Children have a right to live free from abuse. They also have a right to be listened to and their voice to be heard. Church organisations have a duty to promote the safety, welfare and safeguarding of all children.
Those three sentences contained under the heading ‘How to Respond to Allegations and Suspicions of Abuse’ in the Raphoe Diocese’s Safegaurding Children Policy and Procedures 2011 offer significant hope that our children will never again be subjected to the abusive regime that devastated and destroyed so many lives.
But what of the past? A past when those rights were trampled on without any hint of mercy? A past when voices were ignored along with the welfare and safeguarding of our young? A past that brought shame on those involved, perpetrators and the authorities that saw fit to cover the whole ugly spectrum of clerical child abuse? And, perhaps, even a society that seemingly turned a blind eye to what was being done or not being done.
A past - some of it not so distant - when, in the words of Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce, “very poor judgements and mistakes” were made. Horrific acts of abuse of children by individual priests that should have been happened; insufficient emphasis on the needs of the victims; frequent cases of delay or non-reporting of allegations and complaints. The words of the Bishop at yesterday’s launch of the review of his Diocese on the subject of child abuse by the clergy, tore hard at the very fabric of the church to which he belongs.
There were no graphic details of the incidents of abuse perpetrated on the victims. In some ways there didn’t need to be. For we’ve shuddered long and hard at the revelations included in the reports from the Cloyne and other dioceses and they can be no better than the sufferings of those victims in this county who were subjected to the most evil of depravities.
The table of incidence in the audit published this week details that there were a total of fifty-two allegations involving priests reported to the Garda Siochana and the health authorities since January of 1975. That, of course, will not take into account those too fearful to make complaints of abuse. And, equally worringly, the claim that some records were destroyed in relation to certain cases.
Too much emphasis, the review report concedes, was placed on the situation of the accused priest and too little on the needs of the complainants. More attention should, it insists, have been given to ensuring that preventative actions were taken quickly when concerns came to light - a failure that not alone can be attributed to the current Prelate but also to his predecessors in the Diocese.
It was a matter of “great regret” to Bishop Boyce that his focus on victims’ needs had not been greater in the past and he now acknowledged that he had a very different appreciation of his safeguarding responsibilities than had been the case when he first came into office, the report revealed.
An acknowledgement much too late for many of the victims but at the very least we must now surely expect that the necessary safeguards are locked into place to ensure there are are no future victims.
The review of safeguarding practice goes some way to making sure this will be the case. But that should not rule out the carrying out of a full investigation into the allegations of child abuse in the Diocese of Raphoe over recent decades.