Derry Now Has 'Clear Procedures'

Irish Times
November 30, 2011

The report refers throughout to Bishop Seamus Hegarty, who retired last week for health reasons.

The Diocese of Derry now has "very clear procedures" for the management of allegations against priests in the diocese, the National Board for Safeguarding Children said in its review.

The reviewers noted "significant improvement" in the management of allegations since the last review of practice in 2009.

The new procedures were set out in a November 2010 diocesan policy and procedures document.

"The guidance provided is comprehensive and appropriate and can be easily followed," the review said.

Derry spans two jurisdictions Northern Ireland and the Republic. The diocese's guidance was "clear and accurate" in relation to the procedures followed by the statutory authorities in each jurisdiction.

A 2009 audit on the Derry diocese made a number of comments on the management of cases historically and the reviewers said there was no need to duplicate those.

The review said, however, it did not need to be reiterated that a number of deficits had been identified through both the 2009 and the current review exercises concerning historical cases.

These included that priests about whom there were clear concerns were "not robustly challenged or adequately managed" and that problems were often 'handled' by moving them to postings elsewhere.

There were 23 priests incardinated in the diocese against whom allegations had been made since January 1st 1975 up to the date of the review. Some 31 allegations were reported to gardai or police in that period. There were 33 reports of allegations to social services.

Seven of the priests against whom allegations had been made were living at the date of the review; 16 were dead; four had left the priesthood. No priests in the diocese had been convicted of an offence. Three were "in ministry or retired".

One priest who was not "of the diocese" but was residing within it was known to be the subject of an allegation involving a past ministry.

The review makes a number of recommendations, including that the bishop and his vicar general must ensure that a written procedure is developed to cover the responsibilities of each of the diocesan personnel and communication between these personnel involved in the management of allegations and any ensuing canonical process.

The report refers throughout to Bishop Seamus Hegarty, who retired last week for health reasons.

Among the other recommendations are that the diocese consider using "appropriate support and therapeutic services" for those who have perpetrated abuse and for those who "clearly have a psychological and/or an emotional problem which may impinge on their ability to work appropriately with children and young people.

It commends that all cases now come to a lay designated person based at the Pastoral Centre in Derry. She has the mandate to record and manage cases, including handling formal reporting to the statutory authorities and ensuring that all complainants are given appropriate support.

The diocese had contacted the HSE to invite it to nominate representatives to meet with the reviewers to discuss child safeguarding in relation to the part of the diocese that is in the Republic of Ireland.

The review said the HSE agency "unfortunately" did not respond to the invitation.

Retired Bishop of Derry Dr Séamus Hegarty noted the had asked the board at about this time last year to include the diocese in the first group being reviewed.

"I am grateful that they agreed," he said in a statement.

He noted today's report indicated police and social services had full confidence in the current management of allegations in the Diocese of Derry.

"However, both the Derry and the Raphoe Reports indicate deficits in the management of allegations historically, including during my time as bishop. These deficits cannot be undone and, at the personal level, I am sorry that this is the case."

Dr Hegarty said he had been a diocesan bishop for 30 years, first in Raphoe and later in Derry.

"I now look back and know that my practice in the past was sometimes poor and I am deeply sorry that anyone was hurt through my management of allegations historically. I know that I made big efforts to improve as time went on and this is reflected in the Derry report."

"Today I think of the men and women whom I met, over my years as diocesan bishop, who were abused as children by priests. I think of their courage and their pain and pray that healing may be theirs. It is for their sake, as well as for the good of children throughout the Church, that we must ensure that the past is never repeated."

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