Martin 'Extremely Concerned' at Child Protection Practices

By Aoife Carr and Patsy McGarry
Irish Times
December 23, 2008

The Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he is extremely concerned that some dioceses may not be adhering to agreed procedures regarding child protection.

In a statement this afternoon, Dr Martin said he was waiting for written assurance from the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) in the Catholic Church that all dioceses and religious congregations have "committed themselves to a common system of accountable child protection and are applying it in a uniform way."

The statement comes in the wake of the publication of a highly critical report into child-protection practices in the Diocese of Cloyne by the NBSC.

The report found child protection practices in the diocese to be "inadequate and in some respects dangerous".

"The Archbishop is however extremely concerned at the fact that within a purported "one-Church-policy" there may in fact be a wide diversity in the interpretation and application of agreed procedures," the statement said.

"This is of particular concern for the Archdiocese of Dublin where hundreds of priests from outside the diocese – from other dioceses and religious congregations - play an active role in many aspects of Church life in the Archdiocese of Dublin."

Dr Martin said he would be in a better position to assess the situation if he knew something of the results of the audit commissioned by the HSE in the aftermath of the Ferns Report of all dioceses and religious congregations in the Republic of Ireland.

He said he had received no further information on the status of that audit since it was launched two years ago.

There is growing criticism of the Catholic Bishop of Cloyne, the Most Rev John Magee, and Minister for Children Barry Andrews in the wake of the publication of the report.

Labour TD for Cork East Sean Sherlock this morning called on the Bishop to resign and criticised Mr Andrews on his handling of the report.

"Nothing that anyone can ever do will ease the damage done to a number of young people in this area either through the original acts of sexual abuse by some members of the clergy or the failure of the Diocese of Cloyne to properly act on complaints made to them," he said.

"However, the resignation of Bishop Magee would bring some degree of closure for the victims and their families and would be a clear demonstration that lessons have been learned from this terrible affair and hat those in positions of authority will have to take responsibility where such failures occur."

Mr Sherlock said Bishop Magee was now an "increasingly isolated" figure whose authority had been seriously undermined.

He accused the Mr Andrews of "passing the buck" between his department and the diocese over who should publish the report.

"Minister Andrews has been in possession of the report since last July. Even if we accept his assertion that he never read the report, is he seriously asking the public to believe that nobody in his department read the report or that he was not briefed on its contents?" he said.

"The indisputable fact is that the Minister was in possession of this damning report which remained unpublished and its findings hidden for six months while the department and the diocese passed the buck between them over who should publish it."

Fine Gael spokesperson on children Alan Shatter condemned Mr Andrews' handling of the report and accused him of hypocrisy.

"It is not good enough that the Minister for Children publicly criticises the Bishop of Cloyne but fails to adequately answer questions about his own conduct and competence," he said.

"There is a terrible hypocrisy in the approach of the Minister. He admits that he did not read the report when received by his department last July and on Sunday he described as 'robust' a child protection system for which he is responsible but which was found to be seriously dysfunctional in another report published at the end of last July."

"The Minister should explain his conduct and publish the HSE report without further delay," he added.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Andrews admitted he had not read the report when it was presented to his department but had passed it on to the Heath Service Executive (HSE).

"I passed it on to the HSE as it is their job to investigate child protection issues. It is not a matter for a Government minister to investigate," he said.

Mr Andrews said he would be considering whether to refer the Diocese of Cloyne to the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation.

He again called on Bishop Magee to "reflect on his position" after questioning the Bishop's suitability to be patron of national schools in the diocese last night.

Mr Andrews said: "I can't really look into whether or not he should be in charge of that diocese, but I have a concern in relation to his role as patron of all national schools in Cloyne and whether or not we have a role to consider in that regard."

In relation to the report into child-protection practices in Cloyne, Mr Andrews said "The bishop has to reflect on those findings because they are very serious."

A second report on child protection practices in his diocese is due to be presented to Government on January 7th. This HSE report was presented to Mr Andrews on December 4th last. Since then he has been seeking legal advice on it.

Mr Andrews said the report was "very worrying" and that "clear lessons must be learned". Asked to comment on a call by One in Four for Bishop Magee to resign, Mr Andrews said it was not up to him to say if the bishop should resign. That "was a matter for the Pope", he said.


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