SENIOR FIGURES in the Catholic Church are still not co-operating with its own child protection watchdog, despite assurances from the Data Protection Commissioner that in doing so they would not be acting illegally.
The National Board for Safeguarding Children is conducting an audit of child protection practices in church institutions, announced at an emergency meeting of the bishops by Cardinal Seán Brady in January 2009.
A spokesman for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner said legal concerns expressed by the Catholic Church regarding its co-operation with the board “were fully addressed to the satisfaction of all parties” at a meeting last November.
That meeting was attended by representatives of the Catholic bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori), the Irish Missionary Union and representatives of the board.
He said it was pointed out then “that there are no obstacles” to the board “having full access to all relevant personal data for the purpose of comprehensive audits of the church bodies concerned”.
He also noted that on September 17th last, representatives of his office met separately with the board and Faoiseamh, a counselling service set up by Cori, to discuss data protection issues on the matter.
Despite that the bishops, Cori and the missionary union sought the meeting which took place last November at which assurances were repeated.
Quoting from the Data Protection Commissioner’s annual report for 2010, the spokesman said “we were contacted in early 2010 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children regarding data protection considerations associated with accessing personal data held by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.”
“We were advised that an auditing exercise had commenced in line with the functions of the board. However, shortly after the evaluation process began, data protection issues were raised. As a result, the audit process was suspended pending clarification and assistance from our office.
“We were asked to assist in finding a data protection compliant mechanism to allow the board to assess the church’s current policies and practices on the safeguarding of children and to ensure that allegations of abuse were handled appropriately.”
Last month, in its annual report for 2010, the board chairman John Morgan said its sponsoring bodies (the bishops, Cori and the missionary union) “still have unresolved data protection issues pertaining to ongoing contact situations between the board/national office and dioceses and religious congregations which take place regularly outside a formal review process.”
It is understood this remains the position.
Some bishops have co-operated fully with the board. At that launch last month it was disclosed that three unnamed dioceses co-operated fully with the board in its audit on each.
Cardinal Brady’s announcement of the audit followed an emergency meeting of the Catholic bishops on January 23rd, 2009. It followed revelations in a report by the board, published the previous month, that child protection practices in Cloyne diocese were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.
That led to the remit of the Murphy commission being extended by the previous government to include Cloyne.
The commission’s report on Cloyne was submitted in December to the then minister for justice Dermot Ahern and has yet to be published.