Dangerous to believe worst of abuse behind us, says bishop

By Patsy Mcgarry
Irish Times
January 14, 2018

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy at a conference about safeguarding children in Limerick city.
Photo by Keith Wiseman

To relax would be ‘a profound error which would compound the historical failures’, conference hears

A Catholic bishop has said that ignorance about the effects of child abuse in the past compounded its harmful effects on the lives of many young and vulnerable people.

“People of my generation began our adult lives with almost no awareness of the pervasiveness and impact of abuse in our society and in all societies,” Catholic Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said.

“As a consequence, failure to recognise and respond appropriately to the complex issues which abuse presents, has at times compounded the profound and harmful impact on the lives of many young and vulnerable persons,” he said.

“In recent weeks, millions have joined the social media conversation using the hashtag #MeToo, or its equivalent, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; women and men denouncing harmful sexual experiences. Many are revealing for the first time, via social media, their own stories. While the majority of those sharing #MeToo stories are adult women, a large number of the shared stories reveal sexual abuse that began when they were still minors,” he said.

Initially, in trying to tackle abuse issues in the past, “we began speaking about child protection. Today we speak instead of safeguarding, because safeguarding is a concept that reaches beyond protection, responding not only to problems which have occurred but incorporates the prevention of harm and the promotion of welfare.

“Safeguarding also extends beyond children to include people of all ages and abilities who may have vulnerabilities which expose them to a risk of abuse,” he said.


Bishop Leahy was speaking at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick at a conference on “Building Collaboration in Safeguarding” organised by Limerick diocese in association with An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the HSE.

Attendees included representatives from statutory, voluntary and educational sectors, as well as various faith organisations.

“The greatest danger for us is that we might relax and believe that the worst is in some way behind us. To take this view would be a profound error which would compound the historical failures,” he said.

“Sometimes, however, it seems as if all of us, all of society, can want to simplify this issue and move on. To stay with an awareness of the pervasiveness of abuse and those dark parts of our human nature and the tendency to exploit weakness and vulnerability, may be almost too much,” he said.

From his own meetings with victims he was critically aware of its impact “on all dimensions of their lives and there are no quick or simple solutions to what are sometimes their lifelong struggles. I am also very conscious of the strain on people working in voluntary organisations as they struggle with what at times seem to be enormous limitations on resources.”


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