Bishop's handling of abuse allegations is praised

A new report into the handling of child abuse allegations in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois has commended Bishop Colm O'Reilly on his response to such cases. The report, which was carried about by the Catholic Church's own child protection watchdog, found that the diocese "performed well" by promptly reporting abuse allegations to the statutory authorities, such as the Gardai and HSE. A total of 13 priests based in the diocese had an abuse allegation, or allegations, made against them between January 1975 and April of this year. Four of the priests were alive and nine were dead at the time the allegations were made. Just one of the priests who is alleged to have committed abuse was still living at the time of the report's completion. This person is no longer in ministry. Two other priests, who are not of the diocese but are residing within it, are known to be the subject of an allegation arising from their past ministry. The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) completed its report into child safeguarding practices in the diocese last April but the document is published for the first time today (Wednesday). It stated that Bishop O'Reilly "displays a gentle caring approach but with great wisdom and honesty," and that he, along with the diocese's designated person in the area of child safeguarding, "ensures that allegations are addressed in full". Data protection rules meant that, while the report's authors were given access to Diocesan files on individual abuse allegations, the report contained no specific details on the nature of these cases. Instead the report includes general comments on how procedures designed to safeguard children were implemented in the Diocese. Although it is generally complimentary, the report found that safeguarding representatives in individual parishes felt "a degree of confusion around their role," and that annual training events were needed to help them better carry out their duties. The Diocese's designated person for child safeguarding "enjoys a good working relationship" with the local HSE child care manager responsible for responding to allegations from the church. However, Bishop O'Reilly and the designated person "reported that it is difficult to forge a positive relationship with the Gardaí due to the number of Garda areas covered by the diocese and the frequency with which some senior officers change." The report recommended that Bishop O'Reilly make a formal approach to the HSE and a representative from An Garda Siochana in order to hold bi-annual safeguarding meetings with them. It was "gratifying" to see that the Diocese had performed well by promptly reporting abuse allegations to the statutory authorities, the report said. It adds: "The manner in which Bishop O'Reilly and the designated person responded to complainants is to be commended. Worthy of special note is the appointment of Support Persons, not just to victims of abuse, but also to anyone affected by allegations, including complainant and respondent's family members." The report makes ten recommendations aimed at improving the recording and implementation of measures in the area of child safeguarding. One of the recommendations is for the addition of a second designated person in the Diocese, with the positions to be occupied by one male and one female lay person. It concludes by recommending that Bishop O'Reilly and his safeguarding team develop a plan to implement and report on the ten recommendations. Commenting on the publication of the report, Bishop O'Reilly said he was "satisfied that we have good policies and procedures for safeguarding children in place... however I believe that there will always be need for reappraisal and revision." He stated: "One cannot but be conscious at this time of the fact that people who suffered because of wrongdoing by Church personnel will be affected by having to think again about an experience which pained them deeply. "It is my hope that this pain will be lessened by the knowledge that their lives can move into a new phase when some, at least, of the past can be left behind." "I want to express my sorrow at how they have been made to suffer and I want to welcome any contact which any person who is feeling distressed at this time would make with me or with the Diocesan Delegate for Safeguarding of Children."