Church did not live up to own guidelines and put children at risk

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A damning report into the handling of child sex abuse allegations in the Cloyne diocese (Ireland)  has found the hierarchy in Cloyne was resisting its own church policy 12 years after a framework document on child protection was adopted in 1996.

In addition, the Vatican was “entirely unhelpful” to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic Church, saying the framework document on child sexual abuse, agreed by the Irish Bishops Conference in 1996, was “not an official document.”

This gave individual bishops, “the freedom to ignore” the guidelines, branded by the Vatican as a “study document.”

According to the 400-page report, there were 15 cases between 1996 and 2005 that “very clearly” should have been reported by the diocese to the Gardaí, but only six were reported.

The report by Judge Yvonne Murphy (who also led the investigation into the Dublin diocese), scrutinises how both Catholic Church and State authorities handled allegations of abuse against 19 priests in the County Cork diocese.

It is not an investigation into child sexual abuse by priests but into the handling of allegations.

The Church comes out very badly, the state less so.

The response of Gardaí was “generally adequate,” said the report.

The report covers the period from 1996 (when the Church had introduced its own child protection framework), until 2008.

It found that the response of the Diocese of Cloyne was “inadequate and inappropriate,” and that the primary responsibility for the failure lies with the then bishop of Cloyne, Bishop John Magee.

It says he “took little or no active interest” in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the framework document on child sexual abuse was agreed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Publishing the report, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter appealed to victims of abuse to “come forward” and said that they would be dealt with by the Gardaí with “compassion and dignity.”

He said that in spite of the creation of new structures and promise of change, there were still those who continued to act “in bad faith.”

It is not enough to take the words of “organisations on trust” as the report found they “did not live up to their word.”

He went on, “The failure of the Church to report cases to the Gardaí was perhaps the most appalling failure of all as it occurred after so many shocking revelations of past failures.”

He announced the publication of a new Bill, the Criminal Justice Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults Bill, which will put child protection on a statutory basis and introduce penalties of up to five years imprisonment for breaches.

“There will be no legal grey area which inhibits prosecutions,” said Minister Shatter.

It is difficult to understand the mindset of those who, as recently as 2006, 2007 and 2008, despite all that has been said and learnt in the last two decades, to know that they were repeating the failures of the past, concealing and oblivious of the extent to which their failures placed children at risk, said Minister Shatter, who apologised “for any failings of the state.”

The promised legislation will put the Children First legislation on a statutory basis, said Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald.

“There will be no a la carte approach to Children First,” she said.

The Church’s own child protection body, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, is currently conducting an audit of the implementation of child protection policies in all of the dioceses.

In response to calls from the public to publish the results of this audit, Ms Fitzgerald said, “the more transparency there is from the Church, the more reassured one can be.”

The serious failures in Cloyne were first investigated by the NBSCCc and its report was published in December 2008.

Cardinal Seán Brady, Primate of all Ireland has welcomed the report.

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