Catholic church outlines new child protection measures

Ian Elliott, the Catholic church’s own watchdog on child protection measures in Ireland, has detailed the policies now in place to prevent child abuse in several dioceses.

It is part of a nationwide review of each diocese and Religious Order in the wake of a series of damning state inquiries into the extent of paedophilia in the clergy and subsequent cover-ups.

Audits looked at in his third and latest tranche include the dioceses of Ferns, Killala, Elphin, Waterford and the Society of African Missions.

* In Ferns, where in 2005 investigators uncovered decades of abuse and cover-ups, 24 priests have faced allegations since 1975, none are in ministry and three have been convicted.

Mr Elliott noted a sea change compared to how the diocese operated since the report eight years ago, including a complainant-centred approach adopted by clergy and support staff.

He raised concerns about “sensitive information” being sent via unsecure emails instead of more detailed file notes.

Ferns is in the Dublin Archdiocese and covers 1,158 square miles in Wexford and Wicklow with 100,000 parishioners in 49 parishes. Bishop Denis Brennan was installed on March 1, 2006.

* In Killala, a small west of Ireland diocese with 22 parishes, there have been very few allegations of child abuse.

Three priests faced allegations since 1975, one of whom is still in ministry, and none of whom have been convicted.

Bishop John Fleming has been urged, however, that in future there should be a timeframe for canon investigations to begin once a decision on prosecution has been taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

* Elphin, which stretches from the Midlands of Westmeath to Roscommon, Sligo and Galway, has 37 parishes, 90 churches, and a Catholic population of about 80,000.

Sixteen priests have faced allegations since 1975, eight are in ministry or retired, none have been convicted and one cleric has moved into the diocese after facing allegations in the past.

“The overall incidence of abuse allegations within the diocese is not unusually high,” the audit stated.

“They do contain a significant number of allegations which upon investigation were shown to be unfounded.”

* Three priests who had allegations made against them are still serving in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore in the south east of Ireland, the watchdog found.

Records showed there were accusations made against 15 clergy between January 1975 and last October and none were convicted.

The diocese includes 45 parishes in Waterford city and county as well as much of South Tipperary and a small portion of Co Cork.

The watchdog commended the record keeping at the diocese and Bishop William Lee.

However the audit found four guidelines were not fully met, including one to give “whistle-blowers” a clearer way to raise allegations and suspicions about unacceptable behaviour towards children.

* Finally just one religious order, the Society of African Missions (SMA), was audited.

It found allegations against 21 SMA Irish Province priests from January 1975 until review last January, with one person convicted.

Two others have been laicised and an application is being processed in Rome for the laicisation of a third, the audit reported.

Three others about whom concerns were raised remain in some form of ministry in mission countries.

“All of these cases were fully examined and assessed and the outcome in all three cases was that there were no safeguarding children issues to be addressed,” the audit found.

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