Our duty to minister with dignity

Our duty to minister with dignity Mr Aidan Gordon

On June 11, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland implemented a new policy titled ‘A Safe and Welcoming Church – Safeguarding Children Policy and Standards for the Catholic Church in Ireland’. Mr Aidan Gordon, who has been the CEO of the National Board since April 2024, shared the priorities, goals, and challenges associated with these changes in an interview with The Irish Catholic.

What led you to take on the role of head of safeguarding?

AG: I’m a qualified social worker. That’s my profession, and I’ve worked in the safeguarding arena for over 30 years. I worked in England, in the Republic of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland, both in children’s services and in adult services, and then prior to being appointed to this role, I was the Director of safeguarding for the Archbishop of Armagh from 2015. Nine years. I view this as an opportunity for me to use the skills and the knowledge that I’ve built up during my career to make sure that the Church is a safe place for children and for families.

With this purpose in mind, what would be your main priorities?

AG: As I start in the new position, my number one priority would have to be to make sure that our new policy and procedural guidance is embedded in all Church bodies across Ireland. There’s an element of unfamiliarity and getting used to that. I’ll take some time to get used to the new position. I really want to make sure that there’s continuity from my predecessor, Theresa Devlin, so that the work of safeguarding children and ensuring that they are safe continues uninterrupted in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

How have you previously built the trust with the clergy, staff and lay people and how are you going to apply it in this new role?

AG: I’ve begun that in the sense that we, for our new policy, over 500 people attended 13 induction events held across the country. This demonstrates the level of commitment in the Church to ensuring our activities with children are safe. Bishops, congregational leaders, clergy, laypeople, volunteers, paid staff, have begun the process of engaging with. I’ve managed to do some of that in my previous role in the Archdiocese of Armagh. We publish our annual report every year and the details of all our activities, including the number of allegations that have been reported to us.

I believe that there was not a big difference between last year’s report and this year’s. What challenge do you think that these numbers bring with them?

AG: Last year there were 251 allegations notified to the National Board and this year there were 252. And I suppose that would demonstrate that safeguarding is still a concern. We certainly need to guard against complacency in the Church because you will see from the 252 allegations that were reported to us last year, 248 of them were related to incidents which occurred prior to the year 2000. Still, 4 incidents were reported to us which have occurred or allegedly occurred since the year 2000. Safeguarding concerns are still alive in the Church in the country. The second challenge is making sure that we engage with victims and survivors and ensure that their voice is heard in everything we do. This would also lead me to say that my other priority in the first number of months is that I hope to establish a steering group. Next year we will have a national conference on transitional justice approaches to engaging with victims and survivors in the Church.

And regarding the safeguard policy, how long has it been since the previous one?

AG: The previous policy was from 2016 until now. There have been several changes. There were seven standards in the old policy. There are now three. Our policy is supposed to reflect any updates in civil law, in criminal law, and updates in Canon law and in Church law. That’s the biggest difference. This is part of our normal process of reviewing and updating our policy in line with developments in legislation, developments in Church, Church guidance and developments in policy and practise with our statutory partners. We have also provided updated guidance in terms of how that cooperation will take place, in line with the current law in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Clergy are treated in the same way as any other citizen, and it is a requirement.

I can imagine that maybe for victims, especially the most recent ones, it could be hard to speak out loud about it. How do you engage with the community, so they feel comfortable to approach you?

AG: Each Church body, diocese and congregation have professional staff employed, ranked to assist them in responding appropriately to any complaints that is made in relation to abuse of children. We have two separate independent bodies which are fully funded by the Church in Ireland, free to people who are victims or survivors. ‘Towards healing’ (info@towardshealing.ie), which provides a free, confidential counselling service to victims of abuse in the Church, and ‘towards peace’ (towardspeace@iecon.ie), which provides spiritual accompaniment to those who have been hurt by the Church, but who wish still to engage. Those two services are completely free and available to every complainant. As well as the ones that are available locally in each Church body.

Which way do you catechise people to truly integrate the idea of dignity?

AG: If somebody is beginning a ministry in the Church across Ireland, we require them to have make an application to provide the names of two referees and anybody who will be involved in ministry with children is required to go through the vetting process, as well as going through those recruitment procedures. They are also required to attend training.

Is there anything you would like to add?

AG: Our new policy is based in Gospel which shows us very clearly that safeguarding is not just a matter of having to follow the law, but a matter of following the Gospel. There is no conflict between Gospel values and safeguarding practise. It’s on all of us to minister to people with dignity, integrity and to make sure that children are welcomed and cherished and protected in our Church and that is everybody’s role. We will continue to review and to revise our policies and our procedures to make sure that we are keeping up to date with the law.

The introduction of this new policy marks a significant step forward, with Mr Gordon leading the Church in maintaining the highest standards of child safeguarding. By focusing on embedding the new guidelines, preventing complacency and ensuring the voices of victims and survivors are heard, Mr Gordon aims to encourage a culture of accountability and protection within the Catholic Church in Ireland.