Child protection procedures ‘disappointing’, warns watchdog

Cathal Barry and Greg Daly


Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said he is “appalled” to hear of delays by some religious orders in fully implementing standards and guidelines on child protection.

Following reviews last autumn, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) warned that several congregations have considerable work to do on the issue.

Teresa Devlin, chief executive of the NBSCCCI said she was “disappointed that, for the majority of orders, the whole area of safeguarding is only being bedded down in the last couple of years”.

“Of the nine only two orders have demonstrated good compliance with the standards and have demonstrated their commitment to putting in place good safeguards for children as well as prompt responses to allegations of abuse. For the other seven there is considerable work to be done,” she said.

The seventh tranche of the appraisals criticised a number orders for “variable delays” in reporting allegations and “poor record management” in many cases.


The reports also exposed that “opportunities to safeguard children were missed” by some congregations, with known abusers allowed to remain in ministry in the Nineties.

While the board found management plans relating to accused priests and nuns have improved significantly over time, it warned there is still room for improvement, in terms of clarity of roles, review of restrictions and sharing of information.

The board also noted that support for complainants is good in many cases with evidence of pastoral support, outreach and direct contact with survivors of abuse.

However, it warned of variable delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities up until 2009 and, for some, practice did not improve until 2013.

The latest tranche of the reviews assessed the Augustinians; the Passionists; the Sacred Hearts Fathers of Jesus and Mary; the Discalced Carmelites (OCD); the Franciscan Friars; the Franciscan Brothers; the Servites; the Marist Fathers and the Dominican Sisters.

A number of small female congregations were also reviewed, including: the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary; the Holy Faith Sisters; the Holy Family of Bordeaux; the Sisters of Charity of Nevers; the Infant Jesus Sisters; the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy.

Case study 1

A Discalced Carmelite friar accessed material showing child abuse on numerous occasions before his behaviour came to light. The matter was promptly referred to the Gardaí and child protection services, and psychological assessment and treatment was arranged, with assessments continuing over a 17-year period. While there was no criminal conviction, downloading images of child abuse is a canonical offence.

Allowed to continue ministry to a school where he said Mass and heard confessions once a month, he was subsequently barred from any ministry including children but was again permitted to exercise pastoral ministry.

The friar took over as ‘acting prior’ of the community where he lived when the prior became ill, and the NBSCCCI remains concerned about his continued public ministry and his apparent  leadership ambitions within his order.

Case study 2

A Franciscan friar was first complained about in 1995, with reference to an incident in the early Seventies. He admitted to the sexual abuse of two children and was referred for treatment, but the matter was not promptly reported to the civil authorities.

It seems the friar was neither subjected to canonical action or a formal supervision agreement, with his case file showing no evidence of any formal risk assessment.

After he left the order in 1999, other victims came forward with allegations of abuse, and while counselling was offered to them, the civil authorities were not informed for some years in connection with any of these new allegations, with one case not being reported at all.

In 2007 the former friar was placed on the sex offenders’ register and sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence after being convicted for sexual offences against children while he was a friar.

Case study 3

A now elderly Servite friar who carries out limited ministry within a priory was the subject of an allegation over 20 years ago. His ministry was restricted at the time, but there were delays in reporting the matter to the civil authorities. Whilst there was an intention to instigate a canonical process, the friar’s file contains no reference to such a process having taken place. A number of risk assessments were carried out, and the covenant of care which was put in place in 2010 is regularly reviewed with public protection personnel. The friar’s file record is incomplete.

Case study 4

The NBSCCCI identified that the history of case management prior to 2013 in the Augustinian order is quite poor, with incomplete files, gaps in reporting to the statutory agencies, minimal evidence of safety planning and inconsistent application of canonical process.

The reviewers acknowledged evidence of a proactive approach in the early 2000s to drafting a child safeguarding policy and to training and selection of safeguarding representatives for the communities.

However, whilst the 2009 policy confirmed that some progress was made, any momentum appeared to be lost in subsequent years and child safeguarding is some distance short of the expected milestones for 2014.

The review team warned that it is important that the task of reshaping child safeguarding in the order is set out as a “matter of urgency” in a coherent and strategic safeguarding plan and that progress needs to be formally reviewed within a period of 18 months of the publication of the report.

Case study 5

The reviewers have concluded that the Passionist congregation has not achieved the implementation of all the standards as defined by the NBSCCCI. Prior to 2009 the reviewers reported they have seen historic gaps in safeguarding practice, including inconsistent levels of reporting and recording, and consider that the congregation, on occasions, neglected to implement canonical processes.

According to the review, there are examples of good practice, for example in victim/survivor outreach and in the early commissioning of psychological assessments and treatment programmes… but the overall conclusion was that all aspects of the safeguarding agenda need to be more assertively owned and managed by the Passionists.