Accountability – For Whom?

Ian Elliott

Accountability – For whom?

I have been watching with interest the media coverage of the first meeting in Rome of the newly established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Catholic Church. This body carries on its shoulders the expectations of many millions of interested observers all hoping that it will guide the Church down the right path to a position where we can all be confident that vulnerable children will be safeguarded in its care. The signs so far have been encouraging in that emphasis appears to be placed on establishing how accountability can be strengthened when the abuse of a child is suspected or discovered.

Holding people accountable is an essential requirement of a responsible organisation. However from a safeguarding perspective, it is not enough to focus only on those who have directly harmed a child when pursuing accountability. It is also necessary to look at and address the issue with regard to those in leadership who have failed to discharge their responsibilities adequately. This is not comfortable territory for many in the Irish Catholic Church, because if you examine the abusive career of most of the offenders that have been identified and brought to justice amongst the clergy, you will find a list of missed opportunities to intervene and prevent further abuse. Superiors, and sometimes peers, failed to act and as a consequence abuse continued for longer than it should.

In addressing this issue, it is necessary to reflect on why such a situation has been allowed to exist for so long in the first place. The abuse of a vulnerable child is an abhorrent act which has a profound impact on most people who come in contact with it. Why then was “a blind eye” turned to its existence so frequently when it was suspected or known about in the Church? I do not believe that there is one definitive answer to that question but there is evidence that is relevant to aiding our understanding that has emerged from within the Irish Church.

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