Audit reveals 12 Christian Brothers convicted out of 325 accused

An audit of how the Christian Brothers dealt with abuse allegations has found only 12 brothers were convicted of crimes between 1975 and today.

A review of the congregation’s files found that its initial response to the need to report abuse to the authorities was not systematic and was inadequate.

It revealed allegations were made against 325 brothers – only 50 of whom are still alive – with 870 complaints of abuse in the 38-year period, all of which have been reported to authorities.

The audit, carried out by the church’s own watchdog the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, is one of eight being released today.

The latest and largest tranche of reviews by the oversight body scrutinise both current practice in two religious orders and six dioceses and the handling of all allegations received since January 1975.

In the Christian Brothers, the inspection board said one brother was returned to ministry after an allegation and only 12 brothers were convicted of offences against children.

It described the level of abuse from members of the order as substantial.

And it warned: “The number of convictions by the courts, compared to the numbers accused of child abuse, is significantly small.”

In the 66 years between 1931 and 1997, the Christian Brothers received 92 allegations of abuse but in the subsequent 15 years, from 1998 to this year, they received 794 allegations.

Since internal reviews in 2007 and 2009, the safeguarding board said it is now satisfied that reports are made promptly.

The Christian Brothers said they accepted that a safeguarding deficit existed in the past.

“We want to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a safe environment for all children and young adults,” it said.

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The Kiltegan Fathers, also known as the St Patrick's Missionary Society, were also inspected and criticised for inadequate recording of allegations, incidents and suspicions.

According to the watchdog, a total of 50 allegations were made about members of the order in the 38 year period.

The allegations involved 14 individuals – nine of whom were still alive when the review was taking place – while five have left the order.

One member of the order has been convicted of an offence against a child or young person over the last four decades.

The watchdog said “too much tolerance” was given to priests accused of abuse and also cited instances of children who claimed to have been abused by missionaries.

The watchdog said abuse outside the region was not always met with appropriate and robust action and that children outside of Ireland were not given the same level of priority.

“Accused priests were afforded too much tolerance and so found it too easy to avoid being held accountable for their actions,” the report said.

“It also appeared to the reviewers that the identification of abuse of a child on the missions did not always evoke the actions that evidence an empathic response to the experiences of victims.”

Kiltegan society leader Father Seamus O'Neill apologised unreservedly to victims of abuse and their families.

“We remain committed to attaining best practice in safeguarding children as soon as possible,” he said.

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Elsewhere, the watchdog found the organisation had completely failed to meet requirements of having a written plan in place on what steps should be taken to keep children safe.

A series of reports on dioceses around Ireland, north and south, were also released.

In the Kerry Diocese, the safeguarding board found 21 priests faced a total of 67 allegations. Only one priest was convicted.

One priest was still in ministry and another five have left the priesthood.

The audit noted that one priest dismissed from ministry at his own request but who was later found in another part of the country with a job which gave him access to children.

Four complaints of serious sex abuse have been made against the man when he was working in a children’s home in Co Kerry in the 1970s but he was not prosecuted.

In a second alarming case, a dead priest has 25 allegations against him dating back to schools in the diocese in the 1950s and ’60s and more are expected.

A third case involves a priest who was jailed after a trial in 1997 and a suggestion that one of his victims complained to a previous Bishop of Kerry, but no record of of it can be found in church files.

The review board praised the diocese for imporvements in managing abuse and suspected abusers and said the Garda and health chiefs have been told of allegations in all of the reported cases between 1975 and 2013.

The audit noted that gardaí and health staff were very satisfied with the level of openness and co-operation in the diocese.

Bishop of Kerry Ray Brownes apologised to anyone abused in the diocese.

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The Diocese of Ossory was found to have shortcomings dealing with complaints about unacceptable behaviour towards children and the timescales involved.

Twenty-seven allegations have been made against priests of the diocese since 1975 – most of which occurred under the tenure of Bishop Peter Birch and then Bishop Laurence Forristal.

The charges, all of which were reported to gardai and the Health Service Executive, related to 14 priests.

According to the report, current Bishop Seamus Freeman, who was ordained in 2007, has dealt with allegations against two living priests since then – his management of which has been deemed appropriate.

Of the 14 priests at the centre of the allegations, three have been defrocked, four are still living and seven have died.

Two priests have been convicted of child abuse.

The report also found insufficient guidance for whistleblowers within the Church to raise allegations and suspicions of abuse.

Failures were identified in requirements to ensure that children are not subjected to physical punishment or “any other form of degrading or humiliating treatment”.

There was also insufficient guidance that discriminatory behaviour regarding race, culture, age, gender, disability, religion, sexuality or political views is unacceptable.

And the watchdog found requirements that policies include guidelines on the “personal or intimate” care of children with disabilities including “inappropriate touch” were not fully met.

Monsignor Michael Ryan, vicar general at the Diocese of Ossory, expressed his “heartfelt sorrow” to victims of clerical abuse.

“I am deeply sorry for what has happened to you and to your families and I pray that the Lord Jesus will give you healing and peace,” he said.

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In the Diocese of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast and is the second largest in Ireland, the reviewers found 46 out of 48 criteria which make up the safeguarding standards had been met.

The two outstanding criteria refer to support for and monitoring of priests who have abused and a written plan of action on implementing and monitoring standards.

The report said 14 concerns or allegations raised since the appointment of Bishop Noel Treanor to the diocese in June 2008 had been properly managed. Of those 14, seven had insufficient evidence. Of the other seven, all are currently out of ministry, one is the subject of a criminal investigation and one is in prison.

There are 19 living priests of the Down and Connor Diocese who are subjects of child safeguarding concerns. Of these, seven were known about before Bishop Treanor was appointed.

Two of these seven men had further historical allegations made against them after June 2008; and a further 12 diocesan priests also had historical allegations made against them since that time.

The report recommended that the bishop, with the staff of the Safeguarding Office, analyse the results of a 2009 internal diocesan review of case management files to ensure that those living priests of the diocese of Down and Connor who need to be risk assessed because of child safeguarding concerns, have been so assessed and that written risk management plans have been developed and are being implemented.

The 33-page document, written by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, said the diocese considers that restrictions have been put on cases which are processed jointly with non-church authorities and that this has been communicated in writing to the priest in question.

In today’s report, the reviewers did not find written evidence of this in every case file that they examined.

In unrelated historical cases across Ireland priests were allowed to move around with few controls, despite high-level concerns about their behaviour.

The experts said a small amount of file documentation on canonical processes in pre-2008 cases was incomplete and advised that any missing documentation be searched for and appropriately inserted in the relevant files.

Their report made six recommendations including that the bishop initiates a process whereby the pre-2009 child safeguarding case management files that are still open are brought up to the highest possible standards.

Others included:

:: That the bishop should request a training needs assessment of members of an advisory panel established to deal with safeguarding matters.

:: That the bishop brings all the priest advisers together on a regular basis to receive support in their role and to develop thinking and planning for the development of safeguarding work.

:: That the bishop requests the development of systems for the regular monitoring of compliance with all diocesan child safeguarding policy and procedures.

Bishop Treanor said: “The National Board review, published today, clearly illustrates ’the very successful and effective investment of time and resources by the Diocese of Down and Connor in its child safeguarding services over the past five years’ and reports that the ’review of the case material indicates that current practice places emphasis on a timely reporting of the concerning information to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and to the relevant HSC (Health and Social Care) Trust’.”

He noted the report finds that all concerns/allegations reviewed have been properly managed by the diocese.

“My overriding concern as Bishop of Down and Connor is and will continue to be the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults in the diocese.

“In church and society the hurt and destruction wrought by the abuse of children and vulnerable adults continues to cry out for unflinching commitment to the pursuit of safeguarding and the growth of a culture of vigilance,” he added.

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