the reports proves it.

Few institutions in Ireland invite in independent auditors, and when the report is damning, publish it. Employing a tough Northern Presbyterian, Ian Elliott, whose career has been dedicated to protecting children, and mandating his team to reform an entrenched culture, is a most worthwhile exercise for the church to engage in.

Elliott can only recommend publication of the reports. In spite of the fact they are damaging, they are still being published. If we had more of this in other areas of Irish life, we might not be in the economic and social mess we are in. Publication does not at all excuse disclosed church failings. It is often incomprehensible how allegedly mature leaders could make the decisions they did. And yet, the most repeated sentence in the board’s report on the Diocese of Clonfert is: “[The board] is satisfied with the development of the new policy and procedure manual in January, 2012, that these criteria are now met in full.”

The board examines each diocese and religious order for compliance with seven criteria. The sentence about there now being full compliance is found after six of them, and Clonfert was already fully compliant with the seventh.

Late? Yes. Disastrously late? Absolutely. But tangible improvement? Yes.

I am appalled by Dr Kirby’s stated belief about paedophilia. The 1990s are such a short time ago – could anyone really believe paedophilia had anything to do with friendship? And is this grossly naive statement the last word on him? Is all the good he has done in his tiny diocese of 24 parishes, all the good he has done for people in the developing world through Trócaire, to be wiped out by this admission?

I have been struck by the lack of condemnation of the Spiritans, whose practice was far worse than Dr Kirby’s. I hope I am wrong in wondering whether it is the fact the Spiritans educated so many of the great and the good that has muted the response? And what about Bishop Donal Murray? I have long felt a grave injustice was done to him. I have known him at some level since I was 17, when he was one of my lecturers in college, and I know he was one of the main drivers of reform of child safeguarding.

The report on the Diocese of Limerick finds he put in place “robust safeguards and prompt responses to allegations of abuse”. Yet he had to resign for something that occurred when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin. There, he had little authority to change the culture, but when he had freedom to act in Limerick he instituted one of the best programmes for child safeguarding.

It is a great tragedy that all the facts on sexual abuse of children by clergy did not come out a decade or more ago. The “slow death by many self-inflicted cuts” as described by Patsy McGarry could have been avoided. Yet the process is producing something new – something the State has yet to demonstrate practically.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but what a strange coincidence that the Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group into nearly 200 deaths in the care of the Health Service Executive was published on June 20th, and the Constituency Commission report on redrawing constituency boundaries appeared on June 21st – thus diverting media attention.

More than one victim of child sex abuse has said to me their case merits no public attention, as they were not abused by a cleric or religious. I see how painful that is for victims of sexual abuse not committed by clerics or religious, but also understand it.

It is right that people who claim to live by Christ’s standards should be excoriated when they fail so horribly. But the board’s work, and church people who accept it with humility, should be given due credit for changing the culture, even if painfully slowly.


Disgraced Bishop Kirby made out of court settlements to two sexual abuse victims in the 1990s

Catholic leader, who believed pedophilia was a “friendship that crossed a boundary line”, paid out


Published Friday, September 7, 2012, 1:10 PM
Updated Friday, September 7, 2012, 1:14 PM

By CATHY HAYES, IrishCentral Staff Writer

The Bishop of Clonfert Dr John Kirby has admitted he made out-of-court settlements in the 1990s to two victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest in his diocese.

Kirby spoke yesterday after the publication of seven reports by the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) into child safeguarding practices in the Catholic Church. He said, as he remembers, the payments were made in 1994 and 1998. Including legal fee they totaled “circa IR£130,000”.

Earlier this week Kirby shocked with comments about his understand of what pedophilia was. He said he had thought this sexual abuse was just “friendship that crossed a boundary line”.

The out of court settlements which Kirby referred to were in relation to accusation set against the clergyman indentified as “Priest A” in the reports, according to the Irish Times.

The report states that there were “five separate complaints were made against priest ‘A’ between 1990 and 1997”.

The priest was convicted in court and served a jail sentence. The review revealed that when Kirby had been made aware of the abuse allegations against “Priest A” and another priest he “moved the priests against whom allegations were made to different parishes”.

In defense of his actions Kirby said “I literally thought, and you can put it down as gross innocence and naivety, that if I separated the priest and the youngster, that it was a friendship that crossed the boundary line. I literally thought if I separated them I would have solved the problem.”

With relation to “Priest A” the reports confirms that “Bishop Kirby did immediately confront the priest when he received the first allegation, [the priest acknowledged the allegation], and the bishop made a speedy report to the Western Health Board . . . It is not recorded whether Bishop Kirby reported the allegation to An Garda Síochána [police]”.

“Priest A” has been laicized.

In regards to the other priest’s case the review found that “the first complaint was not properly managed” however, later complaints against him were dealt with “more effectively”.

Ireland’s Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the reports highlighted “indefensible child protection failures”. He added that the cases highlighted by the report now being investigated by the Garda Sexual Crime Management Unit.


Children failed yet again by senior church figures

The Irish Times

06 September 2012

ANALYSIS: It is risible for a bishop to suggest he thought in the early 1990s that the sex abuse of a child was ‘a friendship that crossed a boundary’, writes PATSY McGARRY

ANYBODY WHO believed, even hoped, that the Catholic Church in Ireland had passed the peak of its clerical child sex abuse crisis must be in despair. The findings in the seven reviews of child protection practices in four dioceses and three religious congregations published yesterday were “disappointing”, said Ian Elliott, with remarkable restraint.

Chief executive of the church’s child protection watchdog, its National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), he led the reviews in the dioceses of Clonfert, Cork Ross, Kildare Leighlin, Limerick, as well as the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart congregation, the male Dominican congregation and the Spiritan, better known to most people as the Holy Ghost Fathers.

Those who have defended the church on the basis of the “historical” nature of abuse complaints against priests must feel sickened by these reports. Despite their valiant efforts at upholding a beleaguered and beloved institution, they too have been badly let down by senior church figures, again, when it comes to implementing basic child safeguarding practices.

It is risible for the Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby to expect people to believe that in the 1990s he saw the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in his diocese “as a friendship that crossed a boundary line”. He then just moved the accused priest to another parish. He did so where a second similarly accused priest was concerned there, too.

It is beyond belief that anyone in Ireland would have thought, in the early 1990s or beforehand, that sexual abuse/interference with a child by an adult was anything other than wrong. That a bishop did not do so, particularly where a priest was concerned, belongs to the realms of fantasy.

That alone renders meaningless Bishop Kirby’s “if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now” apology yesterday. It was merely repetition of an all-too-empty formula employed by senior Catholic Church figures caught in sticky situations and with which we have become mind-numbingly familiar.

Also undermining Bishop Kirby’s credibility in the matter is a realisation that just two years ago, in June 2010, he refused to act on the advice of a safeguarding committee he had himself set up, that he seek the removal of two priests accused of abuse from the Redemptorist retreat centre at Esker in east Galway, which is regularly attended by young people.

Then, following publicity, both men were moved to a Redemptorist community which has no involvement with children.

A further challenge to Bishop Kirby’s current “regret” is the NBSC review finding that just last November his diocese “did not have a full written policy and procedures document in place”, which had “a knock-on effect on safeguarding structures and practices in the diocese”.

All of which indicates that Bishop Kirby’s commitment to child protection is less than zealous and renders doubtful his assurance yesterday that “the diocese of Clonfert is absolutely committed to ensuring a culture of child safety throughout the local church”.

Where the Sacred Heart Missionaries were concerned, the review found it “difficult to express adequately the failure of this Society to effectively protect vulnerable children”. Its child protection policies were “deeply flawed”. It “failed to take action to protect vulnerable young children and had allowed those who caused harm to them to avoid being held accountable by statutory agencies by not passing critical information” to civil authorities.

Six of the 17 priests in this congregation accused of child abuse had been teachers at the Sacred Heart College at Carrignavar in Co Cork. The congregation’s Irish province includes England, Russia, parts of the United States, Venezuela, South Africa and Namibia. It is just not credible that it was more committed to child protection in any of those countries than it has been in Ireland.

Similarly with the Spiritans. This congregation has run some of the best-known schools in Ireland, including Blackrock College, St Mary’s, Templeogue College and St Michael’s in Dublin, as well as Rockwell College in Co Tipperary.

The NBSC found its child abuse files “very sad reading”. Serial child abusers among its priests worked in its school “undetected and unchecked giving them unmonitored access to children during the 1960s, 70s and 80s”.

The review found it “reasonable to believe that there are other victims of Spiritans who have not yet come forward. These victims may be located in Ireland, Canada, USA, Sierra Leone and any other country where the offending priests/brothers have worked”.

Where this congregation is concerned, tribute must be paid to Mark Vincent Healy who almost single-handedly ensured that the Spiritans were reviewed by the NBSC. In March 2009 Fr Henry Maloney was convicted of abusing Healy and Paul Daly when both had been pupils at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, between 1969 and 1973. Following a difficult life, Daly was found dead in sad circumstances last June in Dublin.

Maloney had already been convicted of child abuse in 2000. He taught at St Mary’s between 1968 and 1973, before being transferred to Sierra Leone. Healy has also been in contact with abuse victims of Spiritan priests in the UK, Kenya and Nigeria.

Where the Dominican congregation is concerned, the findings on the Limerick, Kildare Leighlin, and Cork Ross dioceses were like the curate’s egg, good in spots. The review praised the child protection work of Bishop Donal Murray while bishop of Limerick but noted that an unnamed predecessor there, believed to be Bishop Jeremiah Newman, allowed a priest whom he knew had a history of child abuse to minister in Limerick. That priest then allegedly abused Peter McCloskey (37) who took his own life in April 2006 following a fractious meeting with diocesan authorities in Limerick.

Yesterday’s reviews were further confirmation of a statement made by the Irish Catholic Bishops following publication of the Murphy report in 2009. They said then they were “shamed by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and recognise that this indicates a culture that was widespread in the church”.

Yet further such confirmation of that culture is likely as the NBSC continues its reviews of the remaining 16 Catholic dioceses and 159 religious congregations in Ireland, most of the latter being small. The prospect is of slow death by many self-inflicted cuts for a form of Irish Catholicism.


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